Danelle Cutting: South Dakota was full of surprises

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 21, 2015

It has been a few weeks since I returned from the South Dakota National County of Agriculture Agents meeting. You have already read about Darrell Blackwelder’s wonderful expedition, but I thought you might like to hear about my experience, as well.

This was my second national meeting. I had no intention of attending this year, but I thought it would be a great opportunity.

Of course, being able to see my director receive the Distinguished Service Award and win a regional communication award sweetened the deal. The only downside was riding in a van for two days up there and two days back.

During part of the conference, we learned about the history and agriculture within the area. We also learned about the winners of the awards in communications, marketing, horticulture and livestock.

The event started with a wonderful welcoming ceremony that featured a Native American interpretive dance. It was marvelous and something I will remember for decades. Each day was filled with programs from dawn to dusk. Agents applied for awards all over the country, discussing new cover crop techniques, how to better market programs, the latest and greatest apps for agents, and new technology used in the field. It was awesome getting to share ideas with each other.

However, my favorite thing at the national meeting was the tour. I chose a tour that fit my program area of local food. I was able to see livestock, horticulture and local food. Our first stop was Goose Mobile Farm that specialized in pastured meats and handmade goose down quilts and pillows. They have built a huge clientele and are known throughout the area for their attention to detail and dedication.

Our next stop was a farm that is the only vegetable producer in their county. There is only one restaurant in the tiny town that at one time served as a bank, post office and jail.

The soil was as black as coal, and the grower had some areas that had more than 6 percent organic matter, which is practically unheard of in this area.

On the tour, we visited two vegetable growers; one was Hackberry Hollow. They barely use insecticide, but they constantly battle weeds. Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry so much about pests on vegetables? They also grow mushrooms, hops, a few tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins.

Their local farmers’ market is in downtown Sioux Falls. One of the things that blew me away was that they can get $5 per pound for their tomatoes, all season.

We visited Valley Side Farm Cheese. The cheesemaker gets her fresh milk from South Dakota State University. That surprised me because most of our cheese makers get their milk from their own cows.

It was wonderful to learn that their farm has been in their family for over a hundred years. Many of the barns still have the dates of when they were built. They had delicious cheese curds and cheddars.

One of the last farms we visited was Strawbale Vineyard. They have mainly fruit wines, other than grapes, such as elderberry, currant and raspberry to name a few. The vineyard is in the middle of nowhere, but they host many parties and were setting up for a huge food and wine show.

They are unique and offer oddity wines — one of their best sellers is called Burning Bog, which is a cranberry jalapeno wine. Most of the fruit is bought in the state or just outside of its borders.

After the tours, we had our last meal with all of the agents. We parted ways Friday morning to drive the two day trek back in the van. We were somewhat jovial to get home to our loved ones, but we had a great time.

So, there really wasn’t a downside to riding in the van. We shared a lot of laughs, stories and memories of our trip that we will remember in years to come. This was a great experience that our counties will benefit from in future programs.

If you would like to hear more about the experience, call your local agent, Danelle Cutting, at 704-216-8970.