Getting across success, fun of farming, NDFU kids book has sold 4K copies

Mikkel Pates
Forum News Service

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The North Dakota Farmers Union in a year has sold more than 4,000 of its children’s book, titled “Our Family Farm: Everyone works on a family farm.”

Mark Watne, president of the group that counts about 50,000 members in the state, says the illustrated book has been popular among the purchasers.

NDFU printed 10,000 of the books and has about 6,000 left to sell. They’re $16.95 each and available at

Watne said he thinks the NDFU has succeeded in calling attention to the success of Upper Midwest farms.

“We try to push the concept that the ‘family farm’ is really a tool of excellent food production. It’s providing this nation with a great food supply, an abundant food supply and an inexpensive food supply,” Watne said. “We have to tell our story, whether it’s agriculture in general or as family farms in general. People start to lose that connection.”

The state Farmers Union, based in Jamestown, promotes the “family farm” concept. The group defines that as a farm where a family makes “the vast majority of the decisions” and does a “fair amount” of the labor and management. The size of the farm isn’t the primary factor.

They hired Dana Sullivan, an author and illustrator from Seattle, to produce the book, which debuted in October 2018.

The 38-page book introduces readers to the “Rhodes Family Farm,” headed by Dad and Mom with daughter Dusty, all flanked by Gramps and Grams. It looks like a farm that “over time has adapted,” as real farms do — a blend of traditional farm buildings and the larger tractors, trucks and combines of today.

Ag’s success

The kids’ book goes beyond the simplistic farming tropes that often depict farming in an earlier time. This one suggests a day-to-day routine, showing how grain goes through grain elevators, trains and ships to feed consumers sitting at tables with bowls with flags representing Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, the Philippines and Taiwan.

At harvest time, Sullivan represents equipment break-downs, complete with words that look like the sound — “Chugga-sputa-clunk!”

The artist humanizes vehicles and machines, providing opportunities to make their sounds in ways that children can engage with. Favorites are Rocky the farm dog, as well as Coretta the combine and Big Travis the combine.

The Farmers Union gets a few promotional licks into the book. Cartoon characters sometimes sport T-shirt logos for their Farmers Union youth camp. Some tees carry the logo of the Founding Farmers restaurants.

Over the past 12 years, NDFU has developed seven restaurants on the East Coast, which serve about 50,000 meals a week, pushing farmer-owned, farm-to-table concepts.

Watne says NDFU has grossed enough money to cover their costs of the books. They surprised Sullivan by sending him a royalties check, which means the book was a success.

Mark Watne says a children’s book, “Our Family Farm,” has sold 4,000 copies in the past year. It depicts farmers as fun, successful and part of a bigger food system. Photo taken Oct. 1, 2019, in Fargo.