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Sunspots: Mary Jo Forbord

If a list of ingredients could be affixed to the beef cattle raised by Mary Jo Forbord and husband Luverne, it would read, simply, "grass, water, sunshine." Since 2002, the Forbords have raised certified organic grassfed lowline Angus beef cattle on the farm where Luverne grew up between Starbuck and Benson. For two generations prior to that, the Forbords had been dairy farmers.

"The definition of healthy eating has changed," said Mary Jo, who is a registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Science degree in food and nutrition from the University of Minnesota. "In the interest of health, there are ingredients in food that don't need to be there, and shouldn't be. People who buy from us like to know how their beef has been raised--in our case, 'solar powered' and grass fed," said Forbord who researched grass-fed cattle prior to the change from a dairy to a beef herd. The Forbords sell 50 percent of their beef to private buyers in the St. Paul area and 50 percent locally.

The concept of connecting farming with nutrition was suggested to Mary Jo during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Forbord's friend, Mary Pat Raimondi, a dietitian from Chicago, insisted that dietitians should have a role in helping farmers keep their land.

"The only field Mary Pat knew growing up was Wrigley Field," Forbord said, "but what she said turned on the 'light bulb' and made a lasting connection for me, the lifelong farm girl. It's rewarding now to see so many people making that essential connection."

Since 2009, Forbord has been the coordinator of Morris Healthy Eating at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield, MHE is led by the Morris campus in partnership with the Pomme de Terre Food Co-op, the Pride of the Prairie Local Foods Initiative lead by the University of Minnesota West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, Sodexo (provider of campus dining services), the Stevens Community Medical Center, and a growing list of other campus and community partners.

"MHE works to make healthy foods more accessible for all of Stevens County," said Forbord, who is a familiar figure to those who shop at the annual Morris Area Farmers' Market. MHE conducted a comprehensive Community Food Assessment and learned that people wanted better access to locally grown foods in season. Forbord, along with farmers' market coordinator Paula Feuchtenberger and MHE student leader Audrey Lesmeister were "regulars" at the market, providing a list of what's available at the market each day, taking suggestions from and surveying shoppers, and providing recipes along with nutritional information.

Additional MHE projects include working with UMM's Food, Culture and Agriculture class and Native American gardening mentors to develop a traditional garden, collaborating with the Regional Fitness Center to develop a community organic garden near the site of the existing campus organic garden and adding nutritional information to the hospital cafeteria's menu options.

Son Joraan, who died last year at age 22 from a rare form of cancer, was the inspiration for the Joraan Forbord Memorial Orchard, located on the Forbords' farm site. "Joraan planted the first fruit trees there and he absolutely loved fruit," she said. The orchard grows Minnesota hearty stone fruit--many varieties of cherries, apricots, plums, pears, currants, berries and apples in an organic system. Working with a private fruit breeder who selects and develops varieties for Joraan's Orchard, the intent is to develop more varieties and more availability of delicious, Minnesota hardy, disease resistant fruit.

"Joraan loved sharing good food with people, so expanding the repertoire of fresh, locally grown fruits in season and offering them to our community is just what Joraan would be doing," said Forbord. "Working in Joraan's Orchard, we feel he still is right there with us." The Forbords will be planting more fruit varieties this year, including 14 varieties of table and juice grapes.

Mary Jo enjoys cross-country skiing through the snow-covered perennials that cover their land. "There's always something blooming on the prairie," she said. Forbord's love of the change of seasons also fuels her passion for photography. A photo she took near her home of the big bluestem at sunset is one of 12 chosen to appear in the 2011 Chippewa River Watershed District calendar.

The Forbords have two children, daughter Meriah (Chris) Chamberlain, who teaches music in Edina and son Jaiden, a senior at Benson High School.