Innovative Farmer Adds Flax to Sell to Health-Conscious Consumers
|Above: Rissman kneels in front of a lagoon he built to capture runoff that he re-uses on his crop fields, just one strategy to make his diverse farm less reliant on outside inputs.|
|Above: Illinois farmer Joel Rissman holds a handful of flax, an oilseed gaining in popularity for its cholesterol-reducing properties. Photos by Ken Schneider.|
Joel Rissman, who raises a variety of crops and livestock on his 370-acre Illinois farm, loves to experiment with new products. To evaluate his latest ideasselling "low-cholesterol" eggs and flax oil to health-conscious consumersRissman applied for a SARE grant to test raising flax. This once-popular oilseed crop, rarely planted in Illinois, may rebound thanks to new nutrition information and forward-thinking farmers like Rissman. Knowing flax is high in cholesterol-reducing omega-3 fatty acid, Rissman also learned of university research showing that eggs from hens fed a partial flax ration contain the omega acid. In his ongoing quest to improve profits, Rissman decided to learn more about processing and harvesting flax. Over the course of the project, Rissman tested 24 acres of flax, evaluating different varieties, seeding rates and other management considerations. His main finding: Cutting the plant with the seed head on, then leaving it in the field to dry, made it easier to harvest. Rissman now feeds flax to his 25-hen flock and the rest of the livestock on his farm. In the future, he plans to press and bottle flax oil with a group of area farmers and hopes to sell it over the Internet to meet increasing interest as more people learn about the benefits of omega acids in their diets. "Flax is an unstable oil that degrades quickly," he explains. "No one can beat on-farm processed oil for freshness." Rissman's new ideas add to his already diverse organic farmcattle, chickens, turkeys, feed grains and a well-managed manure composting system. His innovative operation on tallgrass prairie soils earned him a prominent spot in an exhibit produced and displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History with SARE support. "Listening to the Prairie" will travel to 20 libraries throughout the country over the next three years.
See http://www.sare.org/htdocs/events/index.html#exhibit for library tour sites.