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Jon Knutson, Published September 06 2009

Halstad man’s organic potatoes sold nationally

HALSTAD, Minn. – Hugh Dufner hasn’t taken the well-beaten path in life.

For the past two decades, he’s been marketing organic potatoes.

Jobs such as Dufner’s that minimize the environmental impact of raising food typically are considered part of the green economy.

Dufner is the proprietor of Hugh’s Gardens, which has its warehouse/plant in Halstad and business office in Moorhead.

“We sell to Minneapolis and beyond,” he said

Many of his sales are to food cooperatives in the Twin Cities, although he also has customers in other markets nationwide.

He sells to stores and individuals in the Fargo-Moorhead area, too.

Dufner grew up on a Buxton, N.D., farm and later served in the Peace Corps. He spent six years in rural community development in Ecuador, where he distributed better varieties of potatoes for use as seed.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in agricultural economics from North Dakota State University. He eventually worked on projects in Africa, including work in Ethiopia for Catholic Relief Service.

After returning to this area, he entered the organic produce market.

“We have all this beautiful farmland in the Red River Valley, and I wanted to do something different (from conventional agriculture) with it,” he said.

He began his business in 1987 in Buxton, later moving it to Halstad, about 35 miles north of Moorhead, after buying a potato warehouse/plant there.

Dufner’s potatoes are grown on contract by farmers in the Valley City, N.D., and Verona, N.D., areas. The spuds are sent to Halstad, where Dufner and his staff clean, bag and load them onto trucks.

As an organic operation, Hugh’s Gardens doesn’t use synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, including ones that inhibit sprouts. That requires Dufner to store his spuds in underground pits, where the air is cooler, to extend their shelf life.

His potatoes sell for about 50 percent to 100 percent more than conventionally grown potatoes, Dufner said.

That reflects higher costs associated with organic potatoes, he said.

Organic products offer big advantages in flavor and nutrition over conventionally grown ones, but getting the former to customers in an efficient, low-cost way is a challenge, he said. “The organic market is enticing. But there are still a lot of things to be worked out with the delivery system.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530