With farmer-owned restaurants thriving in cities on the East Coast, North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne sought the next step in the organization’s promotion of products from family farms and ranches.
In August, NDFU purchased a tractor-trailer and had the trailer wrapped with the help of the Farmers Restaurant Group’s design team. On Oct. 1, the tractor-trailer will make its maiden voyage to Washington, D.C.
“We’re really trying to own the complete system, where we take the product from the farm and deliver it to the retail outlet such as a restaurant,” Watne said. “This is phase 2. We’ve got the retail presence (the restaurant). We believe we can truck specific products to the restaurants and share in some of the logistics, and hopefully, the profitability.”
The first load heading to the East Coast is full of wheat from North Dakota family farms, sugar from American Crystal Sugar, honey from Sue Bee and flour from the North Dakota state mill.
If it works out, Watne envisions owning more trucks and a distribution system in which NDFU would have vans haul products to each restaurant.
“We have a goal of 25 restaurants in 10 years,” said Watne. NDFU currently has five restaurants with two more set to open within a year. “We could have different hubs and access to a lot more fresh products. Cherries out of Minnesota or mushrooms out of New York. More butter, dairy or canola oil. All of these are potential products we could be taking to (the restaurants).”
The flip side of sending a truck out to Washington, D.C., is the opportunity to bring fresh goods back to North Dakota.
Watne said the first shipment coming back to North Dakota will have Founding Farmers ice cream and fresh shrimp. He didn’t rule out the possibility of adding to that list, be it other types of seafood such as salmon or just commodities grown on the East Coast that aren’t available in the Midwest.
“We see an avenue where rural communities are missing out on getting certain products,” Watne said. “We’re hoping we can take things not only to our retail setting, but we can bring products back and deliver into small communities struggling to keep open their grocery stores.”
Much like it could grow into a system out there, Watne believes the same is possible here.
“We have the potential of creating a food cooperative, initially hubbed out at Jamestown,” Watne said. “That could be something a rural grocer or a member of Farmers Union may want to be part of because then they could order these products and be first in line to get access to these products coming back.”
Watne said it’s another way of promoting the use of American family farm products.
“It helps us get more connected with not only the products from the farms of North Dakota but all over the country,” he said.
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU