North Dakota is home to a variety of unique companies producing locally sourced, healthy, value-added agricultural products offering endless benefits. For family farmers such as Stephanie Blumhagen, a fourth-generation farmer and owner of Meadowlark Granary in Bottineau, value-added products connect the generations. Blumhagen left the family farm for several years to pursue work in the nonprofit field, but when she returned, she wanted to find her “niche” and began studying the local food movement.
“I recognized how unique it is that our family has always milled our own flour from the wheat we grow instead of going to the store to buy flour,” she says. “I started selling bread at the Bottineau Farmers Market, and the business sort of took on a life of its own.”
Today, Blumhagen sells flour, whole-wheat sandwich bread, a variety of flavored and fruit breads, breakfast cookies, some wheat-free pastries, and is currently developing a line of baking mixes. She says her flour is different from the all-purpose white flour that many people use because it is freshly milled, 100 percent whole-wheat flour, which means it hasn’t had the bran and germ removed. It contains more of the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition to the health benefits, Blumhagen says her value- added business offers financial advantages for the community as well.
“I try to source as much as possible locally. I get fruit like apples and pumpkins from our own farm when I’m able and from other local farms when it’s available,” she says. “Then in my case, I’m the farmer, miller, baker and the vendor, so a much larger share of the food dollar stays with me and is then recirculated within the local economy.”
About 15 years ago, Esther Hylden, a registered nurse, began looking into integrating flaxseed into her husband Mark’s diet as a way to combat his high cholesterol. Some of the research at the time indicated that flax might help naturally reduce the bad LDL cholesterol in the blood. The couple was pleasantly surprised to see Mark’s cholesterol numbers drop from 250 to 160. Fortunately for the Hyldens, they had a steady supply of flax. Their family farm has produced flax for nearly 100 years and even won awards for the best flax in the state. The Hyldens decided to cash in on their discovery, adding even more value to their crop by starting Golden Valley Flax, a health supplement company, which sells natural, ground and organic flaxseed.
Value-added products like the Hyldens’ help bring in more net profit for farms and keep farmers gainfully employed throughout the year. Mark Hylden says North Dakota is ripe for such value-added companies by the nature of its agricultural fertility.
“What we have found is that we are not better farmers than others but that the land and location of our farm is one of the best places in the world to grow high-quality flax. It is a combination of fertile soil and good rainfall along with an elevation of about 1,400 feet above sea level. It has long summer daylight hours but cooler average temperatures that create just the right environment that flax thrives in,” Hylden says.
Premium Gold Flax also offers high-quality locally grown and processed flax products. The Miller family has been farming in central North Dakota for six generations and produces certified seed stock and Premium Gold® golden flaxseed products.
Value-added products, such as SunButter, a peanut- and soy-free spread made from sunflower seeds, also provide an entirely new customer base for farmers.
“Especially in times like these where the commodity prices are really volatile, and they’re not quite as high as a lot of farmers would like them to be, it gives them an outlet and a demand for the commodity that may not be there in different products,” says Justin LaGosh, sales and marketing director for SunButter LLC. “We’re taking sunflower seed and making a new use for it. Our demand and hunger for sunflower kernel from our farmers grows every year.”
Manufactured in Fargo, SunButter has increased in popularity as nut and soy allergies have increased. LaGosh says sunflower butter typically has more vitamin E and micronutrients, such as zinc, phosphorous and potassium not found in peanuts.
“It puts North Dakota on the map for a lot of people, and they’re delighted to see that a U.S. product in the heartland of the country is produced and grown here here.”