The Story of Our Sunflower Oil
**We no longer produce sunflower oil at Cedar Circle Farm.**
If you visited our blueberry patch earlier in the summer you saw the sunny faces of sunflowers. They are gorgeous! But more important than their beauty are their seeds, rich in oil. Sunflowers produce a delicious and mildly flavored oil. It is a local alternative to olive oil and a healthier choice than canola oil. It makes a lovely salad dressing, can be used in baking and will withstand high heat so is also suitable for frying.
We have been growing sunflowers for oil for about five years at Cedar Circle Farm. We have experimented with several different varieties over the years, all developed to be especially high producers of oil. Sunflowers grown for oil are different than those grown for their edible seed or those grown for ornament. This year we are trying out a new variety called Daytona. It is organic seed that has been bred to grow plants which produce high oleic oil content and quality, have good stalk and root strength and have improved disease tolerance. Farm Manager Will Allen says this year’s crop is promising to be our best yet!
We seed our sunflowers around the 1st of June. We allow the sunflowers to grow all throughout the summer, producing beautiful blooms as August arrives. We work hard to keep up with the cultivating, as weeds make the harvest more difficult.
As the flower heads expire and begin to dry out in the field, the seeds begin to more easily separate from the head, signaling they are ready for harvest. We use our combine to harvest the seeds. The machine easily separates the seeds themselves from the flower head, at least if all is going well. Once they have left the field, the seeds are winnowed with a fanning mill to remove any field debris such as bits of stalk or leaf. Then, we further dry the seeds with an innovative barrel drying system which draws heat from a wood burning stove that already heats our shop; A perfect low-moisture content is critical for pressing the oil. Finally, we use our expeller press to press the seeds, resulting in a cold-pressed oil and sunflower mash. The mash is an excellent high protein source of feed for livestock. The cooking oil that results goes through minimal processing before bottling. It is clarified, which means we allow it to settle, discarding the particles that sink or float. Finally, we strain it through multiple filters in our kitchen before bottling it. It then arrives in our Farmstand ready for you to take home and savor in your kitchens!
We are incredibly excited about producing sunflower oil, however we are still new to the methods and it certainly has been a process of experimentation. We have had some challenges in getting higher yields. Two main factors have affected harvest: birds and wind. Unfortunately for us, birds love to eat sunflower seeds right when we are about to harvest them. At this point the seeds are beginning to pull away from the head and it is easy for birds to swoop low and enjoy a delicious snack. We do love our birds, but we are not crazy about the damage they do to our sunflower crop! Additionally, storms can create a lot of damage. If there is a fair amount of wind and rain the sunflower stalks simply keel over, making it near impossible to harvest with the combine, not to mention it water-logs the heads.
Farming is a constant experiment. We welcome the opportunity to really investigate the process and be creative. There is quite a story packed into our small bottles of sunflower oil. We hope you enjoy the treasure of locally made oil from Cedar Circle Farm.
sources: CCF staff, http://www.seeds2000.net/sunflowers.php
photos: CCF staff