Grower of the Month: Tom and Corrie Enander of Grenora, N.D

Published in the February 2014 Issue Published online: Feb 20, 2014 Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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In a given year, the Enanders will grow about 50 different varieties on 89 separate certification lots totaling about 200 acres.

These Cascades will eventually make their way to growers across the country.

“It” is the place where dreams go to come to fruition. “It” is a person’s promised land, the land of milk and honey. “It” is, in a word, home. And Tom and Corrie Enander have found it.

Grenora, N.D., population 244 as of the 2010 census, is conveniently located almost exactly halfway between Medicine Lake, Mont. (population 225) and Fortuna, N.D. (population 22), in the extreme northwest corner of North Dakota. It’s an inconspicuous stretch of highway, with few people and even fewer buildings—which is precisely why the Enanders wound up there.

Working for John Deere in the Minnesota’s Twin Cities after graduating from North Dakota State University, the Enanders thought that their days of actually working the land were, sadly, behind them. But Corrie’s father, Neil Jonk, made it a hobby of his to drive around the upper Midwest hunting down ideal seed potato ground. And when he and his friend, long-time University of Minnesota professor and Extension educator Duane Preston, drove into Grenora, they knew they’d hit the jackpot.

“The soil quality was good with very few rocks, and it was very isolated,” says Corrie Enander. “There was no other potato ground around, and they liked that combination for early-generation seed. But they were already into retirement, so they knew it wasn’t for them.”

So Tom and Corrie got the call, and on Independence Day weeked of 2001, they made the trek to Grenora to check out the area and visit with the owner of the land Jonk and Preston had described. “We came out and talked to the landowner, and that was the turning point for us,” says Corrie. “We were thinking, ‘What farmer’s going to give up his land to a young couple to start farming?’ It was a shot in the dark, but he was just the nicest man. He was really a gift of God for us.”

The landowner, who declined to be named for this feature, told the Enanders that the next year, they could rent what they needed to start their operation. That’s just what they did, growing seven acres of seed potatoes in 2002 while farming the landowner’s other crops. When the landowner retired, he gave the Enanders his blessing to use the land as they saw fit.

“It was really a God thing for us,” Corrie says. “I mean, no one starts farming from nothing anymore. We had absolutely nothing; we didn’t even have a tractor to our name.”

Things have come a long way for Enander Seed Farm since then. With Tom serving as agronomist and Corrie as potato specialist, the isolated northwest corner of North Dakota has become home to some of the finest early-generation seed in the industry. In a given year, they will grow about 50 different varieties on 89 separate certification lots totaling about 200 acres. Their variety roster runs the gamut, from the old stand-by Yukon Golds and Russet Burbanks to newer varieties such as the Dakota Russet and MonDak Gold, a pink-skinned, yellow-fleshed newcomer.

Seed growers from all over the country come to Grenora for some of the cleanest seed there is. The Enanders even try to make sure the trucks that haul their potatoes off the farm have never hauled any other potatoes—they primarily use local grain trucks—just to make sure their seed is as clean as possible. The relationship with their grower-customers is one of trust, and the Enanders don’t take it lightly.

“We realize wholeheartedly that we hold growers’ futures in our hands,” Corrie says. “That’s why we simply contract grow; we don’t really need to take any risk on our own as far as that goes because we’ve worked to gain that trust. The growers order mini-tubers from the greenhouse, and we just grow it.

“We’ve got to work with forward-thinking growers, though,” she continues, “because they’ve got to think three or four years in advance of what they need. And if commercial growers come to us, they’ve got to be thinking five or six years in advance.”

Enander Seed Farm works with only three greenhouses (Valley Tissue Culture, Halstad, MN; Summit Plant Lab, Fort Collins, CO; and Sklarczyk Seed Farm, LLC, Johannesburg, MI)—again, to ensure their seed as clean as possible. “I don’t take from on-farm greenhouses because of the potential exposure,” Corrie explains. “I don’t know all their sanitation regulations and so forth. The greenhouses we work with, we trust.”

There’s that word again—trust. It seems to come up a lot in conversation with and about Tom and Corrie Enander. While seeking out trustworthy partners with whom to do business, the Enanders have themselves become one of the most trusted operations in the industry.

“Sometimes it’s hard in this day and age to stand up for what you know is right and true,” says Corrie Enander. “And yet, once you make up your mind, it’s not that hard. We just always put ourselves in the other grower’s position: Is this what I would want to receive? You just work backward from there and absolutely do your best.”

The Enanders are proving that their best is pretty darn good.