Even with a pandemic slowing much of the nation’s restaurant industry, North Dakota Farmers Union continues to haul North Dakota products to the Washington, D.C., area for its seven restaurants.

NDFU Cooperative and Transportation Director Jason McKenney said the organization’s food truck will technically make three trips in October, though he said the truck has averaged one trip every one and half months over the pandemic.

“We just got an order for load No. 41,” he said, adding that it will likely depart at the end of October.

The truck, driven by Transportation Coordinator Kevin Widmer, has been making steady trips to the Washington, D.C., area for three years to not only deliver North Dakota products but to help educate consumers about family farms. It made its first trip in October 2017, originally hauling brown and powdered sugar from American Crystal Sugar.

McKenney said the American Crystal Sugar product is a mainstay on the truck, and that NDFU has since added homegrown honey to its lineup from Beyla Honey near Carson and bacon from Cloverdale Foods in Mandan.

“The goal is to get as much as is feasible from North Dakota on the truck,” McKenney said. “But if it fits the restaurants’ needs, we’ll pick it up from anywhere.”

After Carson, Mandan and Fargo, the truck picks up cream cheese in Wisconsin, grits and cornmeal in Kentucky and then heads to the D.C. area to drop off at a local distribution company, which delivers it to the restaurants in the city.

The pandemic has made it harder for restaurants to predict what they will need for product, and that has created small hurdles for the truck, McKenney said.

“It’s really hard to do forecasting,” he said. “We had the timing down really well (before the pandemic). What the vendors can supply versus what the restaurants need — that number is always moving around.”

NDFU has also used the truck for charitable purposes. In May, Farmers Union Enterprises — which is made up of the Farmers Union state divisions in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin — donated and delivered 150,000 pounds of pork ribs to food banks in five states. The Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo received 30,000 pounds.

McKenney said the truck has driven over 150,000 miles and delivered more than a million pounds of product.

While the idea of the truck was to get product from family farms in North Dakota to the East Coast, backhauling opportunities have helped with costs. The truck has hauled back everything from dollar store candy to HVAC components, McKenney said.

“Any income we gain from backhauls offsets expenses and helps grow this out so we can get more product and in turn, continue to tell the story of American family farms.”

– NDFU Editor Chris Aarhus