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Fun in fargo

In the coldest part of the year here in the Northland, many people abscond to someplace where the weather is so benign that you can stroll around outdoors without worrying about becoming a human icicle.

My wife and I aren’t like most people, so we recently traveled to Fargo.
Sadly, it wasn’t Fargo, Georgia, where, according to the National Weather Service, the average high temperature in January is 66° F. and the average low is 43° F. This is approximately the same daily temperature swing that we experience in our living room.

My wife and I drove to the real Fargo, the one that’s in North Dakota and is located several hundred miles closer to the North Pole than our farm. We went there because I was invited to speak at the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society’s Food and Farming Conference.

This was a new experience where I got myself talked into delivering a talk about sustainability in agriculture. I tried to explain to conference organizers that I had no idea what, exactly, the definition of sustainable agriculture might be, but was told that any thoughts I would share would be fine.

As we motored northward toward the Fargo, which is also known as the Gateway of the West, the radio bombarded us with ominous predictions of hazardous winter driving conditions. It was difficult to sustain my composure even though we encountered nothing but dry pavement.

We stayed at the largest Holiday Inn I’ve ever seen, a humungous building that sprawls across roughly 40 acres and is riddled with a confusing warren of hallways. We were almost ready call for the rescue squad when we finally located our room.

I gave my little sustainability in agriculture talk the next day. I didn’t tell anyone that it was my first stab at giving a PowerPoint presentation or that I was so nervous that it was difficult to maintain consciousness.

I was later told that my talk wasn’t exactly what the attendees had expected, but that they had found it interesting. 

“Interesting” a polite term that we often use to describe something that perhaps wasn’t all that great. For instance, your toddler may ask you how her mud pie tasted, and you might reply with a smile, “It was very interesting!”

A trade show was held in conjunction with the conference. Trade shows are to farmers what window shopping is to urbanites.

One of the trade show booths was operated by a North Dakota State University  Extension agent named Karl Hoppe. I stopped to chat with Hoppe and quickly learned that he’s an extremely affable guy. And before I realized it, our quick chat had stretched into half an hour.

Hoppe and I talked about raising cows, children, and anything and everything related to farming. He and I discovered that we knew several people in common, a common occurrence here in the rural Midwest.

I learned that over the summer, Hoppe was inducted into the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Hall of Fame. 

I could see why. 

Hoppe’s outgoing, caring attitude can be summed up by what he told me more than once during our conversation: “You’ve got to help whoever you can as much as you can.” 

Hoppe reminded me of an erstwhile county agent, Mel Kloster. Hoppe, like Kloster, is compassionate, gregarious and a unflagging friend of the farmer. 

The world would be a much better place if it had more people like Hoppe to help the community sustain its spirits.

One of the best things about attending a conference is the food. And the food at the NPSAS Conference did not disappoint. Friday evening’s banquet featured several locally sourced delicacies, which included some that contained stratospheric levels of organic garlic. 

Who knew that they grow garlic in North Dakota?

Many attendees, including my wife and I, thought that the star of the banquet was the million dollar bacon. I was on my way to consuming a couple more pounds of the delicious sizzling strips, when my gizzard informed me that this idea wasn’t sustainable.

When we began our homeward journey, the mercury was hovering at -17° F. in the morning. And that was without the windchill. It was so cold out in the open that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see puddles of liquid nitrogen or drifts of dry ice.

Despite all the foreboding forecasts, the roads were dry all the way home.

We stopped at a gas station to refuel our car and ourselves. We watched, gobsmacked, as a man dressed in shorts and sneakers strolled across the parking lot. The car’s thermometer read 15 below zero.

“That guy is going to become a human icicle!” my wife exclaimed.

“Yep,” I agreed. “His clothing choice is definitely interesting.”


Jerry Nelson
 About the Author

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at                              

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