Minn-Dak Growers’ legacy goes forward after loss of founder

Harris Peterson, a legend in the region’s specialty crop industry, died Jan. 27 at the age of 92. He had farmed and started processing at Drayton in the 1950s and established a cooperative called Minn-Dak Growers Association in 1966 before making it a privately-held company in 1978 as Minn-Dak Growers Ltd. He served as chief executive officer for more than 50 years, operating it until just days before he died.

For the past three years, Harris had tried to sell the company but in the end sold his shares to his son, Harold, 69, and his grandson Jeremy, 40. The two hired General Manager Jim Blair, 55, who oversees 25 people in Grand Forks, and Dickinson.

Buckwheat king

Minn-Dak Growers is perhaps best known for its buckwheat. Buckwheat is not a wheat but is in a group known as a pseudocereals, meaning the seeds are consumed in the same way as cereal grains but do not grow on grasses. Buckwheat is related to the rhubarb family.

Minn-Dak Growers ships whole buckwheat internationally from its Dickinson plant. It also brings buckwheat into its Grand Forks plant to clean and dehull it to make buckwheat groats and other other products. Buckwheat is gluten-free. Minn-Dak Growers makes buckwheat grits, buckwheat flour (light and dark) and farinetta, a buckwheat bran flour, which is said to be helpful in diabetic diets.

The company also brings in yellow, brown and oriental mustard seed. They grind whole mustard seeds to make any iteration of mustard flour, marketed domestically and internationally. Much of the mustard goes into table mustard or into processed meats.

Blair says the company is blessed with historical marketing relationships — many from Harris Peterson’s contacts — but is in the process of revitalizing its certifications under the Global Food Safety Initiative, a private organization that benchmarks safety processes worldwide. “We envision within the next crop year we’ll have those certificates in place, which should open up some better market opportunities,” Blair says. They’re also developing an “e-store,” to allow customers to order through a website, and in various package sizes.

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