Jonathon and Hannah Moser aren’t your typical American farmers. Both North Dakota natives, the couple met in college while he was studying to be an accountant and she was preparing for a career in marketing and communications.
“My dad was an airplane mechanic, but when I was 9, he bought a 30-acre farm in Streeter,” Jonathon says. “We moved here, and I spent 16 years on the farm, though I was never interested in farming. But after getting my degree in accounting, I had a quarter-life crisis and realized I needed to get my hands in the dirt.”
After Hannah graduated college in 2012, the couple had a rare opportunity to travel to Australia for five months to manage a vegetable operation for a farmer whom Jonathon had met and worked for on a previous trip to Australia.
“I had no intentions of becoming a farmer,” says Hannah, who grew up in Hazen. “Jonathon and I had dated for two years before we went to Australia, and we had gardened together and loved growing our own food. Once we were there, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But soon I realized I really enjoyed it.”
The couple moved back home to North Dakota and married in 2014. They started their own vegetable-growing operation, Forager Farm, on the Streeter farm where Jonathon’s dad and brother run a cow-calf operation.
“It works out well because although we are separate operations, we are able to share equipment with my dad, and we give them veggies, and they give us beef,” Jonathon says. “We’ve had to borrow or rent a tractor in the past, but we finally bought one of our own this year.”
Community Supported Agriculture
Now in their third season, the Mosers deliver fresh, seasonal vegetables to 85 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members throughout the spring, summer and fall. They grow radishes, broccoli, kale, chard, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs, root crops, and cabbage and cauliflower, to name a few.
“We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on our butterhead-style lettuce, which happens to be the best lettuce we’ve eaten in our lives,” Jonathon says. “We also grow three varieties of pumpkins, and our favorite variety has a sweetness to it that doesn’t require adding a lot of sugar in recipes like pumpkin pie.”
Their goal is to help reinvigorate food culture in North Dakota.
“We’re teaching people what’s in season in North Dakota and sharing the quality of food harvested and delivered the same day,” Jonathon says. “We like food, and we know fresh is best, so we enjoy offering that to our members. We email members weekly with pictures and labels of what’s in their box that week, and we include recipes and tips on how to use different vegetables.”
Forager Farm also produces vegetables for the Jamestown Public School District as part of the North Dakota Farm to School Program.
Though rewarding, farming isn’t without challenges.
“It can be isolating,” Hannah admits. “We have friends from college who don’t understand the farming lifestyle. We don’t have extra cash lying around to spend, and since we’re an hour away from any entertainment, we can’t just meet up with a friend for a drink.”
Nonetheless, they both agree the perks of farming outweigh the obstacles.
“Our CSA members have been very supportive, and they think what we do is admirable,” Jonathon says. “We get to talk and connect with the people feeding our food to their families, which is wonderful. Plus, we love working outdoors at sunset. You can’t beat that wide horizon with the sun setting on it.”
Van Bedaf Dairy
Corne and Conny Van Bedaf of Carrington also gained agricultural experience abroad before building their dairy farm in North Dakota. Originally from the Netherlands, the couple owned a 50-cow dairy for 10 years in their home country before moving to Canada in 2001, where they milked 120 cows for another seven years.
In 2008, Corne, Conny and their three children – Piet, Dries and Maartje – moved to Carrington, where they built Van Bedaf Dairy LLP. With help from their 18 employees, the family milks 1,500 dairy cows three times daily and ships two semi-loads of milk every day to the Cass-Clay plant in Fargo. Their milk is sold in groceries all over North Dakota and western Minnesota.
“We chose North Dakota because it has a great climate and many opportunities for livestock farmers,” Conny says. “There is a lot of land available to grow feed as well.”
Oldest son Piet joined his parents in the dairy after graduating college with a degree in ag economics. Son Dries is studying animal science and plans to join Van Bedaf Dairy as well. Daughter Maartje plans to become a nurse.
“As the boys got older and showed interest in the dairy, we made the move to expand it so we could support three families with one dairy,” Conny says. “Also dairy farming is a 24/7 job, and when you expand, you’re able to hire people to help you so you can take a weekend off. We hoped our kids would be able to enjoy the same lifestyle we do – working with animals and the land to provide a living. It’s something special.”
In 2012, Van Bedaf Dairy was awarded the Agriculture Commissioner’s Dairy Producers Award for Excellence for its high quality standards. Conny enjoys seeing the process of their milk being shipped from the dairy and then coming back to local grocery stores.
“I go to the grocery and see people buying our milk, and that feels great,” Conny says. “We have an awesome community in Carrington. We work with the local 4-H program. Agriculture is a very personal thing in North Dakota. The community supports us, and we support them in return.”