North Dakota Grows: Brenda, Dan, Adam, and Woodward Farm

On 80 acres of pure country near Cathay, ND sits Woodward Farm, home to a smorgasbord of homemade magic courtesy of Brenda Gorseth.  Brenda has spent the last six years cooking up everything from “Man in a Can” onion pepper relish to custom kuchen to – ready for it – “North Dakota Nice” salsa.

The wonderful Brenda has offered her thoughts on how to can, jar, and bottle North Dakota sunshine:

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Tell us about Woodward Farm and your connection to North Dakota.

Our North Dakota story is unique; my husband is from Stanley, ND, and I’m from Minnesota. We were living in Georgia and wanted to get back to the Midwest, so we looked on a map and found Carrington in the middle of our hometowns. After searching on the Internet for properties in the area, we found an 80-acre ranch and purchased it. I was an English teacher until 2013 when we started Woodward Farm and converted our two-car garage into a large commercial kitchen. We built it to process and sell the produce we harvested here and around the area, but stumbled upon catering and discovered it’s something I love doing. Winters make it difficult to want to stay in North Dakota, but the people are what make it a great place.

I grew up on a farm and a large family; my maternal grandma came out almost daily to help out my mom and together they taught us how to can, bake, and garden. While teaching, I often baked things or created a jam recipe for my students to enjoy; they are the ones who encouraged me to create a business and sell to larger outlets than the local farmers’ markets. We were taught to use what you have, and after large harvests of fruit and vegetables, realized I needed to create some fun recipes that were not the ‘norm’-everyone makes strawberry-rhubarb jam, but NOT everyone makes ‘Ugly Sister Rhubarb Salsa’-a niche market is the way to be successful on the crowded shelves at the store.

Everything in the product line either comes from our large garden or someone locally. One of my sources for produce is the Carrington Research Extension Center; while there, they asked if I catered events as they host many throughout the year – I did it once and was hooked.

My goal with the catering is to make it as ‘farm to table’ as possible, even in the winter months. By canning green beans, carrots, spaghetti sauce, etc, and using fresh produce in the summer and fall months as well as using local sources of meat, honey, flour, etc, the goal of keeping it North Dakota sourced succeeds. All the breads and desserts are made from scratch; every week I provide three types of cookies to Gate City Bank in Carrington, and while opening a box of frozen pre-formed cookie dough works for some, it doesn’t for me.

What’s your secret recipe for working well together as a family?

My family has been very supportive and help out whenever it is needed; my son helped in the garden from the time he was six with weeding, picking, trellising, and harvesting. Now he’s 17 and makes better looking dinner rolls than I do (I think it’s the mathematician in him). My husband, who works in the oil fields, helps out when he can with grilling, heavy lifting and serving at big events.

What are you most proud of related to Woodward Farm?

Creating and owning a business is hard work; one becomes the both the CEO and custodian, and some days are really long. I am proud of what is produced both in product and in catering and since I do the majority of the prep myself, I know what is in it and how it was made. Many of the caterings at the Carrington Research Center involve people in the agriculture business, and the biggest compliment is when they tell me they appreciate a home cooked meal that has generous portions and is made well. Peeling potatoes for a group of fifty is a lot of spuds, but the taste of real mashed potatoes versus a box puts a smile on their faces, and that’s what my business is about. When a cattleman tells me the roast beef is the best he’s tasted, I know it’s a big deal and appreciate it.

Why should people by North Dakota-made products over anywhere else?

We are fortunate in North Dakota to have a state mill and an ample supple of locally sourced honey, just to name a few. I believe It’s important to use the local resources we have and to take pride in creating products for others to enjoy. From aronia berries to bison meat, this state has unique raw materials other states may not produce, and as a caterer and producer, it’s my challenge to showcase them for others to appreciate. Purchasing North Dakota made products means you are supporting the community you live in, not some factory mass producing a bland, but cheaper, jam or salsa in a state the product isn’t even grown in. When you buy ‘Grapes of Wrath’ or ‘North Dakota Nice Salsa’, you help my company to invest in the local chamber of commerce, donate a gift basket to the local charity, or be able to bake items for my son’s FFA chapter.  The biggest challenge local businesses like mine face is people buying out of state or area products that are cheaper; yes, mine may cost more, but you know where the apples came from, you know it was made in a small batch, and hopefully you understand how buying it helps our local economy.

[From Amanda: You can pick up a jar of “North Dakota Nice” salsa or book your next event by going to the Woodward Farm website here, or follow their goings-on on Facebook here.]

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