Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NoDak Adventures: Small Town U.S.A.

This weekend I attended the wedding of a college friend up in Grand Forks, North Dakota (NoDak).  I've always enjoyed weddings and the bf was a groomsman in this one.  It was great to see some of my college friends and the entire weekend was a lot of fun.

One of the closest Wilbur-Ellis branches is in Grand Forks, ND and I thought that going to the wedding in the area was a great chance to visit the branch in the same trip.  Plans were set for me to visit the Grand Forks branch and visit dealers with one employee who worked primarily with Nutrition and primarily with Seed.

During my visit with the Grand Forks branch we traveled all over northeastern NoDak, primarily visiting "alliances" or local ag stores that sell Wilbur-Ellis products.  Working in the Burnsville, MN office I typically see the "big picture", and visiting the branch and the stores that sell Wilbur-Ellis products allowed me to see beyond that.  It was a good experience to be able to see how the product bulletins and brochures that I put together in the office get used every day in the field to talk to growers.  Besides that aspect, it was so interesting to hear what the retail store workers were talking about and what issues are important to northeastern ND.  It's been a very wet spring and it had rained that day and the day before so the fields had standing water, but there was one test plot that was dry enough for us to walk in.

The places we visited in NoDak were small towns, with the biggest having a population of 604.  It's quite likely that most people haven't heard of Petersburg, Alsen, or Minto, ND, just as most haven't heard of Millerville, MN.  Millerville is the small town, population 100, just 5 miles from the dairy farm I grew up on.  As I was traveling through NoDak, all of the small towns I visited reminded me a bit of Millerville.  In Petersburg, we stopped at a gas station/ag service store that had a fridge full of pop.  If you wanted a pop, all you had to do was put some change in the box in the fridge - it was the "small town vending machine".

I've lived in Kansas City and I currently live in a Minneapolis suburb, so I don't have a problem with living in a city, but there's simply something different about small towns.  The small town vending machine in Peterburg reminded me of what I like about Millerville.  In Millerville, there's a gas station where the owner fills up your gas for you, puts the bill on your tab, and gives you a loaner car when you get an oil change.  I love having that available.

Small towns are made even more interesting because they're often farming communities.  In a place like North Dakota, where there aren't many big towns and the towns aren't real close together, farmers seem to come together in their communities.  I'm sure the same holds true in small towns across the U.S.  My family likes to say that farming is a spectator sport, and it's also a "sport" in which farmers like to feel a connection to other farmers.  With years like this where there are a lot of preventive planting acres and those that did get planted are behind schedule, it's even more important to have those communities.

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