US: Local foods production gains ground with consumers since pandemic

On a bitter cold early December day, snowdrifts surrounded Mandt Market greenhouse, where inside, Richard Wedel was in shirt sleeves tending to thousands of lettuce plants. The 70-degree temperature inside the climate-controlled greenhouse where Wedel and his wife, Rachelle, grow seven lettuce varieties using a hydroponic system, allows the couple to sell their products year-round.

The Wedels market the lettuce, which is packaged in plastic boxes, in about 15 grocery stores in northeastern North Dakota cities including Park River, Grand Forks, and Fargo, and in Crookston and Thief River Falls in northwest Minnesota. They also sell lettuce to about a half-dozen downtown Grand Forks restaurants.

Mandt Market also has a Community Supported Agriculture business in which it sells more than 30 fruits and vegetables, decorative pumpkins and squash, and a variety of herbs directly to two dozen customers who pick them up at the Wedels' farm southeast of Grafton. The Wedels are among an increasing number of North Dakota growers who are local foods producers.

The Wedels’ produce production venture began five years ago when Rachelle Wedel set up a fruits and vegetables stand along the highway. The couple also sold their produce at area farmers' markets. In the summer of 2020, after researching hydroponic vegetable production, the Wedels began growing lettuce in a greenhouse that they bought from a retired grower and then reconstructed on their farm.

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