Linda Funk, executive director of the Soyfoods Council, hands out samples of foods made with soybeans at the North Dakota Nutrition Council conference on April 4 in Bismarck. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Representatives of ag groups are used to going to shows and conventions, talking to farmers and consumers. Talking to farmers about the importance of various crops can be like preaching to the choir, while talking to consumers at big events can be hit or miss on whether the information sets in, said Brian Gion, marketing director for the Northern Crop Growers Association.

Gion was manning a Northern Pulse Growers Association booth at the North Dakota Nutrition Council’s annual conference on Thursday, April 4. The booth he had set up, with informational brochures, recipe cards, cookbooks and more, wasn’t much different than what would be presented at any other conference, Gion said. However, the conversations tended toward more details and nutrition facts.

“It’s more focused,” Gion said.

The Northern Pulse Growers Association was among a number of ag groups that sponsored the conference and set up booths there, including the North Dakota Soybean Council and Northarvest Beans. The North Dakota Wheat Commission and North Dakota Beef Commission also sponsored speakers at the conference.

Eric Ducker, president of the North Dakota Nutrition Council, said the annual conference brings together nutrition officials from different areas. About 60% to 70% of members are dieticians, while others are from educational settings and Extension, Ducker said.

The group’s mission, she explained, is to provide accurate nutritional information.

“We always hope that they learn something new,” Ducker said.

The April 4 event was the group’s 40th annual conference, with a theme of promoting local foods and growers.

For Linda Funk, executive director of the Soyfoods Council, the conference was a good opportunity to show off one of North Dakota’s top crops.

“You all live in North Dakota. Soybean fields surround you. You should really start saying, how can I start adding just a little bit of soy in my diet every day,” she said.

The importance of talking to nutrition professionals was highlighted by an early-morning talk given by Brett Carver of Oklahoma State University. The discussion, on how wheat varieties have changed over time, looked at things like gluten and other wheat components and whether wheat was a culprit for health problems.

“Wheat is not a monster. It is our friend. It’s been our friend for a long time,” Carver said.

For the Northern Pulse Growers Association, attending an event like the North Dakota Nutrition Council conference isn’t the only strategy. Likewise, setting up booths at grocery stores in the region has provided “bang for your buck,” Gion said.

He explained how he’ll go to a store, with store manager approval, and set up a booth showing different pulse products purchased in the store. Then, he can talk to shoppers about the products and their potential uses and health benefits.

“It’s always good to go where people are buying the products,” he said.

Once, Gion visited a grocery store in Sidney, Mont., and struggled to fill even the bottom of the cart with products containing pulse crops after hours of searching. The next time he visited, the manager excitedly showed him the 30 new pulse products they had started stocking.

At the North Dakota Nutrition Council conference, Gion said connecting with people in the nutrition industry would provide a bit of a multiplier effect of how many people could hear about incorporating pulse crops in their diet, as each professional at the conference could potentially work with many other people on ways to use the products.

For instance, many ideas presented at his booth, as well as a booth manned by the North Dakota Soybean Council and the Soyfoods Council, were in incorporating new products into a meat-and-potato diet. Gion had recipes for things like lentil brownies, while Funk was offering samples of chocolate pudding made with tofu and chili made of half hamburger and half textured soy protein at the Soyfoods Council booth.

Funk said those options and others she talked to attendees about were examples of “really easy, versatile, fun ways to start incorporating soy into every day diets.”

Offering such options “takes the thought out of” making dietary changes, without the expectation of foregoing things they like, Gion said.

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