Family, farming, and feeding carb cravings
Three Farm Daughters has created a pasta empire within Nodak Electric Cooperative’s rural footprint.
Annie Gorder’s earliest memories of growing up on Sproule Farms north of Grand Forks, N.D., don’t involve as many tractor rides or chicken chases as you might imagine. She and her two younger sisters were raised to see agriculture through a different window.
“What I remember is every Sunday, after church, Mom and Dad would throw us all in the vehicle and we’d do crop tours for hours at a time. Back then, there were no iPads or DVD players in the Suburban, so we would just be sitting in the vehicle with coloring books,” Gorder said, her sisters nodding in agreement beside her. “We got immersed in it because they immersed us in their business.”
Gorder and her siblings, Mollie Ficocello and Grace Lunski, didn’t know it at the time, but that early immersion would create a bond with the business (and each other) that would lead to the creation of Three Farm Daughters – a small pasta company that has now expanded to hundreds of stores across the country. In just two short years, the women turned the idea of better-for-you, additive-free pasta into a successful brand found on the shelves of Whole Foods, Hugo’s, Hornbacher’s, Kowalski’s and many other retailers.
Family entrepreneurship wasn’t always on the roadmap for the sisters, who all went off to college and earned advanced degree in business and law. But when they all started to build families, they knew their paths would ultimately lead back to Sproule Farms.
“We always say that growing up around the farm and around the family business, it kind of pulls at your heartstrings and brings you back to the business,” Ficocello said. “It’s kind of personal. It seemed to pull us all back.”
Im-pasta-bly good for you
The concept for Three Farm Daughters pasta was grown and harvested in the same Sproule Farms offices in which the girls spent much of their childhood, now with fewer Pack ’N Plays and colored pencils. Annie, Mollie and Grace knew the wheat that was being produced in their backyards had unique attributes and health benefits over standard grains and flours found at the grocery store.
“We were thinking this was nutrition we would want to eat ourselves and feed our families,” Ficocello explained, gesturing to the table before her. “We then, in this conference room, came up with the idea of making a product.”
The grains used to make Three Farm Daughters pasta contain resistant starches that help produce good bacteria in the large intestine, called butyrate, which is known to support a strong immune system. The sisters also learned their pasta has a low glycemic index (GI) response, meaning it doesn’t trigger the blood sugar spike, bloating and crash of a typical helping of noodles. Buyers with diabetes have messaged the women, thanking them for making pasta accessible again. The wheat variety’s high fiber also leads to a nutritional calculation that is lower in calories and net carbs – a miracle macaroni of sorts.
“When we say that we started this company because this was what we wanted to feed our kids, it was for those reasons,” Lunski said. “To get to feed a child their favorite food in the world, and they’re getting high fiber, and it’s good for their immune system – this is a win-win-win, check all of the boxes!” she added with a laugh.
As the trio learned more about “better pasta,” they also learned more about “better business.” They started selling their small-batch product in shops and boutiques around the region, making a full-on boots on the ground effort to contact anyone who may have room for a local pasta on the shelf.
“Being from Grand Forks, we have such a great community. Even the state of North Dakota itself, it’s a very supportive state,” Ficocello said. “When we launched in Hugo’s, our local grocer, we had reached out to their team to see if we could sell with them. They were very willing and receptive to our product and what we were trying to do.”
“For me, the moment I felt we had made it was when Hugo’s was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you!’” Gorder said. “We got a grocery store!”
By December of 2020, just months after the business was conceived, Three Farm Daughters had expanded into 38 retail stores. The following year, the sisters decided to begin a professional rebranding process to make sure their product was ready for the big leagues they knew would be calling.
In July 2022, the new logo, packaging and products were ready, just in time to hit 68 Whole Foods locations in the Midwest. Three Farm Daughters not only redesigned its brand and boxes, but also worked to bring all production to North Dakota, returning the local support that had been given to them at the start.
Annie, Mollie and Grace consider their father, Paul Sproule, one of the chief navigators of their new venture. He’s been by their side with business advice and words of wisdom.
“Our dad has really instilled in us that failure isn’t fatal in business. He reiterates that constantly,” Gorder said.
Sproule and his wife, Susie, know something about starting a journey from a spark of an idea. They started farming in Nodak Electric Cooperative’s service territory in 1993 when Annie was just three years old. They respect how rural ambition can lead to innovation and growth, even when it comes to the electricity that powers their home, their daughters’ homes, and their Sproule Farms shop.
“The beauty of Nodak is how it was built. It was built by farmers. If they wouldn’t have got together and started a co-op, North Dakota wouldn’t have developed like it developed. To get those power lines going from place to place and to share those costs was very important,” Sproule said.
That farm work ethic – that need to grind until the world is made better for your family and your community – still flows through the Sproules and is visible in each of their daughters.
“Grace always comments that we’re living off coffee, adrenaline and a dream,” Annie said, smiling at her youngest sister. “You have to want it. If you don’t want it, then it’s hard. But when you want it, it’s exciting and it’s easy.”
MAIN IMAGE: The ag entrepreneurs showcase their latest short-cut varieties: penne, rotini, elbow and cavatappi. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)