For Isaac Poku, his Bakken journey began in the Summer of 2012. When sitting down with the Ghana native, it quickly becomes apparent the Bakken journey is just a small chapter in a quite layered, elaborate story of village building.
To completely understand his story is difficult, there are cultural differences and personal tastes along with other idiosyncratical threads. Honesty, odds are Poku doesn’t fully understand his dream, rather, lead by a relationship with a higher power and a blind faith towards his goal.
Poku came to America a little over a decade ago with a goal to study agriculture, return to Ghana and start a business. He attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and quickly fell in love with the North Dakota way of life and the people making that lifestyle happen.
“North Dakota to me is home,” Poku said. “I have yet to visit another state that has more friendly and helpful people than here.”
Poku fell in love with just more than the Midwestern lifestyle and culture, he met Meghann Wilkinson while in college and a little more than eight years ago Meghann and Isaac were married in her North Dakota hometown.
“Eight years ago Meghann and I were married in New Town and held a reception in Minot,” Poku said. Since then we have been blessed with three kids and two more that we have custody of. It’s a challenge being gone for weeks at a time for my family but they know I am working hard to get us ahead so they understand.”
Poku’s passion to build and create a metaphorical and physical system to help people in Ghana has had him flying all over the globe as of late. In Ghana to scope the land purchase. Over to China to check on a production facility for a potential global customer. Back out to the Bakken to make some seed money for the next project. Poku’s passion to learn about modern farming, entrepreurism, family, faith and respect for tradition and culture continue to drive his global engine.
“I first came here to study and return to Ghana to start the business of farming,” Poku said. “Especially the practice of integrating modern equipment and machinery. That’s still the overall goal.”
Poku’s dream of one day owning enough land in Ghana with an area, or campus, that contains a school, church and enough land to farm crops and raise animals, may come to fruition very soon. And the Bakken played a major role in becoming a catalyst in dream procurement.
“Ghana’s economy and business culture is on the verge of exploding in all directions,” Poku said. “The ground has unknown minerals underfoot, the country’s monetary system is becoming like the United States with banks and loans and people are buying and selling like the New York Stock Exchange.”
Poku continued saying the level of urgency and general timeline has been accelerated due to speculators buying up land. The telltale signs had been showing themselves to Poku for quite sometime, so much so, it lead Poku to the Bakken.
The current state of affairs in Africa, specifically Ghana, has Poku on overdrive trying to provide for his family in America and help build schools and churches in Ghana. This is where the Bakken comes into Poku’s journey.
The mineral speculation, or natural resource frenzy in Ghana, is what Poku sees as a comparison to the Bakken. Whether its gold, oil or any other natural resource to mine, the fever is getting close, if not surpassing, the 2010-2012 Bakken hype.
“This one piece of property I have been tracking for a few years has doubled in the past year,” Poku said. “And I have been looking at lands of comparison in the area, and they are now selling for twice as much as the doubled price. Its all happening at such a fast pace now over in Ghana.”
Like other entrepreneurs and students of capitalism, it was this type of frenzied activity that first attracted Poku to the Bakken. For Poku, getting a job wasn’t difficult considering he is a certified welder.
“I was first attracted to the Bakken to look for opportunities to start a food and beverage business,” Poku said. “I am a certified welder and wanted to get started in the oil fields right away so I decided working in the heart of the action will get me a better understanding of the culture and the region.”
Like an award winning actor or writing, Poku’s research is paying off. Previous to the Bakken, Poku had been running a cafe and chocolate business in Fargo, ND. His chocolate business, Chipperz, has more or less been the parent company for other food and beverage endeavors. The sweet and salty treat has been the constant product in the end, and Poku knows the value of chips and chocolate.
“Well who doesn’t love chocolate?” Poka said. “Well Chipperz is simply chocolate covered potato chips. We individually hand dip the choicest American made potato chips with our smooth and silky Belgian Chocolate and the end product is to die for.”
Chipperz are sold all over the US, heavily in the upper Midwest, but recent International guest to the Bakken and other Midwestern places has created a surge in global demand.
“There are inquiries and orders coming in from all over the planet,” Poku said. “Our biggest issue right now is trying to mass-produce the hand-dipping process, without that step, the product completely changes for the worse.”
I asked Poku why the chips couldn’t be dunked, brushed or slathered in chocolate by a machine rather than hand-dipped.
“We have tried a half a dozen or more different methods in the United States and even China,” Poku said. “So far the chip that is hand-dipped in chocolate is superior.”
Poku could only speculate why that method is best – everything from quality control to chocolate to chip weight to the love put into each dunk. As orders continue to come in from across the globe, a room full of primarily high school student and retirees dip thick potato chips one at a time to fulfill the demand.
This International tie-in with the Chipperz product allowed Poku to have a constant stream of access and communication with contacts in his homeland Ghana, but also with the International business culture.
At the end of the day, The Chipperz business is just a fundraising tool for Hope’s Journey, a non profit organization Poku created. This is where Poku’s capitalistic heart lies. He sought out help to start a 501C3 and create a vehicle to drive his global Ghanan-American dream.
“We were just granted around 200 acres of land by the chiefs of Nante and Jema,” Poku said. “This land in Ghana is to build a school that emphasizes on practical education to help the village become self sufficient and curb rural-urban migration.”
In many ways, rural-urban migration transcends geography and oceans and the Bakken has its fill of that particular social cultural issue. As Poku works in the Bakken as a welder, equipment operator, food vendor and salesman, he absorbs as much of the agriculture and energy knowledge as possible to help guide his Ghana vision. Poku is quick to point out the central value.
“Surrounding yourself with good-hearted, honest people allow everyone’s dreams to become realities,” Poku said. “North Dakota, the Bakken has good people working and living there. People take time and go out of their way to help you out when you are stuck in the snow and are very approachable.”
Poku did address the other element of the Bakken, watching it happen before his eyes.
“The Bakken is definitely different than the place I knew eight years ago when my wife and I had our wedding in New Town,” Poku said. “It has gotten busier and the traffic seems to have tripled. The Bakken has definitely become a melting pot of sorts.”
In a very short time, Poku has assembled a business portfolio that would make most seasoned professionals salivate like Pavlovian dogs. A brand and product with Chipperz, two coffee house locations, a restaurant and catering company, a non-profit, land acquisitions and global customers. Oh, all that and a full-time job in the Bakken. Something has to fund his non-profit. Those high school kids and retirees can’t dip chips fast enough to build the schools and churches in Africa.
So Poku is back working in the heart of the oil fields, funding the start-up phase of Hope’s Journey, making connections in the Bakken and weekending overseas finalizing African land deals.
At first glance listening to Poku’s vision is akin to looking at a spider web. Threads of thought interrupted by intersecting beads of collaboration. Confusing at first, masterpiece in the end.
The overall dream and vision is only partially complete. The order in which the event occurs all happened due to circumstance. The non-profit had to be ramped up due to the land endowment in Ghana, the Chipperz business had to be tweaked because of holiday production issues and the tiny town of New Town got put on the back burner in the Poku plan.
“The Bakken is very much still in my plans,” Poku said. “Maybe soon Hope’s Journey will build a School also in the Bakken as we are all about people and their positive and productive development.”
Poku estimates he will begin construction on a new school in Montrail County sometime in mid-to-late 2015. The school’s land has already been purchased and secured and minor due diligence and logistics have been completed. Much of the legal leg work and costs will now be completed during the Ghana school building process.
Some people work in the Bakken to support a family across the country while others come to the Bakken for redemption. Poku comes to the Bakken to work 80 hour back breaking hours a week and build schools. Truth be told, Poku doesn’t mind spending so much time out in the oil fields, it’s where his mind can be inspired and dream.
“Let’s all together build the Bakken,” Poku said. “It’s a great place to call Home!”