- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

CONVERSE, Ind. (AP) - Craig Boyer, 80, has been a big crop farmer nearly his entire life growing corn and beans around Converse.

So it raised a few eyebrows when friends and fellow farmers found out he was dedicating around 300 acres to plant sunflowers and canola, two crops which are hard to find and not easy to grow in Indiana.

It was even stranger what he had planned for them: Turning the plants into all-natural cooking oil using something called a cold press.

It was an unexpected and risky undertaking for Boyer, but it’s one that’s started to pay off.

In March, he and his son, Mark, launched a new company called Healthy Hoosier Oil. At the same time, it became the first and only certified cold-press facility in the state to make edible oils.



The company isn’t only the first of its kind. It’s also one of the few that grows their product, manufactures it and distributes it - all from within their farm headquarters just outside of Converse.

It was Craig’s son, John, who first started growing sunflowers seven years ago. The idea then, however, was to turn the plant into high-nutrient animal feed. The oil was just a byproduct that he turned into bio-diesel to run the family’s farm equipment.

Craig said he never considered turning the oil into an edible product until he met Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. Around four years ago, she visited the Boyers’ farm with Gov. Mike Pence during public-relations event.

Craig said Ellspermann, who serves as the state’s secretary of agriculture, took a look at the sunflower-animal-feed operation, and asked if he had ever considered trying to turn the oil into a food-grade product.

“That rang a bell for me,” he said. “It pulled my rope, and that’s when I started thinking about it.”

A few years later, he had purchased a cold-press system from a small company in Wisconsin, and had a specialized, low-pressure filtering system shipped over from Germany.

Not only were they going to start making edible sunflower and canola oil, but they were going to make it using a process that’s virtually unheard of and rarely practiced in the U.S.

Mark said traditional vegetable oil is produced using high heat and petroleum based chemicals. It’s an extremely efficient process, but it’s one that burns out nearly all the nutritional value from the oil.

A cold press, on the other hand, uses friction heat from a turning screw to grind the plant seeds and extrude the oil at a temperature no higher than 120 degrees. That keeps all the oil’s nutrients intact, he said.

Once the raw oil is extracted from the seeds, it’s gently pushed through 10 cloth filters to get out any raw material. After that, it’s ready to eat.

“That’s the entire process in a nutshell,” Mark said. “It’s very, very, very simple. It’s like night and day from the traditional high-heat process.”

Not many companies use the technique in the U.S., but it’s how most oil is produced in Europe, he said.

In fact, the process is so rarely used that the Indiana Department of Health wasn’t even sure how to permit the operation after Craig and Mark requested an edible-foods permit from the state.

“They didn’t know how to handle it,” Craig said. “They’d never worked with anything like this before.”

For a while, it looked as if the state wouldn’t even issue them a permit, since it was the first cold-press facility health officials had come across and they didn’t have any criteria for testing its safety.

It was state Rep. Bill Friend, who represents parts of Miami County, who talked to health officials and helped get the first-of-its kind facility permitted for food-grade manufacturing, Craig said.

The facility received its permit in March, and the Boyers hit the ground running to turn their first sunflower and canola crops from last year into their new cooking oil.

But even though they had started manufacturing it, they still didn’t know how well it would sell, Mark said.

“Initially, I thought we were manufacturing a local-source replacement for olive oil,” he said. “I thought we could sell it at farmers’ markets, and that would be it.”

“Since then, we’ve learned that the oil is much more versatile than anyone thought. I didn’t think it would ever have a viable place in commercial food, but it does.”

That’s because it’s a chemical-free, GMO-free and non-gluten.

It’s also suitable to fry in. That’s something you can’t do with extra virgin olive oil, because the smoke point is to low. This has the same characteristics as olive oil, but you can deep-fry in it.

And it’s really good for you. Just one serving of the sunflower oil contains around 60 percent of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin E. That’s much more than any other kind of vegetable oil.

“My perception was always that if you wanted to eat something healthy, you had to give up liking it,” Mark said. “With this oil, that is not the case. If anything, it’s superior.”

Now, after just six months, the Boyers have grown the business from the ground up - literally. Today, you can find bottles of their all-natural sunflower and canola oil in stores in five different counties, including a shop in Indianapolis called Artisano’s Oils & Spices.

More than six restaurants, including all three locations of Harvey Hinklemeyers and the Big Dipper in Converse, are purchasing the oil to make French fries and other menu items. Two other businesses are using it to make vinaigrettes and homemade soaps and cosmetics.

As the oil catches on, Mark said, it’s hard for people to believe it’s all coming from the small town of Converse and produced by traditional crop farmers like the Boyers.

“People have a hard time accepting the fact that we’re right up the road in Converse, Indiana, and it’s grown here, processed here and bottled here,” he said. “They’re like, ‘That’s in Indiana?’ They’re flabbergasted that this oil never left the county until I handed it to them.”

Mark said they’re currently in talks with another business that could significantly increase their oil output, but for now, they’re focused on just establishing a good market base with retailers around the state.

Craig said he knew the whole undertaking would be a risky venture from the day he started seriously thinking about doing it.

But the 80-year-old farmer said it’s good to see it paying off.

“It was a challenge to get started,” he said. “But doing something novel - that keeps you young.

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/1TCLiNE

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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