Twenty-three countries and still counting, says Roger Gussiaas, owner of Healthy Oilseeds. We virtually sat down with Gussiaas and his sister and Sales Associate, Karen Gussiaas-Smith, for insights on their exporting success and their passion for Healthy Oilseeds and its products.
The Gussiaas’ have been farming for several generations, but Healthy Oilseeds itself started in 2002. “Every business has a story, and often it is the unique people that make those stories come to life,” Karen says, and Roger jokes, “and Karen loves stories, but it really has made a difference to tell our story.” The story of Healthy Oilseeds has a lively spirit full of passion and a drive to do better. Rogers’ son, Brock Gussiaas, passed away unexpectedly in 2014. “Brock is the heart of the company. He had a business mind, loved his work, loved working with dad, and to see the progress of seeds all the way to the finished product,” says Karen. Roger adds, “His heart and soul are still with this company. It drives this company to do better… he is with us every day, helping us overcome difficult things.” This passion is present in everything Healthy Oilseeds does.
The company has grown to reach 23 countries worldwide, and with this momentum, they keep looking for more opportunities to expand. Healthy Oilseeds has employees from Kazakhstan, Moldova, Spain, and Columbia who are quintessential to doing business overseas and understanding each market’s intricacies. Roger’s wife, Nurgul, originally from Kazakhstan, is an integral part of the company working with the third-party Primus food safety certification. She is also vital in the day-to-day operations, from working in the office to operating a forklift to ensure shipments make it all over the world.
When asked how Healthy Oilseeds got into exporting, Roger replied that there were only two ways to gain wealth for an area, “that is tourism or exporting. We didn’t think tourism would work well in Carrington. I thought exporting might bring in more dollars, so, we started exporting in 2002.” Roger and Karen’s father was always impressed by exporters, and Brock saw the potential as well. With those two inventive spirits and Roger’s drive, Healthy Oilseeds has had abundant success exporting.
The Gussiaas family has grown more than 25 different crops over the years and have taken each as a learning experience. They lean more towards specialized crops with ND grown flaxseed, hempseed, and borage rather than corn and soybeans. The company has achieved Primus Global Food Safety Certification, Certified Organic, and Kosher to ensure their products are superior in quality. They want to ensure transparency and let consumers know exactly what they are purchasing to build trust in Healthy Oilseeds’ products.
The company started growing hempseed in 2016, as another very healthy oilseed, and it would complement the processing and marketing of flaxseed. Healthy Oilseeds’ presses for oil are now running 24/7 for hempseed and other oils. The benefits of hempseeds are not only seen in humans, but also help horse owners remedy some common problems including digestion, skin ailments, and overall joint health of horses. Beyond edible seeds and oils, there is an increasing demand, (especially with the quality certifications) for ingredients in environmentally friendly cosmetics, skincare, soaps, and even artistic paints.
Karen, a former family and consumer science teacher, spoke about the impact of going on trade missions and what a great experience it is. “These opportunities just open our eyes to the whole world of how food comes to our tables, that something in ND can make a difference globally. I taught farm to table lessons, but now with this global perspective, it shows me how North Dakota can grow food the whole world needs.” Exporting can open new opportunities globally, and some of the best ways to do that, Karen says, is to explore, go on a trade mission, meet people, and see how your company can impact more broadly. “There are more market opportunities if you look beyond your borders and your products can often be sold at higher prices,” Roger points out. Although it has its own challenges, getting into exporting can be a very rewarding experience with the right team and passion guiding you, both Roger and Karen agree.
Roger has a reputation for giving back and doing what it takes to get the job done. He firmly believes in passing down knowledge. He says, “It feels good to share, and we all lack knowledge in one way or another. Everyone needs help, and we all have to give back. We all take it, so we have to give it too.” Karen highlights, “when I see Roger present at conferences or talk to others, I am impressed by all those who look up to him and how many people go to him for advice. She describes an excellent farmer in central ND that Roger helped with his harvest this fall. Roger pitched in and went to help with the harvest because that is what needed to get done. Roger also appreciates the opportunity to experience combining of hemp since it can be a challenging crop to harvest.
The company continues its local engagement with a University of Jamestown marketing group, an internship with a Concordia College student, and even a high-school student who all offer their talents and get real-world experience. “They tell us when things are working… we can learn a lot from young people. Especially the direction of the consumer,” says Roger. He emphasizes that the younger generations will determine the consumers’ wants and Healthy Oilseeds benefits from seeing what the younger generations like, what they are interested in. “It’s fun to see the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Then you are connected to see where their lives go. As a teacher, I love working with young people and seeing them grow!” adds Karen. The students they work with have great ideas and point them in new directions on how to engage with different generations, what things should look like, or how they expect them to work. Healthy Oilseeds places a high value on young voices and loves to tap into the passion that many have for life.
What’s next for Healthy Oilseeds? Well, country twenty-four, of course! They have been lucky with low impact from the coronavirus on their business and look forward to new opportunities in the Caribbean and maybe even New Zealand.