(AGWEEK) GRANDIN, N.D. — For Amber and Ross Lockhart, North Dakota holds a special place in their hearts. So much so that after the two moved away to Sacramento, it beckoned them back.
“It was nice, we loved living out there. It just, something was missing,” Ross said. Ross co-owns Heart and Soil Farm, with his wife Amber. The two manage 13 acres of land near Gardner, growing produce they sell at local farmer’s markets and to local restaurants such as Luna and Sol Avenue. Having grown up on a conventional farm in the area, Ross had a clear understanding of agriculture. But it wasn’t until their time in California that his and Amber’s perception of it all changed.
“When we lived in California we started turning our lawn into a growing area and we took some classes from a non-profit farm near us,” Amber said.
Their connection with culture, food and the land was growing deeper as was their desire to return to the wide-open spaces of North Dakota. It was also becoming more important to be closer to family with their young daughter, Stella. Once back in North Dakota the two started Heart and Soil Farm, but it didn’t come without mixed reactions, some skepticism and plenty of support.
“Our family gave us a lot of start-up equipment and access to land and things like that,” Ross said. “And lots of free unsolicited advice. We’re grateful for that because otherwise, I don’t think we’d be able to get started at all.”
“Because he grew up here, it was a lot easier for us to talk with our neighbors about things and get people interested and involved,” Amber said. And now, many of their best customers are their neighbors who happen to be conventional farmers.
“We appreciate those types of relationships because there is a community connection,” Amber said.
And connection is what keeps Heart and Soil Farm and other farms like theirs operating and meeting the needs of families in their communities. Something Jen Skoog, owner of Family Roots Farm can attest to.
“I got to know Ross and Amber through the markets. I definitely learned a lot from them, whether they know it or not,” Skoog said. “When I was starting out my adventure into market gardening I was watching what they had because they had a really well-oiled machine as far as the consumer side of things.”
On her 15-acre farm along the Red River near Christine, Skoog manages about 100 laying chickens as well as ducks and guineafowl. She also grows produce and raises lamb, chickens and pigs for meat products they sell at markets.
“North Dakota has a lot to offer. We’ve got wonderful wide open beautiful spaces and to be able to utilize that, bringing more people, welcoming people in, that diversity, the different ideas, the background is going to do nothing but help our state and really allow us to grow in all aspects,” Skoog said.
Skoog has been involved with developing a cultural center in Christine that will welcome people into the state from all different backgrounds. For her and others in North Dakota, it goes beyond agriculture and is about welcoming all people whether they’re from another state, grew up here, went away and came back, or are from another country.
“We all bring something a little different to the table,” she said.