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Published April 13, 2011, 12:00 AM

Flax milk first product of its kind

Goodrich couple selling product at Walmart stores
GOODRICH, N.D. – Stephanie and John Stober started simple 11 years ago with flax seeds.

GOODRICH, N.D. – Stephanie and John Stober started simple 11 years ago with flax seeds.

They branched out into a whole line of products, all grown on the family farm outside of Goodrich, population 133: flax oil, flax sprinkles, flax dog supplements.

Now, they’re introducing the world to flax milk – the first such product of its kind.

Billed as a healthy option for nondairy-milk drinkers – the product is vegan-friendly, gluten- and lactose-free, kosher and rich in omega-3 acids (think the kind you’d get from fish oil) – the milk hits Walmart stores nationwide this week.

“We’re very excited,” said Stephanie Stober. “We’re the first ever to do it.”

For the Stobers, it’s the latest step in what has become a full-time family operation. John’s great- grandfather settled the farm in 1901. John was born and raised there. He stopped farming in the late 1980s to start an insurance business but picked it up again in recent years as the flax business took off.

“We keep thinking of new flax products,” he said. “When you look at what’s out there in the market for different grains, flax milk came to mind.”

The couple’s oldest son, Jared, came on board after graduating from the University of North Dakota in 2006. He originally viewed the family business as an internship opportunity, he says, before realizing he had a chance to go further with it. Now, he does sales and marketing work out of Bismarck.

He said the prevalence of soy milk and other alternative milks has made it easier to break in with flax milk.

“People are very accepting about the nondairy milk category,” he said. “When they hear flax milk, people instantly get it.”

For Stephanie, meanwhile – whom John describes as “fearless when it comes to selling things” – it’s the latest entrepreneurial go-round. She’s gone from selling Mary Kay cosmetics to raising exotic animals – miniature sheep, miniature donkeys, emus, hedgehogs – to marketing her flax products.

She credits her ambitious, can-do spirit to her mother, who raised her and her seven siblings after her father died early on. For Stephanie, launching the product on April 11 has an added significance: It’s the day her father passed away.

She remembers her mother doing whatever she could to support the family – baking, butchering, going so far as to sleep in her greenhouse with a wood stove so the plants she was raising wouldn’t freeze in cold weather.

The lesson: “You can take what you have on the land and make something of it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502