Sister-Run PNW Farm Is the Nation’s First Dedicated to Cocktail Ingredients

by | May 17, 2023

In the small town of Buckley, Washington near the base of Mount Rainier, sisters Belinda Kelly and Venise Cunningham have launched the nation’s first “cocktail farm,” dedicated to growing the herbs, produce, and flowers destined to become their Simple Goodness Sisters seasonal simple syrups, shrubs, and cocktail garnishes.

The sisters are first-generation farmers with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, and their drink syrups pair their homegrown ingredients with other locally sourced and locally foraged elements to create ultra-seasonal flavors for their products as well as their community of Cocktail Farm Club subscribers across the U.S.

“Whenever we’re creating a new syrup flavor, we’re trying to use at least one thing that we grow here on the farm,” says Cunningham, who spearheads the Simple Goodness Cocktail Farm at her 10-acre property. “We’re always trying to be responsive to what’s growing well, and that can change a lot from year to year. As a farmer and an extrovert, I also love to network and I meet a lot of other local farmers, which means I handle a lot of the sourcing” of additional local ingredients. Puyallup’s Sidhu Farms, for example, provides strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries for the sisters’ syrups.

“It was really important to us that we differentiate from other syrups that were already on the market,” says Kelly, whose adventures in the beverage community began in earnest in 2016 with her founding of a mobile bar called Happy Camper Cocktail Co. The company serves events and weddings out of the side of a 1967 Aladdin camper she renovated with help from her husband. “I was having a lot of fun experimenting with drinks at home; I’d gotten through my early 20s of drinking almost anything to a point of wanting to have a more refined experience. … We saw all the same flavors repeated over and over, the flavors people were used to putting in cocktail recipes, but we didn’t see any reason that these same recipes shouldn’t have a local perspective using ingredients that are local to us around here.”

Kelly decided to use those flavors to create syrups for the events she was catering—and convinced Cunningham, who together with her own husband had purchased and begun renovating an old dairy farm, to grow the rhubarb for her first syrup, Rhubarb Vanilla Bean.

It was such a hit that the Simple Goodness Sisters brand was born, expanding over the next few years to include replanting Cunningham’s farm with syrup ingredients and purchasing a nearby historic soda fountain in the tiny town of Wilkeson (population 492) to serve as their commercial kitchen and brick-and-mortar shop.

The brand continues to grow, and even though the sisters acknowledge the limitations that come with growing a brand in such a small community, they also note that in doing so they don’t have to play the “comparison game ”of wondering whether they should be doing something similar to another business down the street.

So the Simple Goodness business has the room to grow organically, and the flavors that come out of the cocktail farm are thoroughly Northwest—from Blueberry Lavender to Cranberry Rosemary to Huckleberry Spruce Tip (this year’s spruce tip harvest begins at the farm this week, and will be paired with a unique coastal variety of huckleberry grown almost nowhere outside of the PNW).

“When we’re deciding on what we’re planting, we are selecting varieties that go best in cocktails versus food,” says Cunningham. “Sage is a really good example: Green sage, the traditional sage you see in food, can be really astringent when heated in a syrup, so instead we grow primarily purple sage.”

The syrups and more are available at the seasonal Simple Goodness Soda Shop, which—in addition to serving as a cocktail bar, eatery, ice cream store, syrup shop, and showroom for their father’s custom furniture—also hums with event activity from May through December. The events (all planned by the sisters too, even as they’re busy writing a book and completing their commercial kitchen buildout) include biweekly live music nights, a benefit for the local elementary school’s PTA, the popular Garlic & Goats festival, seasonal juice pressings, a cocktail crawl, and this weekend’s Old Fashioned Fest. The May 20 festival will feature live music, food specials, Old Fashioned kits for sale, and tastings of recipes co-created with nine local distilleries in a search for the best Old Fashioned riff, with the winner to land on the soda shop’s summer draft menu.

For those further from Wilkeson, sign-ups are also available now to join the bimonthly Cocktail Farm Club in time for the July shipment, which is expected to feature a special-release Cucumber Jalapeño syrup; another of the brand’s Classic line of syrup flavors; a farm-grown garnish; three recipe cards; and access to a virtual happy hour attended by subscribers and the sisters and complete with a bartending tutorial by Kelly.

“You really get a piece of our farm delivered every other month [with the Cocktail Farm Club],” says Cunningham. “We touch every single piece of our business, so we’re farming here, we’re shipping out of one of our barns, we are harvesting and taking [ingredients] directly up to the soda shop—it’s a ton of work, but it’s a job that I really, really enjoy, and even though I work way more hours than I ever did at my corporate job, it doesn’t even feel like it.”

Kelly agrees. “I love working with my sister because she knows me better than anyone; she knows how to push me to my best,” she says. “And I love being able to work a job that allows me to be present in my kids’ lives in little moments, whether that’s a lunchtime break at the farm or them coming to the soda shop with me on a Saturday.” She adds, “It’s really cool to see your kids watch you do something hard, and then teach them those lessons about how they can do hard things too.”

Simple Goodness Soda Shop | 533 Church St., Wilkeson, WA | Tickets to Old-Fashioned Fest (Saturday, May 20) available online or at the door.  


Upcoming Events

what’s new

get the latest


By subscribing online, you are opting in to receive our Sip Magazine Insider e-newsletter— with the latest coverage in Pacific Northwest beverage scene, product reviews, libation destinations, events + more.