Flax was one of the staple crops grown by Benedict Mellinger and his family, who arrived in Wayne County in 1816 and cleared one of the first farms in the area. The Mellingers were weavers, so they used the land to keep sheep and grow flax, whose fibers can be spun into linen. The elaborate linen tablecloths and woolen coverlets made by the Mellingers are still highly sought after by collectors.
Now oilseed crops such as flax and camelina are growing and blooming again at the Mellinger Farm in Wooster, thanks to an Ohio State University research project that seeks to evaluate their many uses, including as animal feed and biofuel, and their potential to help diversify Ohio farms and boost their sustainability.
The 324-acre farm, established almost two centuries ago by Mellinger, was donated in 2002 to the university by Patricia Miller Quinby and the estate of her late sister, Virginia Miller Reed, both descendants of Mellinger. It is located just six miles west of the Wooster campus of OARDC, which the research arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Also including canola and sunflower, this project represents the first research plots established on the working farm since it was donated, says Casey Hoy, Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agricultural Ecosystems Management, director of OARDC's Agroecosystems Management Program and principal investigator in this project, which was funded by an OARDC SEEDS grant.
The crops will be evaluated in terms of their growth characteristics, yield, oil content and animal feed quality. They will also be studied for their benefits to ecosystems, including floral resources for pollinators, biocontrol for pests and soil conditioning.
"Oilseed crops could offer many benefits to diversified farms," says Hannah Whitehead, the research assistant coordinating the project. "They have the potential to add complexity to crop rotations, provide valuable ecosystem services, and deliver additional value chains in the form of on-farm biodiesel, cooking oil and highly nutritious feed for animals."