Cathryn Sprynczynatyk
(Jason Anderson)

Gesiphine Doyugan, a J-1 visa employee from the Philippines, bakes cinnamon rolls at Bessy's Best dairy farm. (Jason Anderson)

Ana Huezo, a J-1 visa employee from the El Salvador, bakes cinnamon rolls at Bessy's Best dairy farm. (Jason Anderson)

Bessy the cow saved the Goetz family dairy farm from going under in the 2008 recession. Or rather, her namesake dairy operation saved the family farm.

Kathy and Blaine Goetz are third generation dairy farmers near Sterling, N.D. Kathy Goetz's father-in-law built the Goetz Dairy. With no electricity, no shelter belts, nothing but an open field, he moved a house to the farm land.

In 2008, commodity prices had hit the bottom. The Goetzes were making cuts where they could. If a cow died, they didn't replace it. After 30 years of dairy farming, the Goetzes were faced with a choice: close the dairy farm or do something different.

"My husband and I, we're too young to retire," Goetz said.

Plus, Goetz added they liked being their own bosses.

Goetz's husband had long dreamt of bottling his own milk. They pooled their savings and began to build their own bottling operation.

Goetz credits a state health inspector with helping them as they built the bottling operation. The inspector was at the Goetz farm almost every day -- not to find things wrong, but to help them make decisions that would fit with health code.

"We continue to do the right thing, not because we have to," Goetz said. "We do the right thing because we want to."

Bessy's Best products are distributed through SuperValu to Bismarck-Mandan, Dickinson, Hazen, Beulah, Steele and other area towns.

"We call it 100 percent real milk, because it's 100 percent whole milk," Goetz said. "We leave the cream in there, because that's your real milk. If we removed the cream, we would have to add back in vitamins. Even in the natural foods, if you look at the ingredients, we are the only milk that has milk as the only ingredient."

In addition to whole milk, Bessy's Best produces chocolate milk, cheese and yogurt. The Goetz dairy farm has a country store where they sell additional products not yet marketed in grocery stores. Pizza, caramel rolls, ice cream and popcorn balls are sold on the honor system.

Bessy's Best products are used in local Bismarck-Mandan cuisine. Pizzas made with Bessy's Best mozzarella are sold at the Bisman Community Food Co-op, and their salad bar features Bessy's Best greek yogurt. Peacock Alley serves Bessy's Best yogurt on waffles. Fireflour Pizza uses Bessy's Best mozzarella on pizzas.

The value-added agricultural products fall under Goetz's responsibility. Blaine and Kathy run the Bessy's Best bottling operation. Their son, Travis Goetz, and his family are responsible for dairy farming.

Goetz runs the bottling operation and is responsible for the cheese, baked goods, etc. Caramel for popcorn balls and caramel rolls is made from Bessy's Best yogurt. Goetz said the yogurt gives caramel rolls a tangy flavor. Even more popular are her cinnamon rolls.

"(Cinnamon rolls) tend to go a bit better than the caramel rolls," Goetz said. "I don't know if it's because they eat it in the car or what."

Goetz has created all of the Bessy's Best cheese recipes, including dill and caraway, garlic cheese curds and full-throttle with jalapeno and habanero peppers.

"You cook it until it squeaks. Usually, you bite," but Goetz tests the doneness of garlic cheese curds by feel.

"My favorite thing beside the whole milk is our greek yogurt," Goetz said. "It is the creamiest. Even without sugar or anything, it is the best... I eat it with berries or drizzle it with honey. That's what Peacock (Alley) does with it on their waffles."

The Bessy's Best name comes from a real cow, although Bessy the cow has since died. Goetz said Bessy wasn't a family pet, but she was an unusually friendly dairy cow.

"Every time you were sitting out there watching the breeding cows, she would come over and want you to pet her, scratch her ears," Goetz said. "All the trainees would get on her and ride her into the barn."

Those trainees are typically international employees on J-1 agricultural visas. Betsy's Best and the Goetz dairy farm had a hard time finding employees, especially competing with the oil industry. Additionally, not many employees were interested in the split shift a dairy farm requires.

Goetz said the J-1 Visa program has been a good fit for them. Their employees gain experience in the agriculture industry. They learn the trade and take that knowledge and experience home with them.

Goetz said they employed one young woman who had just turned 18 years old. She wanted to learn everything she could, including how to breed cattle. Her percentage of bred heifers was so high, a bovine genetics company offered her a job in her native Brazil.

The Goetz family provides food and lodging to their J-1 agricultural visa employees, but the program has its rewards.

"They live with us and they get their meals from us," Goetz said. "It costs us a couple hundred extra, but we like that they get to know us."

Cathryn Sprynczynatyk is a lifelong resident of Bismarck, a proud Ukranian and a news junkie. She is wife to Jason and mother to Sigurdor and Henrik.