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It's all agriculture, Nordschow says

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 01/24/2013 12:27 PM

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Eric Nordschow says small fruit and vegetable enterprises are agriculture along with large commodity crop and livestock operations.

"We should be part of agriculture in our area and be part of the young families who are trying to enter the business," said Nordschow, general manager of Windridge Implements in Decorah, Cresco and Elkader. "We want to see agriculture grow and bring new ideas to the community."

That's why Windridge Implements joined with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative and Northeast Iowa Food and Farm Coalition in sponsoring a bus trip to the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids.

"Our customers have families and there are opportunities with their children coming back and families diversifying," Nordschow said. "We sponsor trips to power farming shows, and our customers bring ideas back. This show is different enough we thought it would give them a new plate of ideas to think about."

Nordschow said the farmers who made the trip found new ideas.

"I hope some of those ideas turn into things that help our community to be stronger," Nordschow said. "A stronger community is good for our business, and the things that we do. People are building relationships and that's how things grow."

The Great Lakes Expo attracts people from 42 states and six Canadian provinces. Its trade show has 400 exhibitors and informational sessions are held on everything from carrots and blueberries to hops, apples and cherries. Other programs focus on greenhouses, cider making, and chestnut production as well as pumpkins and direct farm sales. The event is sponsored by the Michigan State Horticultural Society and the Michigan Vegetable Council in cooperation with Michigan State University Extension.

As a farmer Nordschow took home a few ideas as well.

"My wife, Janet, and I like to try new and interesting things," he said.

He went to sessions on chestnuts, hops and farm to institution food sales, and learned more about equipment used in apple orchards.

Windridge Implements, a Case IH dealer, has added equipment lines geared to small specialty crop producers. Nordschow brought along someone from each of his stores so that they could learn more about that equipment.

"This show is big enough that we can actually talk to some of the people from the companies and that helps us learn how things work," Nordschow said.

Nordschow's brother, Brian, who is a sales representative at the Decorah store; Steve Ortner, a technician at the Cresco store; and Brandon Friedlein, who will work in sales and marketing at the Elkader store when he graduates from Upper Iowa University the end of the month, came along. Friedlein worked with Nordschow to organize the trip.

Equipment sales to small fruit and vegetable operations has grown each year, and Nordschow would like to have the equipment available at each of his stores.

Some of Windridge's large farm customers have sons and daughters who are getting involved in fruit and vegetable production.

"The parents are helping their sons and daughters, and that's a good thing," he said.

Nordschow, who has been involved with Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness and the Food and Farm Coalition since the beginning, said that local food, active living and healthy lifestyles go together.

"Healthy lifestyles bring demand for local food," he said. "Local food costs a little more to produce because it's not being raised at the commodity level. People will pay more for local food knowing that they're supporting the farmers who grow it. The farmers are selling extra value."