The midday sun beating down on Dawn Rognerud’s back doesn’t deter her from picking weeds from her gardens on this early August day.
Tidying up dozens of vegetable and fruit varieties on ground that equals the size of about two football fields is one of the many tasks Rognerud and her husband, Charlie, and their sons Camden, 11; Noah, 9; and William, 7, tend to at Rognerud Farms, about five miles north of East Grand Forks.
“Growing our food is always something I’ve been connected to,” Dawn said. “My grandmother was a gardener. My dad was a gardener. It’s always been in my family.”
She's happy to carry on the tradition.
“I like being outside, I like taking care of the plants, and I like picking,” Dawn said.
The Rogneruds market their produce at the Town Square Farmers Market in Grand Forks and through their Community Supported Agriculture subscription program. About 40 customers are members of the Rogneruds' CSA.
The couple started Rognerud Farms several years ago when Dawn’s parents, Chris and Deb Thompson, asked them if they wanted to use their garden space in Cavalier, N.D., to grow produce.
For the first few years, Dawn and Charlie made the 166-mile round trip from their home in Grand Forks to Cavalier in the spring, summer and fall on Thursdays to plant, then to weed and, later, to pick the fruits and vegetables. On Saturdays from June until mid-October, the Rogneruds marketed their crops at Town Square Farmers Market.
Three years ago, the Rogneruds' purchase of a rototiller brought with it an opportunity for them to move their garden – and family – to a farm a few miles outside of East Grand Forks. When Charlie went to the farmstead to check out the tiller, the man renting the acreage and buildings told him he was moving. Charlie and Dawn talked to the landlord, who agreed to rent the farmstead to them.
The Rogneruds raise two and a half acres of fruits and vegetables on the farm, including watermelons, potatoes, carrots and beets, split into two gardens. They keep track of each type and variety of crops to determine which are the best sellers.
“Over the last six years, we’ve put a lot of time into our spreadsheets, to see how much we’ve sold,” Charlie said. “A lot of people seem to like our potatoes.”
Snap peas also are popular with farmers market customers, he noted.
The Rogneruds start some of the crops from seed indoors, planting them in containers inside their home in January and February, and then transplanting them into the garden as soon as the ground dries and warms. They continue to plant crops throughout the summer, staggering them so they don't all ripen at once. That method, called “succession planting," allows the couple to sell their produce throughout the summer and fall. The couple's goal is to buy a greenhouse so they can grow and market some vegetables, including lettuce, during the winter.
Meanwhile, the couple enjoy experimenting with growing produce – such as artichokes, leeks and sweet potatoes – typically not grown in North Dakota. Planters, kept inside the house during the winter and set outside in the summer, contain lemon, lime and coffee trees.
Besides working in the gardens, Charlie, a mechanical engineer, has a full-time off-the-farm job, and Dawn is president of the Town Square Farmers Market board of directors. Juggling those responsibilities and ferrying three boys to baseball practices and games has made for a hectic summer, but the Rogneruds take it in stride. They even have plans to expand their farm.
The expansion will increase marketing opportunities. For the couple, it's the best thing about their gardening venture.
“My favorite part is interacting with people,” Dawn said. “We love the interaction we get from people asking questions. We get to meet so many people, and share our knowledge and passion for food with them.”