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 Locals Join in Flax Cooperative

 ** See related story Fields of Agape Harvest Will Be Featured on WFYI


November 12, 2008 - A new local food cooperative has brought to fruition an unusual yet highly beneficial crop this year. Fields of Agape, LLC was founded by Keith and Anna Welch of northern Rush County and is currently comprised of members Tony Mittendorf and Judy Avery of Knightstown, as well as Dawn and Craig Trent of Rush County. The fascinating crop the group grew over the summer is Golden Flax Seed.

Flax is probably best known as the plant that provides fiber for the creation of linen. It has been grown for century upon century for just that purpose. The flax plant is also the source of linseed oil, a widely-used solvent. But now flax seed and flax seed oil are used the world over as health supplements. They are rivaled only by fish as a source for Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are proving vital to maintaining good heart health and because of that, flax is gaining huge popularity with Americans bent on fending off deadly heart disease. Ongoing medical studies are also showing signs that flax has cancer-fighting properties. Similar studies indicate it may benefit eye health, particularly in the area of macular degeneration, as well as alleviate depression through the production of serotonin.

Health issues drew Anna Welch’s focus to flax. The supplement has long been used in other countries but, like many treatments, was slower to catch on in the United States. A doctor familiar with flax and its properties asked Anna to give the natural grain a try. Although flax seed and flax seed oil are readily available on the health food market, Welch and her father, Marcus Ellis, decided to try growing a small parcel’s worth at the family farm on Rushville Road. They said the more they investigated the plant, the more they felt that growing such a widely beneficial crop dovetailed well with their strong Christian faith and God’s command of stewardship of the earth.

“We partnered with friends within a 10-mile radius who also wanted to grow something that would generate a great food source, and still be something of a cash crop,” Welch said. “There are so many health issues that we really became passionate about growing things that can supplement the diet.” Each of the members donated acreage to the cause, with Mittendorf adding his knowledge of machinery and farming to the mix. Typical harvesting methods don’t work well with the tiny seeds. Welch’s laugh was a little rueful when she said, “It has certainly been a year of learning.”

Flax is a widely-grown crop, although not in Indiana. It is native to the broad region stretching from the Mediterranean Sea down through India. These days flax is grown in Russia and Canada, as well as in the broad plains of North and South Dakota. Its growth habit would probably appear most similar to wheat in the eyes of Hoosiers. A short season crop, flax grows from seed to harvest in about 100 days, topped with periwinkle blue flowers that eventually brown into round seed heads. The linen fiber or “tow” (where the phrase tow-headed comes from) is found in the strong stalks; the dried heads contain about eight seeds each. The seeds closely resemble sesame seeds.

Because the seed is packaged without preservatives, it requires climate-controlled storage. Space in an old family barn is being converted to a pristine storage room powered by geo-thermal energy with an eye toward wind power.

For the Welches and their compatriots, 22 acres of flax flowers turned into 8,000 pounds of glistening Golden Flax Seed packaged for sale. A season of learning the hard way means even more will be harvested next year, with an effort to also garner some fiber for Welch’s sister, an artist. As much as 50 more acres have already been added to the 2009 field area.


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