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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Better to Work than Whine- What We're Up To

Report from first DWPA Meeting- 020213

(Deep Winter Producers' Association)

Our first meeting was invigorating, except for the people who couldn't make it. It was informal, with just enough structure to be coherent. The dozen folks were excited to meet others who shared their new passion. It had that perfect feel, a neighborly gathering of people who share a wholesome, inviting idea with high potential for good.

We met at the new Elk's Bluff greenhouse, just outside of Montevideo. Tim Elkington had thought ahead to creating a producers network- he built a meeting room in his barn as part of the greenhouse's processing area. It was fine to be sitting around, talking and drawing ideas on a white board, while just through the windows was the greenhouse packed with fresh growing things, on a windy February day. Tim's wife, Shelly, made a tasty salad from Chinese cabbage that they'd raised, and Lorri Maus brought home-made scones.

Of the dozen people, six already have Garden Goddess-type greenhouses. One mother and grown son came for advice- they'd had to adapt the design in extreme ways, and wanted help with how to correct some problems. Two other groups wanted to talk about their greenhouses-in-planning. Everyone knew others that were thinking of building.

One idea with great potential came from a farmer from near Albany, Minnesota. He wants to build a large greenhouse on the south face of his barn, and turn the old silo pit into a fish tank! I was especially happy to hear about his ideas. Aquaponics, the joining of fish farming with greenhouse growing, can produce extremely high densities of good food. He is also an expert on heating and related ducting, with ideas for the rest of us to tighten up our systems.

Every greenhouse is a bit different. We shared design tricks, and ideas about what crops grow better under what conditions. With our diverse, grass roots attitude, everyone's approach brought something that the others hadn't thought of.

We talked about the concepts of the DWPA. Local chapters will concentrate on an area of roughly an hour's drive, with some overlap of territories, and much cooperation between chapters. From the emails and phone calls that I've received, there are already about ten chapters sketched out in Minnesota and the Dakotas. The focus will be on raising and selling food within the chapter's territory. There will of course be some “exports,” but the stress is on Local-ness.

A big discussion point was markets. Everyone who runs CSAs from these greenhouses, across the continent, has waiting lists far longer than they can possibly handle. All of us get requests from chefs and grocers for our product. We can name our prices. Back-of-the-envelope calculations tell us that we could have a dozen or more units like ours in our area and still not fill the demand.

We gathered contact information from everyone, and will be planning more meetings soon. Our focus for now will be:
  • Helping everyone to get the best production they can from their units
  • Helping others who want to build to get started
  • Setting up communication for sharing ideas and insights
  • Planting other active chapters in other areas.
If you're interested in being a part of this new movement, send me a message. I'm here to help.

Build a greenhouse! Start a Chapter! Change the world, at least a little!