A Family Affair: Cocktail Farm

At their “cocktail” farm in rural Washington, sisters Venise Cunningham and Belinda Kelly grow simple goodness and stir up old-fashioned fun

Born and raised in suburban Seattle, sisters Venise Cunningham and Belinda Kelly were both working in the fast-paced tech industry when they decided to say goodbye to corporate life in search of greener pastures. Venise and husband Ross made the leap first by purchasing Simple Goodness Farm in Pierce County, Washington, where they began growing varieties of heirloom garlic. Soon after, Belinda left the working world as she knew it to focus on her new role as a mom, as well as on the birth of her other “baby,” a mobile bar called The Happy Camper Cocktail Company that was housed in a refurbished 1950s Aladdin camper. She asked Venise and Ross to add in some fruit to their farm production so she could use it to create a signature cocktail featuring an original syrup recipe, Rhubarb Vanilla Bean. The drink garnered rave reviews and became the catalyst for Belinda and Venise’s newest venture, Simple Goodness Sisters, a collection of vegan, small-batch syrups, sugars, and salts made from all-natural fruits, herbs, and edible flowers.

It takes every member of the family to keep Simple Goodness Farm running.

“Our flavors are inspired by whatever is in season,” Venise says. “We only use what we grow or can buy from our local farmer friends. Over the years, we’ve experimented with ingredients and developed our palates, but basically our syrups pair well with anything and everything that syrups can go in or on—from cocktails and mocktails to coffees and teas to waffles and pies.”

The sisters grow and harvest a variety of herbs, edible flowers, fruits, and vegetables to ensure every drink they prepare is "farm fresh, garden to glass."

Since the debut of Rhubarb Vanilla Bean, the sisters’ offerings have blossomed to include artisanal blends such as Blueberry Lavender, Berry Sage, Marionberry Mint, Huckleberry Spruce Tip, Lemon Herb, and Apple Pie. Also stirring up interest are their floral-infused salt and sugar rimmers made from bachelor’s buttons, chamomile, and other edible flowers picked fresh then dehydrated.

All of the syrups from Simple Goodness Sisters are vegan and made from scratch using organic sugar.

As business began to bloom, so did the need for a commercial test kitchen. With a loan from their grandmother, the sisters purchased a historic building in downtown Wilkeson and opened up the Simple Goodness Soda Shop. The shop includes not only a test kitchen but also a tasting room, a retail space, and a family-friendly café. “While the building has housed many businesses over the years, it was the home of Wilkeson’s first soda fountain back in the 1920s,” Belinda says. “It’s as though it was meant to be.”

The sisters' soda shop serves as their production headquarters, with a tasting room, a farm-to-table cafe, and a store.

Restoring the building became a labor of love for the sisters and their families, as well as for the entire community. “Most of the building, as well as the furniture, is made of salvaged materials and parts,” says Belinda. A bench in front of the shop was crafted from fragments of sandstone that Ross discovered under the building during construction. Inside, the flooring consists of 2-foot-wide floorboards recovered from a nearby elementary school. The tables are made from scraps and hardware found at a dilapidated coal mill. But, for the sisters, the most special piece is the checkout counter, taken from their father’s old mill shop. It’s the very same counter where they spent many afternoons and summer days working the register for extra spending money.

“This place doesn’t just belong to my sister and me; it belongs to the three generations who worked so hard under this roof to get the doors open and keep them open,” Venise says. “We’re not just creating products; we’re creating memories. And we’re not just selling syrups and salts; we’re telling stories.”

Simple Goodness Jack Rose

Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces applejack whiskey (such as Laird’s)

¾ ounce Simple Goodness Rhubarb Vanilla Bean syrup

½ ounce lemon juice (fresh squeezed)

1 big dash citrus bitters or aromatic bitters

1 lemon twist

Edible flower sugar or fresh edible flowers (optional)

Add whiskey, Rhubarb Vanilla Bean syrup, fresh lemon juice, and citrus or aromatic bitters to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until the outside of the shaker is very cold, and strain the cocktail into a chilled glass. Finish by twisting a lemon peel over the glass to release citrus oils into the cocktail. Garnish with an edible flower sugar rim or fresh edible flowers, if available.

Nonalcoholic version: Follow the same directions, but substitute fresh green apple juice for the liquor and add another dash of aromatic bitters. We like Granny Smith apple juice the best for this recipe so that the drink does not get too sweet.

By Margaret Zainey Roux | Photography by Rylea Foehl