MILAN - Chuck Waibel and Carol Ford solved one problem.

In their 2009 book, “The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual,” the Milan couple told the world how to build affordable, passive solar greenhouses to produce fresh greens for winter consumption in northern latitudes.

Waibel was in the process of solving the next problem: How to develop a regional network of winter greenhouse producers for the local foods economy. He had been awarded a Bush Fellowship to pursue his goal this year.

A few months later he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. One month after receiving the diagnosis, on Aug. 16, he died at age 55.

His last days were often filled with thoughts about what he wanted to accomplish, said Ford.

“He was so concerned about making sure the momentum didn’t stop just because he did,” she said.

Waibel’s wish to begin development of a producers’ network will be realized Saturday when people gather at the Milan Community Center to remember him and to carry on his work.

A noon memorial service for Waibel will be followed by a potluck meal and an opportunity for winter greenhouse and local food supporters from throughout Minnesota and beyond to meet one another and build the network that Waibel was working on.

Waibel’s computer had held hundreds of email addresses and the names of people who had corresponded with him over the years. All were emailed about plans for the memorial.

Ford said she has been astonished by the responses from people planning to attend, many who had never met Waibel or Ford but were inspired by their book and their dream of building regional networks of local food producers.

“The responses I’ve been getting back from that have just blown me away,” said Ford.

For Waibel and Ford, it has always been about much more than providing healthy greens in the depth of winter. Ford said developing a local foods economy is an opportunity to build stronger and better rural communities. It is also a means to assure a resilient and dependable food supply.

“Not that long ago, a daily meal wasn’t a given,” Ford said.

She said that Waibel was especially motivated by the conviction that in the future there will be a need for local food systems to provide people’s basic needs.

She said that they wrote their book to inspire people, and to give them the tools they would needed if they wanted to do it.

Now she is seeing just how many people really were inspired and are carrying out the work they always believed so important.

 “I wish there was some way I could get the message to him that you know, it worked,” she said.

After coming to terms with the nearness of his death, Chuck Waibel penned this hope for his memorial:  “I would like to see all the people I’ve worked with on local foods to come together to say good-bye to me but also hello to each other. I can imagine them meeting and greeting, finding common cause and pondering new collaborations. So invite them in and, you know, let them be sad for a while, but then bring them together to share food and conversation and just watch what happens! It’s always been about building community. All of it has. Putting all those dedicated minds together - it’s bound to make great things grow. Let them know this isn’t for my sake. It’s for theirs.” - Chuck Waibel