Expanding Production of African Eggplant in the Red River Valley

Progress report for FNC22-1336

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,611.00
Projected End Date: 07/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Prairie Rose Agricultural Institute for Research, Innovation, & Education
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Verna Kragnes
Prairie Rose Agricultural Institute for Research, Innovation, & Education
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Prairie Rose Farm, LLC was established on Earth Day, 2021, and currently comprises two parcels totaling 71+ acres. It is in it’s third year of conversion to organic/biodynamic production of vegetables integrated with mixed species livestock. Onsite composting, cover crops, and rotations provide fertility. Some production includes no-till and limited tillage methods. Additionally, 3 mobile high tunnels and multiple caterpillar tunnels will provide season extension and production of bedding plants. Pollinator habitat and a hedge have been established with NRCS funding. Specialty crop research in white sorghum for grain, sweet sorghum for syrup, and African eggplant have been supported by MDA and NC SARE grants in a cooperative relationship with immigrant refugee farmers from the New Roots Farm Incubator Cooperative.
Partnership production of pastured chicken and the lease of 5 acres of land to the New Roots Farm Incubator Cooperative provide an opportunity to support beginning farmers.


Traditional organic cultural methods employed by immigrant farmers for production of African eggplant will be complemented by use of plastic covered raised beds and two different high tunnel season extension methods.  Eggplant will be evaluated for quantity of production in each method comparing and documenting amount of the plant's total season production and comparing quality though Brix testing and appearance.  The increased summer production will be packaged, frozen and sold through a new enterprise, Red River Valley Eggplant, organized by Caliton Ntahompagaze, replacing frozen eggplant in local ethnic groceries currently sourced from Ghana.   African and Asian families seek the lower quality frozen product when fresh or their own home-grown and frozen eggplant is not available.  This project is an example of an African proverb, "When you wash the right hand, the left hand also gets clean" as it accomplishes significant expansion of production skills among all participating New Roots farmers, provides experience in analyzing cost of production among various methods, launches/plans for future growth of an enterprise designed to replace an off-season international market for a culturally significant food thereby assisting these entrepreneurial farmers to realize their dreams of establishing their individual small scale highly productive farms.

Project Objectives:
  1. Compare cost of production for traditional production with use of raised plastic covered beds and season extension using Caterpillar moveable high tunnel and Four Season Tool moveable caliton eggplantHigh tunnel methods
  2. Evaluate quality through use of Brix testing and visual comparison of differences in appearance, size and shape
  3. Replicate individual farmer preferred methods on their own farm during 2023
  4. Assist one farmer in clarifying his business model and building a plan for future enterprise growth
  5. Share findings through field days, website, social media, and conference presentations


Materials and methods:

Caliton Ntahompagaze significantly advanced his dreams of establishing Red River Valley Eggplant, through the development of a marketable frozen packaged product and the development of his farm label.  The path to this success was long, as the initial plan for blanching eggplant according to Extension guidelines for freezing eggplant, and then vacuum sealing resulted in an inferior product.  Multiple calls to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Extension, and food safety resource people failed to find a solution.  Finally, a referral to Jason Robinson, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), who suggested that we try a blast freezer provided the solution we needed.  The only blast freezer available in the Fargo/Moorhead area was at Northern Crops Institute (NCI). Caliton was allowed to test production using the blast freezer in this space resulting in the marketable product. Consultation with Ryan Pesch, UMN Extension has provided support for integrating African eggplant into his business plan which allowed him to successfully secure a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan and purchase his own farm property.  Caliton also tried a comparison of eggplant on plastic to a regular mulched bed and found a 20% increase in production as well as improved weed control.  However, he expressed concerns about the cumbersome planting by hand into plastic and due to the fact that there were only a couple of rows, the wind would catch the plastic edges and it would need to be straightened frequently.  

Research on African eggplant in a high tunnel was postponed to the following year.  Construction of the first caterpillar high tunnel was attempted in March, but then the season got intense and farmers team members could not be diverted to this construction project.  Additionally, the tunnel proved to be harder to build than had been anticipated.  Later in the season, Mason Berube, a Prairie Rose Farm Intern identified construction issues and successfully built a tunnel for use in 2023.

Research results and discussion:

During 2022, Caliton identified a 20% increase in production, reduced weed pressure and improved size and appearance of eggplant when growing on plastic-covered beds in comparison to the traditional method of production used in his home country of Burundi.  A report done for 2023 will include additional documentation of his journey to expansion from traditional farming methods to strategic use of mechanization for production.


Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Tours

Participation Summary:

30 Farmers participated
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

West Central Initiative Farm Tour-5 people from MN Dept of Ag

Hosted Farm Buds in 2022-2023--This is a farm group from Minneapolis-St. Paul that has spent a weekend on the farm each of the last two years to tour and help with projects.  

MN Specialty Crop Staff

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

Caliton was reluctant to try more than one bed of plastic mulch due to a concern about making a change with a significant portion of his crop to an unknown practice in 2022.  He has documented positive results from doing so in yield and labor, however, elected for 2023 to try using mechanical transplanting to reduce labor for planting.  Ideally, he will be working toward the purchase of equipment that will allow him to apply plastic and drip tape on a bed and then subsequently use a mechanical transplanter to plant into the plastic bed as he scales up his production.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.