Seven years ago John had the desire to grow hog feed at the farm. Pigs are their most expensive livestock to feed and being able to grow animal feed fits the goal of the farm to be diversified and sustainable. The option that the Huttons chose to go with was canola. They investigated how to grow it through Vermont Cooperative Extension and information available from growers in the Midwest. They purchased an oil press from Germany and were in the business of growing canola. Unfortunately, after two and half years of growing canola, the deer population discovered it and began munching away at it in the winter months when it is dormant after a fall planting. Deer are tricky to control in the winter time and they desolated the entire crop so it was time to find something else that could work.
At this point, growing sunflowers was the next best option. Transitioning to sunflower production was a breeze after growing canola because of how similar it is. Harvesting, pressing, bottling, and labeling are all identical with the two crops so no new equipment was needed. They use it to feed the hogs and can produce all of the hog ration (feeding roughly 30 winter-raised hogs) on their farm save for adding trace minerals. The sunflower meal, fibrous part left over after pressing, has a protein percentage as high as thirty-three percent! Processing the sunflowers also makes a beautiful sunflower oil that they sell in their farm stand and at farmers markets. Each year they run out of oil because it is in such high demand. The primary goal of the sunflower operation is to make hog feed; the high quality oil made on farm is a tremendous added benefit of sustainability at Coppal House farm.
The uniqueness of this operation lies in its rarity in New England. Coppal House is the only commercial sunflower grower in New England. Sunflower production in the U.S. is concentrated in the Midwest. It is also not highly common to use sunflower oil in this part of the country in cooking. European countries, especially France, use sunflower oil much more widely. Despite the fact of its uniqueness for the area that it is being grown in, the oil made at Coppal House Farm has received national recognition and awards. A National Culinary Award (similar to an academy award) was given to the farm this year and John got to speak about the farm and its products in front of 800 people. This award had considerations for farming practices used to grow the sunflowers and the oil had to go through a twelve person taste test before the award was given. As far as cooking uses are concerned, sunflower oil has many. It can be used for stir-fry, baking, and with high temperatures.
Overall, the farming method used at Coppal House farm is one of diversity, integration, and sustainability. The farm has many functions and produces a wide variety of products and attractions. John and Carol are passionate about what they do and are willing to share with people why they do what they do. Both of them clearly believe in what they are doing. Visiting the farm is a worthwhile investment of time to see local agriculture in action, learn more about what they are doing, buy locally grown products, and to support agricultural in your neighborhood. To learn more about the farm visit http://www.nhcornmaze.com/ for more information.