food donation

Partnering With Our Farmer Friends

The Nashville Food Project’s work to grow, cook, and share is supported by a list of food donating partners, many of them local farmers and growers. On the blog today we want to introduce some of our farmer friends and tell you more about our partnership with each…

Holy Canola Oil!

If you haven't met loyal TNFP volunteer and board member Judy Wright, then you are missing out! Judy cooks regularly in our kitchen and she shares with us so many great recipes (Judy's Mom's Meatloaf, anyone?) and tips for the kitchen and garden. Judy regularly shares her impressive knowledge through her blog at JudysChickens.org, and periodically we'll be sharing some of those posts. Today we've got a great post on how canola oil is made, featuring one of TNFP's newest food donation partners Solio.


Last April, I wrote a story about the gorgeous yellow fields of canola that were growing along I-24 in Cadiz, Kentucky. You can read all about it and see the photos here.

This is Part 2 of that story. The part where after seeing a dramatic increase in the number of yellow fields from the year before, I called the plant manager at the AgStrong Canola and Sunflower Seed Processing Plant in Trenton, Kentucky and asked, What gives? Why are we suddenly seeing yellow everywhere? When he started to explain, I realized I had a lot to learn and asked if I could drive over to meet him and get a tour of the plant. An hour later Mark Dallas was giving my husband and me a tour. Not exactly the way I thought my day would turn out, but I do love a good backroads detour.

As background information, can-o-l-a oil, or “Canada-oil-low-acid,” is made from crushed canola seeds. These seeds are about the size of poppy seeds. Even having seen how canola oil is extracted from the seeds, I still shake my head in disbelief that anything that small could produce so much of something as useful as cooking oil.

A very short botany lesson about plant reproduction:
Flowers have one job, and one job only: to induce reproduction. To that end, flowers that are fertilized will make seeds. Those seeds will make new plants. That the plants grow and produce tasty fruits, vegetables, and kitchen staples like canola oil, is bonus. Those fruits of the plants are just ripened ovaries full of seeds. Their flesh is sweet so animals will eat them and disperse the seeds in their travels. Tree nuts work in the same way; Mother Nature is counting on squirrels to bury the nuts and thereby assure there will be more trees in the future.

Back to canola flowers and seeds. Like winter wheat, canola is planted in the fall, sprouts then go dormant in the winter and perk up again in early spring. It flowers in mid-April, and the seed pods are harvested in mid-June. Farmers like to grow winter wheat and canola because then they can double-crop their fields, meaning there is time left in the warm months to raise another crop, such as soybeans, in that same field. By comparison, in most northern climates, there’s only time to grow one crop like wheat or canola.

The photo on the left was taken from a stem of canola flowers on April 17th. The photo on the right was taken on June 12th, just a few days before the pods were harvested by the combines I wrote about in this article.

You may have seen similar seed pods develop in your own gardens if you ever let broccoli or bok choi plants flower and “go to seed.” If you look closely at the flowers below, you can see the early development of seed pods. They look like little spikes. Canola is in the same Brassica family as bok choi and broccoli.

The next photos are of fully mature canola seed pods that I dissected at home to release the seeds within. You can see how small these seeds are. It’s amazing to think cooking oil is extracted from them.

AgStrong contracts with local, family-owned, farms to plant nonGMO canola seeds in their fields. NonGMO means the seed’s genetic material has not been manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering to make it more disease or insect resistant.  A few other tidbits I learned about growing canola: canola has a 5-6 inch tap route which acts as a natural tiller in the soil, and canola brings in $8.10/bushel compared to wheat’s $5.25/bushel.

Here is a photo of the canola oil processing plant in Trenton, KY.

It takes a lot of seeds to make canola oil and these fifty-foot silos are full of them.

This is what the inside of one of those silos looks like.

The first stop on the tour was the long silver cylindrical oven used to warm the seeds to no more than 120º. Warming the seeds made them easier to press. The low oven temperature kept the process in the category of cold-pressed. The blue conveyor belt brought the warmed seeds to a machine that cracked the hard outer shells.

Next stop was the seed crusher. This was where the magic happened. This machine crushed the seeds and expelled the golden canola oil into the blue well. The oil will still need to go to an offsite refinery before it can be bottled.

Here was the residual seed meal as it dropped onto a conveyor belt.

This meal was delivered to the green machine for a second pressing to remove the last traces of oil. At this plant, there are no chemical solvents, like hexane, used to extract these last drops of oil. That’s where the expression “all natural expeller press” comes from.

Here’s the residual meal as it came off the conveyor belt after the last of the oil had been pressed from it. The meal is used to feed livestock.

This is the transport room. It’s where the seeds, collected from farmers, are gathered and delivered to the silos for storage. And later, after pressing, where the extracted oil is weighed and distributed, via trucks, to be delivered to Georgia for the final refining process and …

bottling. You can find Agstrong’s Solio Canola Oil at Whole Foods stores.

But the story doesn’t end there. As a volunteer chef and Board member of  The Nashville Food Project my antennae is always up for opportunities for food donation and food recovery. Canola and olive oil are two expensive staples we use in abundance at TNFP.  I asked if Agstrong would consider partnering with us and donating their locally grown and manufactured Solio oil to TNFP, which they have graciously done. Here was the Plant Manger, Mark Dallas, donating a 35-pound container of oil to TNFP, on the spot.

And that’s how this one little detour ended up providing cooking oil for TNFP whose mission is “Bringing people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.”

The story, however, didn’t end there, either. I happened to “pull” a few young canola plants from the side of the road last April to plant in my vegetable garden, so I could watch and learn how these plants matured to the seed stage. Once the plants produced seed pods and dried out, I was pleasantly surprised to walk out to my garden one day and see my chickens poking their heads through the chicken wire and eating the canola seeds.

Looks like Agstrong’s byproduct of meal for livestock was a winner.

Thanks to Mark for the tour and to Mike McAdaragh, Agstrong’s Crop Development Specialist, for personally delivering canola oil to The Nashville Food Project.

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Reblogged from JudysChickens.org © 2016 Judy Wright. All rights reserved.