For discussion

June 2022

Working Together to Nourish North Dakotans

Karen K. Ehrens, R.D., L.R.D. Food and Nutrition Consultant and Advocate
Stephanie Blumhagen, Executive Director, FARRMS
Felicity Merritt, Program Manager, FARRMS

Karen Ehrens is a food and nutrition consultant, registered dietitian, and policy advocate. Karen serves as a public health consultant on food and nutrition security and maternal and child health projects and recently completed 12 years as coordinator for the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota Coalition.
Stephanie Blumhagen is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS).
Felicity Merritt is the Program Manager at the Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS).


People and organizations in North Dakota are joining forces to build a vibrant and prosperous local food system to support rural economic development, connect farmers to consumers, and increase access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food, for the benefit of all North Dakotans.

North Dakota Local Food Development Alliance

The North Dakota Local Food Development Alliance (NDLFDA) is a community of local food advocates that includes farmers, nonprofit organizations, local USDA service providers, rural economic development agencies and others. Members of the NDLFDA aim to create healthy, self-reliant, and resilient communities in North Dakota by improving local food systems. NDLFDA functions as a “backbone organization,” convening partners across the state to create and promote local food systems in North Dakota. NDLFDA provides a platform for communication to catalyze collaboration within the local food community, and members believe in collective action.

One participating organization is FARRMS, a nonprofit focused on educating beginning farmers and strengthening sustainable agriculture. FARRMS Executive Director, Stephanie Blumhagen, said, “The farmers we serve need a resilient local food system to succeed. FARRMS can’t build that system on our own, but through partnerships across the state, we can. Participating in the ND Local Food Development Alliance helps us better serve farmers.” Other participants report that the monthly meetings help them stay aware of emerging issues in local food and agriculture, and that the diversity of perspectives presented is valuable. Others say that they leave every monthly meeting with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm.


NDLFDA was founded through a partnership of local food leaders and advocates throughout the state. Led by USDA Rural Development, they gathered diverse partners to craft a local food development plan for North Dakota and created a guiding document titled “An Outline of a ND Local Food System Plan.'' The plan described the social and economic benefits of a strategically developed, resilient local food sector in North Dakota. Catalyzed by this document, several local food organizations, including Dakota College at Bottineau, Strengthen ND and Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota, met for an inaugural meeting in October 2017.

NDLFDA became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2018 with by-laws and a volunteer Board of Directors. First actions included gathering people to share dreams and hopes at an inaugural summit. The next year we organized a food hub summit to provide examples and possibilities for expanding the reach of local foods through collaboration and food aggregation. Members defined six core focus areas for mutual work including producer support, financing and resources, aggregation and processing, distribution and marketing, policy support, and Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

In 2020, NDLFDA hired a paid staff member, for the first time, as NDLFDA Coordinator. This AmeriCorps member, supported by the Souris Basin Planning Council, focused on building the infrastructure, recruiting new members, and developing deeper relationships between members. In 2021 we launched a new website built for member communication and collaboration

Why local food?

Many definitions of “Local Food” exist; the USDA defines local food as “the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area. NDLFDA members define local food as food grown in North Dakota for North Dakotans.

Nearly 90% of North Dakota’s land mass is put toward farming or ranching. The 2017 Census of Agriculture showed that farms and ranches occupy 39.3 million acres of land in North Dakota, which is an amazing 89 percent of the total land in the state. And yet, most of the crops and animals raised in the state leave the state for processing and adding of value, returning to us in cans, boxes, and bags.

Distribution of food back into the state has been a challenge to the places that prepare, serve, and sell food. At the beginning of 2010’s the challenges began to be revealed by a decline in the number of grocery stores in rural and frontier areas; in a six-year period, North Dakota lost more than 20 percent of its rural grocery stores according to the Rural Grocer Initiative led by the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. High costs due to long distances, small purchase volumes, limited delivery service, coupled with decreasing rural populations and increasing numbers of dollar stores and big box retailers have led to difficulties in maintaining viable grocery businesses in rural areas.

Supply chain disruptions that were put in motion during the pandemic have added more challenges to food distribution in North Dakota. These disruptions continue to impact schools, long term care facilities, grocery stores, and most all places that prepare, serve, and sell food. A major food distributor backed out of a contract and ceased delivery to half (101 out of 200) school districts in North Dakota in November 2021, leaving school districts scrambling to find alternate distributors from a small list of potential organizations that still deliver to North Dakota’s rural areas.

Emerging evidence shows that local food systems served as innovative, flexible, and resilient responders to food needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Food partners in Cass County, North Dakota and Clay County, Minnesota documented a networked response to food needs in their jurisdictions. Developing networked, resilient and shorter food supply chains across the state of North Dakota can help to ensure that all people can access healthful foods in this state. The NDLFDA is bringing together people and organizations to do this.

NDLFDA is sharing and connecting partners from the west to the Northeastern parts of the state, with partners from the economic development, tribal, farmers market, small farms, new farms, rural advocacy, public health, nutrition, university extension, school, local foods, government, membership and nonprofit sectors to work together. Jan Stankiewicz, NDLFDA member with NDSU Extension states, “I strongly believe that from a community health aspect, including personal physical health, social connections, nutrition and ag education, economic impacts, etc., a robust local food system is a crucial component to creating healthy, vibrant people and communities.”

Besides helping to assure resilient and sustainable sources of food, local foods have multiple benefits that include health- and community-building, and economic benefits to those who produce and eat. For example, if each of North Dakota’s estimated 320,873 households spent just $10/month on North Dakota-produced foods, we could keep $167 million circulating in North Dakota’s economy every year!

Join us!

If you grow or eat North Dakota foods, consider joining us. Membership in NDLFDA is open to anyone interested in improving North Dakota’s food systems- local food organizations, individuals representing federal and state agencies, tribal entities, schools, university programs, farmers and producers, and food businesses.

NDLFDA meetings are free to attend and open to all. We meet virtually on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 2:00 p.m. All are welcome and you can join the meeting at To become a member of NDLFDA, complete the short enrollment form: We invite you to join us!


An Outline of a ND Local Food System Plan -

Local Foods | Agricultural Law Information Partnership - USDA

2017 Census of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service,

“How Global Supply Chain Disruptions are Impacting School Nutrition” The Hunt Institute February 7, 2022,

ND Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Rural Grocer Initiative, office records, 2016-2019

Local and Regional Food Systems Response to COVID,

Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online, ““Cass Clay Food Partners: A networked response to COVID-19,”

North Dakota Compass, Geographic Profiles, State Profile, North Dakota,

More discussion

North Dakota Wellness Chats: Building awareness, one month at a time
November 2023

Working Together to Nourish North Dakotans
June 2022

FARRMS: Growing a More Sustainable Future for North Dakota
March 2022

Awesome: When a Foundation isn’t a Foundation
February 2022

Shining Light on Diabetes
November 2021

Marie Hvidsten: Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Program
June 2021

Katherine Roth: Resources to Support North Dakota’s Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Municipalities
January 2021

Brittany Sickler: What is America’s Seed Fund? Opportunity for North Dakota Innovators
December 2020

Madison Marion: Making Contact: The Experience of a Student Case Worker of COVID-19 in North Dakota
November 2020

Abby Tow & Micayla Bitz: Everyone Needs Help Sometimes.
June 2020

Louise Dardis: North Dakota needs you to complete Census 2020 to receive equitable funding when every resident is counted.
December 2019

Scott Meyer: Why Entrepreneurship Should Be Taught in North Dakota
September 2019

Luke Schaefer and Alissa Thiele: Coming Together to Help Students
April 2019

Jen Walla: Prairie Roots Community Fund
February 2019

Lindsey Leker: Creating Community with the use of Technology and Youth Leadership
January 2019

Megan Laudenschlager: Strengthen ND - Supporting and Accelerating Community Development in Rural North Dakota
December 2018

Jodi Bruns: NDSU Extension Takes Creative Approach to Enhancing Communities and Improving Leaders
September 2018

Kevin Iverson: The 2020 Census
August 2018

Josh Askvig: Building Communities for All
June 2018

Jessica Nelson: CHARISM -- Building a Stronger, Better Neighborhood Since 1994
April 2018

Katherine Roth: The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center – A Newcomer to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Central North Dakota
March 2018

5 Years of North Dakota Compass!
February 2018

Alexandre Cyusa: Folkways -- Building a vibrant community one memorable experience at a time
December 2017

AIPHRC: Engaging and Partnering with Tribes: American Indian Public Health Resource Center Improving Public Health
November 2017

Josh Hoper: Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
October 2017

Diane Solinger: Jeremiah Program ignites hopeful journey for single mothers, creates better future for the next generation
September 2017

Kelly Sassi & Denise Lajimodiere: Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop: Enacting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy in a Summer Program for Native American Youth
August 2017

Kristi Huber: Do you know the Return on Investment on your charitable giving?
May 2017

Jesseca White: Disrupting the Revolving Door: A look at alternative justice in Fargo
January 2017

Leola Daul: Heart-n-Soul Community Cafe: A Place Where All Are Welcome to Enjoy a Local, Healthy, and Delicious Meal no Matter their Ability to Pay
October 2016

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission: A Multijurisdictional Food Policy Council
August 2016

5 Ways to Join the Compass Community
May 2016

Inform, Improve, Inspire: North Dakota's First Ever Demographics Conference
March 2016

Donene Feist: Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs in North Dakota
January 2016

ND Head Start: Vibrant Economy Leads to Workforce Shortages - Head Start Programs Statewide Are Feeling the Impact
December 2015

Lynette Schaff: Bullying- Just a Schoolyard Problem? Think Again!
November 2015

Jim Deal: Changes to Come
October 2015

Janis Cheney: AARP- Discover Your Possibilities
September 2015

John Trombley: Competition is Tough; Why Make it Tougher?
August 2015

Nick Ybarra: Keeping the Trail
July 2015

Megan Laudenschlager: Engaging Millennials
June 2015

Kim Bushaw: Brain Development
May 2015

2015 Legislative District Profiles
April 2015

ND Compass Points
March 2015

Heidi Demars: Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
February 2015

Helen Danielson: National Mentoring Month
January 2015

Sharz Miar: Giving the Gift of Hope for the Holidays
December 2014

Cheryl Ann Kary (Hunkuotawin): Talking Indian: A L/N/Dakota Model of Oratory
November 2014

North Dakota Legislative District Profiles
October 2014

Edwin Erickson Jr.: Soybeans- Growing an Important Commodity for North Dakota
September 2014

Jennifer Braun: A Look at Early Childhood Education in Western North Dakota
August 2014

Jordyn Wallenborn: Ticks Bite: Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
July 2014

Lorraine Shepherd-Davis: Filling a Need in the Community
June 2014

Howard Barlow: Helping Build a Better Community
May 2014

Denise Hellekson: Using Mindfulness to Calm Your Busy Mind
April 2014

Melissa Sobolik: End hunger through community partnerships
March 2014

Jacob Sowers: Places and their story: More than just a spot on the map?
February 2014

Neil Scharpe: "Protecting North Dakota's Quality of Life"
January 2014

Donald Warne: "American Indian Health Disparities in North Dakota"
November 2013

Kay Schwarzwalter: "Community building through community gardens"
October 2013

Jasper Schneider: "Rural Development in North Dakota"
August 2013

Dean Bangsund: "Economic contribution of the petroleum industry in North Dakota"
July 2013

Jane Strommen: "Addressing the education and support needs of older North Dakotans and their family members"
June 2013

Randi Roth: "In Support of North Dakota Communities"
March 2013

Richard Rathge: "Vision of North Dakota Compass"
February 2013

Paul Mattessich: "What's the real poverty rate?"
January 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2024. All rights reserved.