Jerry Nelson: Food, fun and Fargo's ag future

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

During the coldest part of the year here in the Northland, many people abscond to someplace where the weather is so benign that you can stroll around outdoors without worrying about becoming a human icicle.

My wife and I aren’t like many people, so we recently traveled to Fargo.

Sadly, it wasn’t Fargo, Georgia where, according to the National Weather Service, the average high temperature in January is 66 degrees Fahrenheit and the average low is 43 degrees. This is approximately the same daily temperature swing that we experience in our living room.

My wife and I drove to the real Fargo, the one that’s in North Dakota and is located several hundred miles closer to the North Pole than our farm. We went there because I was invited to speak at the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society’s Food and Farming Conference.

I somehow got talked into delivering a talk about sustainability in agriculture. I tried to explain to conference organizers that I had no idea what, exactly, the definition of sustainable agriculture might be, but was told that any thoughts I wanted to share would likely be just fine.

As we motored northward toward the city known as the Gateway of the West, the radio bombarded us with ominous predictions about the possibility of hazardous winter driving conditions. It was difficult to sustain my composure even though we encountered nothing but dry pavement.

We stayed at the largest Holiday Inn I’ve ever seen, a humungous building that sprawls across roughly 40 acres and is riddled with a confusing warren of hallways. We were almost ready call for the rescue squad when we finally located our room.

I gave my little sustainability in agriculture talk the next day. I didn’t tell anyone that it was my first stab at giving a PowerPoint presentation or that I was so nervous that it was difficult to sustain consciousness.

I was later told that my talk wasn’t exactly what the attendees had expected but that they had found it interesting. “Interesting” a polite term that we often use to describe something that perhaps wasn’t all that great. For instance, your toddler may ask you how her mud pie tasted, and you might reply with a smile, “It was very interesting!”

A trade show was held in conjunction with the conference. Trade shows are to farmers as window shopping is to urbanites.

One of the trade show booths was operated by a NDSU extension agent named Karl Hoppe. I stopped to chat with Karl for a moment and quickly learned that he’s an extremely affable guy. Before I realized it, a moment had stretched into half an hour.

Karl and I talked about raising cows and kids and anything and everything related to farming. We discovered that we knew several people in common, a common occurrence here in the rural Midwest.          

I learned that Karl had been named to the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Hall of Fame last summer. I could see why. Karl’s outgoing, caring attitude can be summed up by what he said more than once during our conversation: “You’ve got to help whoever you can as much as you can.” 

Karl reminded me of my erstwhile county agent guy, Mel Kloster. Karl, like Mel, is compassionate and gregarious and an unflagging friend of the farmer. The world would be a much better place if it had more people like Karl to help sustain our spirits.

One of the best things about attending a conference is the food. The food at the NPSAS Conference did not disappoint. Friday evening’s banquet included several locally sourced delicacies, including some that contained stratospheric levels of organic garlic. Who knew that they grow garlic in North Dakota?

Many attendees, my wife and I included, thought that the star of the banquet was the Million Dollar Bacon. I was on my way to consuming a couple pounds of the stuff when my gizzard informed me that this idea wasn’t sustainable.

The mercury was hovering at minus 17 F the next morning when we began our homeward journey. And that was without the windchill. It was so cold out in the open that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see puddles of liquid nitrogen or drifts of dry ice.  

Despite all the foreboding forecasts, the roads were dry all the way home.

We stopped at a gas station to refuel our car and ourselves. We watched, gobsmacked, as a man dressed in shorts and sneakers strolled across the parking lot. The car’s thermometer read 15 below zero.

“That guy is going to become a human icicle!” my wife exclaimed.

“Yep,” I agreed. “His clothing choice is definitely interesting.”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.