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Growers find lots to learn about at Great Lakes Expo

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 01/24/2013 12:41 PM

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —A trip to the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids in early December was a learning experience for participants.

Windridge Implements in Decorah, Elkader and Cresco, along with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition sponsored the bus trip.

David Zimmerman and his family have a greenhouse business and raise fruits and vegetables near Alta Vista. He made the trip with his 16-year-old son, Luke.

The best session Zimmerman attended was on year-round high tunnel use by Chris Blanchard with Rock Spring Farm and Flying Rutabaga Works, north of Decorah. He said Blanchard talked about how he grows spinach all winter.

Luke liked a session on vine crops. A speaker talked about research on whether more bees will increase pumpkin yields. Other information related to planting a rye cover crop in the fall.

Gordon Murray-John owns Gordon's Garden at Maynard and sells vegetables to Grown Locally and at the Oelwein and Independence farmers markets. He raises potatoes, garlic onions, cucumbers, red, white, and gold beets and greens.

Murray-John got information on hydroponics at the trade show. One product, a Hydro Stacker, allows plants to be grown in towers.

"I think I'll give that a whirl because it will allow me to grow more plants per foot in my high tunnel," Murray-John said.

He also found unique varieties of really large carrots.

"The trip was well worth it," Murray-John said. "I've got a lot of reading material."

Al Peake, who owns Peake Orchard at Waukon with his family, got to taste two new apple varieties. He has planted Crimson Crisp in his orchard but never had a chance to taste it until the expo. He also tried and liked Crimson Topaz.

"It was pretty snappy," he said. "Being a small orchard, we like to have apples that offer a unique flavor."

Both Crimson Crisp and Crimson Topaz are scab immune and potentially could be grown organically, which would provide a new niche and fit well with his son, Jeremy's organic dairy operation.

Peake purchased a filter for his apple cooler that takes ethylene gas out of the air allowing for longer storage.

"I say thanks to Eric (Nordschow, general manager of Windridge Implements) and everyone who subsidized the trip," Peake said. "It was a great opportunity."

Brian Nordschow grows three acres of table and wine grapes at his Prairie View Vineyard near Decorah. He sells table grapes to Luther College through Grown Locally and wine grapes to Four Daughters Winery in Spring Valley, Minn. The winery recently won the Governor's Cup at the International Cold Climate Grape Competition.

Brian, who sells farm equipment at Windridge Implements, said what he found most interesting was the machines that people come up with to do various things.

Anna Herzmann of Monona is sales and marketing manager for Kymar Acres at Waukon. She, her parents, and her sister and brother-in-law work together selling produce, eggs, starter vegetables, bedding plants, potted herbs, jams, baked goods, crafts and candy at farmers markets in Waukon and Decorah. They have an on-farm store that is open for spring plant sales.

"I went to a session on farm to institution marketing of local food, and I found it interesting that Michigan farmers faced the same growing pains northeast Iowa growers did in dealing with local food production and distribution," Herzmann said.

She appreciates the work by the Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition and Iowa State University Extension to assist growers in building infrastructure.

"I was talking to a lady after the session who was having a hard time finding the information needed to write a standard operating procedure for her farm, and I'm going to send her what we have in Iowa," Herzmann said.

Verlys Huntley and her husband, Wayne, grow fruits and vegetables at Emmons, Minn.

Albert Lea farmers market is their primary market, but this year they went to the Mason City market to sell apples. They also raise strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, sweet corn, onions, radishes, spinach and lettuce. She also makes jam.

Huntley got information on drip tape irrigation for her strawberries and went to sessions on apples and farm markets.

"I thought the expo was great," Huntley said. "I really enjoyed some of the workshops and the exhibits."

Monica Ortner of Harmony, Minn., grows apples, berries and vegetables and makes jams and jellies that she sells at the farmers market in Cresco.

"I got a lot of information," Ortner said. "It was fun to see what other areas are working with, what their problems are and how it relates to us. I learned about pruning and trellising raspberries. I got information on different fertilizers, and enjoyed trying all the samples."

Sheryl Ehlke of St. Ansgar grows fruits and vegetables for farmers markets in Albert Lea and Mason City. She also sells jams, jellies and crafts.

"I enjoyed the trade show," Ehlke said. "I got a lot of seed catalogs from companies I didn't know about before. I liked the raspberry seminar the best and learning about new varieties."

Shirley and Tim Abbott of Decorah liked looking at all the equipment at the trade show and spending time with like-minded people who enjoy agricultural things.

Tim takes care of the livestock at Seed Savers Exchange in addition to growing corn and soybeans on his own farm and Shirley gardens.