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57. The Return of American Made Linen with Sandy & Durl of The Chico Flax Project
Episode 573rd September 2021 • The Good Dirt: Sustainable Living Explained • Lady Farmer
00:00:00 01:01:27

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Growing flax and processing it into linen is one of the oldest methods of clothing manufacturing on the planet. Sandy Fisher and Durl Van Alstyne have prided themselves in reviving this old craft here in the United States through their company, The Chico Flax Project. Through their work, they are bringing a new industry and social enterprise for fiber production of flax to Northern California in collaboration with local community members, farmers, artisans, and institutions. 

For Sandy, weaving has always been an important part of her life—beginning as a young child when she learned how to knit. In 2012, a phone call during the Bangladesh fires inspired her to grow flax on her plot to use for weaving clothes. Durl is equally drawn to using natural fibers for clothing, his background coming from teaching at public schools for the past 35 years. Now, he works alongside his wife as a regenerative agricultural flax farmer. 

In this week’s episode, we will discuss how garments made from flax fibers will create opportunities for employment and for meaningful craft, the process of designing clothes from natural fibers, and how they began The Chico Flax Project. Interested in learning more about Sandy’s and Durl’s story? Join us on this week’s episode to find out more. 

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Simplecast, Podtail, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered:

  • Weaving with flax seeds
  • Process of designing clothes from natural fibers
  • Impact of Covid-19 on agriculture
  • Increasing the market of domestically grown linen

Resources Mentioned:

Guest Info

Connect with Sandy and Durl on their website.

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Transcripts

[:

I think that there's an awareness that all these hands are making things that I wear. And it becomes so special that I'm not just buying a garment because I like it, but I know that someone who made it put their hands in it. And then maybe if it's a sheep that I like or animal or a plant that I have that connection to that.

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You're listening to The Good Dirt Podcast. This is a place where we dig into the nitty-gritty of sustainable living through food, fashion, and lifestyle.

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And we are your hosts, Mary and Emma Kingsley, the mother and daughter founder team of Lady Farmer. We are sowing seeds of slow living through our community platform events and online marketplace.

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We started this podcast as a means to share the wealth of information and quality conversations that we're having in our world, as we dream up and deliver ways for each of us to live into the new paradigm. One that is regenerative balanced and whole.

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We want to put the microphone in front of the voices that need to be heard the most right now. The farmers, the dreamers, the designers, and the doers.

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So come cultivate a better world with us. We're so glad you're here. Now, let's dig in.

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Hello, everybody. Hope you're having a good day.

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[:

So as we get into today's episode, I am looking down at what I'm wearing, and I'm thinking about the fiber content and I'm thinking about where it came from.

And, um, I usually like to stick to things like natural fibers. I make an effort to do that. Cotton, wool, certainly linen in the summer, especially. I like to avoid synthetics, but sometimes they're unavoidable.

[:

So like, what are you noticing about what you're wearing right now?

[:

So I have an old oversized tank top that the content information has long ago rubbed off, but I think it's a hundred percent cotton.

It's probably not organic cotton, and I'm wearing organic cotton leggings, but they have some spandex in them because they're a little bit stretchy.

[:

Yeah. Anything that you're wearing that stretchy is going to have spandex in it. And most likely that also includes your underwear and stuff. So if you're even thinking, if you think about like everything you're wearing, so like I'm wearing PACT underwear. We love PACT.

But it is so it's organic cotton, but it definitely has spandex in it. I'm wearing a thrift store overalls. So yeah, again, the content tag is long gone, but I'm sure it's just denim.

[:

But it was thrift stores.

[:

Yeah. So reused. Anyway, that's what I'm wearing. So I wonder if you're listening and you're in a position to kind of think about like what you're wearing, what's in it. Who made it. It's always a good exercise to like connect with your belongings, where they came from.

[:

Things you use every day. Again, it doesn't really matter right now, if you have the answer or not, and this is not a test, it's just an illustration of clothes and the consumer culture. We've come to the point where the sources and the content of our most basic daily needs are largely invisible to us. It's not something we are conditioned to thinking about a lot.

[:

Yeah. And it's kind of an issue and a few different ways. Many of which we talk about here on The Good Dirt, but for today's episode, we are going to focus on one aspect of this really bit broad problem of, of being generally disconnected from what we wear in, what we use every day.

[:

Yeah. So back to the questions, what are you wearing and what do you know about where it was produced? And most of us really don't know how a lot about that, but overwhelmingly the answer probably is it was not produced in the United States. Apparel manufacturing, which was once a major player in the U.S. Economy began shifting to foreign shores from the 1960s when we produce approximately 95% of our own clothing here in this country until today when the number is only around 5%.

[:

So maybe that's a surprise to many of you, maybe not. Uh, it was definitely a surprise to us even after we had decided to start Lady Farmer and our own apparel line made from natural fabrics sewn in the U.S. If you're a regular listener, you've probably heard the embarrassing story of how we went to this huge trade show out in Las Vegas, looking for all of the domestically grown organic linen that we were used to sew our first clothing line, and if you haven't heard that story yet, you'll hear it in this episode.

[:

Yeah, that was five years ago. And at least we can laugh about it now, and we can celebrate that. There are people out there now who are putting their heart and soul into bringing textile manufacturing back home.

[:

And that brings us to today's episode with our guests, Sandy Fisher and Durl Van Alstyne of Chico Flax, which is a textile company based in Northern California. They are pioneering or re pioneering regenerative production and processing systems for flax in our country. You know, it used to be, flax used to be grown here.

And then it just sort of went away for a long time. And so they're bringing it back.

[:

Sandy is a textile artist who's been weaving for 35 years. In 2012, she began the pursuit of a locally sourced fiber that would become Chico Cloth. Durl taught with the Butte county office of education before he launched his encore career with Chico Flax.

[:

They are true trailblazers and we were so honored to talk to them and to bring the story of their work to all of you.

So now we'll turn it over to Sandy and Durl and let them tell you the ongoing story of Chico Flax.

Sandy and Durl, welcome to the show. Would you mind telling us a bit about who you are and your background and how you got to where you are today?

[:

Well, shall I start? I'm a professional weaver. I've been weaving for, well, I hate to say it now because it's going to date me, but over forty years and always use natural fibers and it wasn't till about 2012 that I was in my studio, the phone rings and the Bangladesh fires had happened. And, you know, spouses of people were, were killed and a local activist in my town said, I am not going to buy my clothes unless it's all local. What are weavers doing? And, um, I said, well, I just kinda thought I looked at my yarns on the wall and I said, I could weave you whatever.

ing that I'm saying that year:

So it's kind of an interesting energy that was going on. And I, I know it was happening elsewhere, but it also, I'm just thinking, cause I'm here in Northern California. I, I thought about this often and I find that fascinating. But anyway, women, we got together and we had lunch at a lovely garden and there was flax growing in the yard.

And because it's summer, we are having extreme heat right now, but it's not uncommon to have days of a hundred or plus. And it was one of those days and, you know, wool was not appealing. So we thought, oh, let's grow flax. And you know, here I've been weaving with flax. That's something I've always used.

And I always wove with cottons and it actually helped me redirect the way I weave. I never really thought of where my yards came from. And I'm embarrassed to say that. Back in when I started, it was just the material, the textures, and the colors. And here it was, you know, right in front of me, this door opening up and that's all I weave now.

lking about this flax back in:

And so we actually got a room there every Thursday, once a month and we would meet, and we had like 40 people in this vision of what can we do? Oh, Sandy, you're a weaver. Let's do like Chico Cloth. Let's make a cloth that represents us. And I was quite excited because my weaving background, I learned to weave in Northern Scotland.

So they have the district checks or what county checks. And so I thought, why don't we do something with that? So we got talking and talking and we had all these ideas and then the months go on and nothing's happening and I'm going, like, we've got to see if it can grow here. So we got some seeds, fiber flax seeds, not flax fruit.

That was specifically for that. And we took a little plot. And 10 by 10 plot. And. And we went with the traditional way of growing flax, which has a hundred-day life span. But in Europe, if you plant it in April, you're going to get a hundred days. You're going to be able to harvest in June, but that's like almost a hundred degrees here.

So we had a real problem. You know, fiber was very straw-like, and I'm going to introduce, put Durl in here cause he came up with a great idea. So how we've advanced to where we are today.

[:

What we did the second year, when so many people dropped out, because they found that it was a lot of work, that was part of it.

And then besides that, we had zeroed in, on real fiber flax, and unfortunately, there's a lot of people using it. And admit that they're using a food flax, which is okay, because you can get fiber from it, but it's not high quality. So we, uh, we talked with some farmer friends of ours at a, at a party in October one year, and somebody said, well, it's an annual we'll just plant it like we do winter wheat.

So we've been making it a winter crop ever since.

[:

Maybe a little bit about your background because you kind of got involved on a small scale doing our garden.

[:

So I've been around it. And so it's, it's almost a natural thing to get into and I'm enjoying it. We are collaborating with the center for regenerative agriculture at Cal State University Chico. It's a really good program. They're getting a lot of attention. They do a lot of regenerative agriculture at their farm.

In addition to traditional farming, I think it's a 700-acre farm something. So they've got some really big orchards because we're in a heavy orchard area and a lot of row crops and cover crops in this area. We bought in completely to the regenerative idea. Yeah. It's been working quite nicely for us.

This last spring was the first time we, you could add the animal component. So we hired 400 goats to, uh, come in and very casually eat all of our weeds. And our really nice crop that we had to. And so we've, we've, uh, let's see. What is there five different components to regenerative agriculture? We've got all. We grow fungi.

I'll say that again too, but, uh, we grow that in a beam reactor and when we've done a field or part of a field with, and then a part of the field with that, The part of the field with these fun guy added to the planting, phenomenal difference in the end product. And that's, that's kind of where we are, except for going on with, uh, I don't know if she wants to say a lot more.

[:

Do you have the goats or they come temporarily?

[:

They come temporarily. Yeah, it's a big business now for fire suppression in Northern California to have the goats come through and clean up all the underbrush. And they'll go up certain trees, quite a ways and get rid of what they'll, what is a tremendous amount of fire danger.

[:

I was going to say that when I first talked, how we all started, you know, it was on small gardens, community gardens, a person who had maybe a quarter of an acre we worked on. And then in 2017, That to answer that question and where, how we got to where we are now. Uh, one of my textile friends had an acreage several acres and behind her house, and it was an old almond orchard that needed to come out.

So she approached us and said, Hey, you guys, you know, I'll give you a really sweet deal and renting, and it's got a beautiful barn in the middle. It was like, yes, you know, the barn, it was a great space, 3.75 acres we've been working on and.

[:

That's not as much as I thought.

[:

Oh, well, you can produce a heck of a lot. I mean, we still doing little bits of it with our flax because we're rotating with the cover crops and we've had to heal a lot of the soil because the traditional way of doing the almonds is too.

Put pre-emergence around the base of the trees and then grow some kind of let the weeds and you just mow it between the trees and the orchards. So this is how it was done and 18 years or so it accumulated. And when we first got it. Little area. It was a little bit later than when we wanted it, but it was in February.

So we did like a 50 by 50 plot to see. And boy, you could see the pre-emergent was still in the ground because where the trees were, that was stunted little flax. And then where are the rows of between the trees? It's nice and tall. So we did research. We found, you know, called the county and I said, you know, I, I don't even remember the chemicals, something very strong that they used.

and you know, it, that was in:

And so those areas weren't as strong. I think the constant, the Michael rises has helped, you know, having the cover crop rotation, they're getting stronger. So because of that, Problem. We have, we've only done like an acre here or there. So we're starting to get to that expanse now where we've been actually seeing tremendous change by not having this striping and...

[:

Two years ago, we were about to harvest. I think it was five hundreds of an acre, less than two full acres. Really nice, good quality, flax. Ready to go. The Wednesday, we had a group of volunteers coming up from the bay area. 54 people had signed up to come and help us harvest the Wednesday before our harvest, the state of California. Shut down.

Thanks to Covid. So no one was willing to experiment with it going out and visiting with other people. And it's seriously that this was a going to be a big deal. Well, it was, and by the time we were able to get a few people out. Practice social distancing. Uh, we didn't wear masks out in the field, but we did when we were in the barn or associated, we harvested about 15% of that two acres and got some really nice quality.

arger. We ended up with about:

We didn't have people to help. And as a consequence, we tilled under all of that stuff. We mowed it, mowed it and then tilled it. So that was disappointing. This year, we cut back and planted just over an acre and a quarter. And kind of the same thing. We could not get volunteers. So we've hired a farm labor contractor and before we could get him out time passed and we still didn't harvest as much as we wanted.

And in some respects, it's good because right now we're having a hard time finding people to help process.

[:

That was going to be my next question. What do you do with it?

[:

Okay. We, we got a machine two years ago, right? Yes. We collaborated with the engineering department at Cal state university Chico, uh, and they were the team that was working on our project.

Had removed from the school, virtually all of the parts and pieces and plans that they needed and were working on it at home before the COVID hit.

[:

And that's to make a mechanical break.

[:

That was to do a mechanical brake, which rapidly really increased. We estimate that the machine can do in 90 seconds what a person can do. On the old mechanical break in about five minutes. Yeah. So it increased our productivity and ensured greater quality at the end.

[:

Yeah. And one of the things that first year we got the farm and we had the small, smaller volume than what we had. We decided, well, if we're going to keep doing this, we have to make a product.

And so even as laborious, as the flax processing is we actually got plans. We made a traditional brake, a sketching paddle, and then the hackles with the nails. And we hired three other people myself. So we had a crew of four and we got up really early in the morning and we worked till like 11 o'clock, you know, from six till 11 for the heat got bad.

And we produced about 750 pounds. We were so proud of that with them. Yeah. Because, like I had to watch my budget, you know, we were hiring people and I thought, wow. You know, for people who could work together as a team, we rotate the jobs you make it happen. And then that's the following year. That's when the college students we've mentioned early, we have a really close connection with the agriculture department and other departments because they're so excited about what we're doing.

And I think, well, Durl's teaching background and I've taught a little bit so that we, we kind of maintenance to that. I think. And it's actually been very helpful, but the engineering department had heard about us and it was one of the professors that had done is one of the senior mechanical engineering classes.

Put it together. They made a mini-break and we didn't know this was going on, which is quite exciting. And that's when we heard about the capstone project for this one class. And that's how we got those students to come in. So this is our second year using the mechanical break. I mean, it still needs more work.

But I can get quite a bit done and it's probably the smallest crew I've had, but I have one woman that she and I go out there, you know, and we're, we're getting it done.

[:

And what's the product that comes out of the brake? Is it...?

[:

The break - the first one is the product

[:

The product is tow.

[:

Then you send the tow to get spun.

[:

Yes. And that I blend right now because there are no linen mills in America. So I can't do that. So as it gets down the line, the tow goes to, I've been marketing some wool and flax blend, and then I've been working with the cotton now, which I really want to focus on. So a lot more with Sally foxes of brown cotton, kind of keep it local and we've been blessed.

And I want to do more with that. So yeah, the tow is used for that, but I am acquiring quite a bit of the long line, and just for that Sunday,

[:

We've had a teaser for some friends in France who have a friend who has a small linen mill. Linen spinning mill. And so we asked them to ask him if he would be interested in doing a sample for us and what would the sample size need to be?

Well, he responded that about a hundred pounds of longline flax linen, that it's not linen until the Spanish in the United. And so we're, we're looking for that when we get to a hundred pounds, I think we'll send them the 100 pounds of long linen and we will then. Uh, 100% linen the arms, and hopefully, well, they can produce some really nice stuff in different sizes.

In sequence, we have a wool linen blend it's completely local. The sheep that volunteered their wool to us, uh, had survived the campfire. They burned all around their, their pasture. And they lost one wooden fence posts, but they were in the park that was being irrigated as the fire burned through. So they got, they survived.

They got trimmed up that following spring and gave us their wool. We then made a wool linen blended yarn, and Sandy has died some. And our website has some, uh, pictures of the different colors. And then last year we had some really nice tow. I mean, it was absolute drop, dead gorgeous. And we sent it to a university of North Carolina and they did some experiments and came up with a cotton-linen blend for us.

And this is where the Sally Fox pillared cotton comes in. She gave us, no, she didn't give us, but we bought from her round cotton and mixed it with our linen yarn. So it's a 100% natural color. There's no dyes or anything added to it. And, uh, again, I'll use this drop-dead gorgeous. Uh, Sandy, just put some things on our website.

Uh, Instagram. It is really nice and it's gotten some really good reviews from professional weavers and knitters right now. It's looking pretty darn good. It's clean. It's as far as tow goes, it's a longer fibers than some of the really short stuff.

[:

How do I know my flax is ready? Yeah, he starts getting a little yellow at the bottom and green around the top.

That's kind of your clue and you might start losing a little leaves at the bottom. So then you're kind of pulling it when it's still got a little green on it. You know, it's not, it's not all golden. Then you let that dry just so that you get some of that just naturally the green diet's out. So you want it pretty yellow by the time.

And I go through something called redding. Now in probably where you guys are in the east coast. I know a lot of people that are growing it can do wet cause they get the, do that from the humidity. And that gives you an in France. It's like that too. The neck gives you that gorgeous gray color. It's, it's a fun guy that comes on the outside.

Um, that causes that. And then there's the water ready, which is the golden. So let's talk about our do readiness a little bit, cause we don't have do so we've had to modify the water ready and you know, you're going, oh my, I mean, my mind is going, I'm in a drought. When am I going to do, you know, because that's, I don't want to use a lot of water.

So we have tanks that hold about 35 pounds of our dried flax, and about a hundred gallons of water and it replicates upon. And so I, I'm not draining it a lot and it's kind of, it creates kind of like a sourdough starter. It's a very sticky. Smell, you know, and it's very organic and that's bacteria that's eating at that.

And, you know, flax fiber is a bast fiber, and that means that the fiber itself is on the exterior of the plants. So the redding process, it has to break down that core in this variable. So, so then your fiber can come off of it. So the water ready and are the do Redding is a process that does that. So when I put it in the water, I might, I just drain a little bit and that goes out into my field.

So I'm actually enhancing my composting by doing that. So I don't feel I'm wasting the water. Totally. And then I can drain a little bit out of it. So when, when the fiber's ready, um, after about three to five days, I'm going to have to test it. So I'll take out a bundle and I live it dry. It has to be dry.

And then I take from that, it's going to come snap it, like I hear a snap sound and they break it, you know, with my hands or I'll take a strand and wrap it around my finger. And then that'll start separating that fiber I'll start seeing the fiber. So when that's all done, then I started the actual mechanical processing of it.

Okay. When I can get the redding done, that can stay in my barn for a good few years. It's not necessarily good to let it sit for. I read someplace, they found some that was over 50 years old, and yeah. And they were able to process it. It may not have been as great quality, but that readiness it's key that you could get that done during the day.

And for us, it's great because the summertime's warm, it dries quickly. And then I can let it go for months before I can process it.

[:

Because we don't get dew and dew is nothing more than the moisture in the air. Condensing as the temperature drops at night. Well, we have a very dry climate. So even though the temperature drops really low may well, low being into the sixties, we don't get much in the way of dew.

I think you can probably count them on 10 days a year, we experimented quite a few years ago with, uh, an artificial do Reddit and I found them nozzle. That puts out a very miserly amount of water, very small water particles. And they're in the air for quite a while. And we just, around this standpipe, we put the straw and then roll turned it every couple of days in 10 days running about five gallons a night, which is not a lot of water.

And we had a 40-foot diameter circle. So that's a lot of flax. And in 10 days it was. And this was our artificial do Reddit. And I would turn people on to the big book of flax by this instant Dorf brothers. Where are they in? They're in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. They go into it in great detail and they're both really nice people, uh, and more than willing.

[:

So after the redding's done and everything's dry again because you can't do it. Then, then the break and it's this free-standing, I'm going to try to describe this. And it has like almost an arm that comes down and it crashes down onto the flax.

[:

Like a press? I'm picturing like a, like a printing press or a book press.

[:

It's more of like a little arm thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's on YouTube. I can go. There's a great YouTube on that. There's a lot of those. And so what the class the students developed were like cylinders, round cylinders. I have on one side, I feed it in and it crushes it. And then I have someone on the other side to retrieve it.

And so then we can take it through as many times as we need to, and it will get all of that core broken, and then you'd get tons of debris, you know, straw on.

[:

Do you have to sort it, the broken core from the fiber?

[:

No, you don't. Well, that comes later with that combing but at this point, it's really, if it's been redded it properly, it will come out really clean.

A lot of that shaft that's called shaft will drop to the ground and then we then take it to the cart. We find that this system works so well, there's something else called a sketching paddle and that beats it some more that the break may not get. And we don't really do that because I found that when I got to the pieces I could read really well, I could just go right to the cones.

Yeah. Cool. So then it goes through the combs are like over a thousand, their beds of nails really that are in there. There's they're spaced. The first one is they're spaced further apart. And so you kind of put it on top of the combs and loud that kind of fall into the combs. And you literally are. I kind of like it's meditative.

I mean, you know, even if I got more automated than that, Few parts, which are really critical. I don't mind standing there comi, and that takes off some of the straw and the shorter lengths is what it's doing. It's starting to make, it's making, it's letting the tow come away. And those are shorter pieces that have caused during the breaking.

Okay. Cause I've watched people as I train them. And you start out with this big handful and you come up with the itty bitty one, you know, as you learn and you finally, you learn where to draw the line on you're coming and you can, you can actually get a pretty good bundle to out of it, but your tendency is to overcome.

So you'll do this first one. And then the second group goes as fun. The nails are closer together. And then third one. And then I just take that little short at what's left in the combs. I take that and I put it in the bucket and that's going to go towards my blends, my yarn.

[:

So the tow is pieces that are too small to actually...

[:

They're short. Well, they can be used. I mean, you can spin them, but what you're looking for ideally for pure linen is you want those really long, long strands. So that's what your goal is to end up with all these processing steps, that longer pieces that, you know, I mean when we're showing you how long that is, but we use a number.

I mean, you're going to get over, you know, three feet in length.

[:

Oh, yeah. And the long piece, that's the line?

[:

Yeah. Did it Lin line belong line by line. And the other thing I didn't mention that's really critical is when we harvest it, we have to pull it right. We have to have the roots. So maybe you've heard you pull the flax because you want.

And then they want the top part. And during the whole process, I'm very conscious of keeping that root end together and then the seed end. And you can actually feel the difference when you're coming. There is a subtle, it's a coarser feel to one end and it's softer where the seed heads are. And I'm not a spinner, but I've talked to some of my local spinners that they find that hat, that the reason you want it.

So you're spinning it. So you have the course end and then the finer end can join. It blends it. Cause there's no, it's not like will has barbs on it. Right. I mean the different place. And so there's nothing like that. And so that kind of made sense to me when you get it, they have to get it wet and then the root end can join to the head end. And you can continue.

[:

At a microscopic level, the fibers start in the roots. That's why they have to be pulled and they taper slightly towards the end. And the closest thing others people can imagine or have some familiarity with would be, uh, some bamboo, because not only do they taper from the bottom to the top, but linen fibers have these little microscopic nodules along that fiber.

And when twisted together, those add that incredible strength that you get when you pull them nodule to nodule, so to speak, and make your fibers. And that's why the long lines. Allow you to make really fine, fine thrips or yarns. And then the tow will do the in-betweens, especially for other things where you don't need to make them quite so small. That's about as technical as I want to get.

[:

I want to interject here a quick story. Good Dirt listeners might have heard this story already, but I guess four years ago when my mom and I first started Lady Farmer five years. Oh gosh. Five years ago when we started Lady Farmer, our mission was we started out, we wanted to produce a line of sustainably produced clothing.

And neither of us have any experience in the fashion industry. So probably I think why we started a business. Yeah, exactly. At the end of the day, I think yeah. Was actually really helpful because we just went in asking all the, you know, the dumb questions, so to speak. So we went, yeah. Someone who we know a family friend who has been in the fashion industry forever said, oh, you need to go, you're starting a clothing line.

You need to just go to magic in Las Vegas, the big trade show, just to see what it is. And you can see the sourcing area and everything. Pick out your fabrics and stuff. I don't think he really understood what we were doing. And so we went there and we were like, oh, this is great. We're going to design clothes.

And then we walk up to the, to the like sourcing booth. And we're like, can you point us in the direction of domestically grown organic linen, please.

Everyone was like, and we were like, what? Yeah.

Yeah. We were like, you don't have made in America, organic linen? And now here we are, it feels very full circle for me, Mom, I feel like we were talking to the king and queen of domestic regenerative linen. It's an honor because we found them.

[:

I know just the beginning of our path, you know? Yeah.

You know, our first thing, it was literally like a month after we came up with the idea to even do, like...

[:

We were like, why can't we find linen clothes? And you know what I'm saying

[:

That place was the size of like, 5- 10 football fields.

[:

I've done some conventions there. Yeah.

[:

We said is there anything, anything made in American domestic, and there was this like little corner.

There was like literally a little corner, the couple of little boots with pamphlets. Oh my gosh. That was the biggest eye-opener. Anyway, but thank you for that explanation, step by step processing because you know, you think, and you said it so well, how, you know, people, they get that in how much work it takes because you sort of fantasizing about it. You could grow a little flax and then have a party for people to come.

[:

We thought that it's so funny. When I think back when we first did this, it was like, yeah, the volunteers, we can have fun. Yeah. There's that side that I, you know, now that we hired this crew, it was amazing how productive they were and what was so fun for them is that they.

Pick talks before it was all almonds, olives walnuts, and they just love laid love the change of it, you know, and, you know, over just my own experience, I've found ways as well. Okay. I'm not a machine, but how can I replicate how the machine harvest? And one of the things that these, my dream machine is to get a harvester, you know, till that day.

And so we would pull and then we'd lay it down. And so we create those roads, right. Until you have what happened to us this year? Because we did harvest early because the crop was ready, which was in March that we also, because our, we had such a dry February, the weeds just kind of got ahead of us. So we couldn't do that.

Nice straight line. So we had this, I said, don't bother with the crude. We're just gonna pull around them, you know, and I'll come find them later and bundle them up, you know? So that was quite an eye-opener to this year, but it was so nice to have people that would, you know, that's what they were doing. And then I think it deserves to be paid.

I was going to ask Durl to tell a story. He's good at stories.

[:

Here we go. Anyhow, we kept seeing these things on YouTube or yeah, European YouTube, and what's that other than Vimeo or something. There's a couple of others where we could get to these videos.

Wow. What's the name on that? Flax harvester. Oh, I wrote it down and we started contacting these feeds. And they never responded. And I thought, oh my gosh, they must think we're really small time, but we have a whole acre now. Yeah. And so anyhow, we finally got through to them, through our friends in France because they could communicate in French and the are, our friends are in the textile business.

Also so anyhow, they could speak the same, use the same vocabulary, and be understood. Uh, well it turns out they quit making the small ones round world war two, and this was the one-cell harvest, three feet wide or six feet wide. They now only harvest 24 feet wide. So anyhow, and they only sell to people who are heart or growing 5,000 acres at a time.

[:

Oh, 5,000.

[:

That's a little beyond our farm.

[:

And also I thought that's interesting. He kind of expressed that he wasn't dealing with individual farmers. He was dealing with countries.

[:

After he responded to us and invited us when we come to Europe to go and see their shop, which I would do because their machinery was really famous from the twenties up until world war two.

[:

Yeah, that's fascinating that's literally not made anymore.

[:

You know? Hey, I would like to have your six foot. No, they don't even make it anymore.

[:

It can't have been that long since people were doing this by hand, you know?

[:

No, actually in, in Oregon they have the industry going up until about the sixties. Yeah. And, um, they had smaller scale harvester that's now I think in a museum. And what happened if you think about the sixties for mass production linen just got pushed aside because well, it wrinkled who wants that, and then there's these polyesters and the lycra.

And so the fashion world, one of our acquaintances on the east coast was a retired teacher from the fashion Institute of, in New York. And he had this pie chart and it's only like, you know, the fact is you're still a lot of these synthetics, you know, and then you've got wool and you got cotton and linen is just a tad on there. 1%- 4%.

[:

1% of the total fashion market uses linen.

[:

It's been that way, but it's always had such an elegant aspect to it. I mean, it goes back to, you know, I think the royalty, they would wear those long line, they would never wear, I mean, tow was made into clothes for the peasants.

They would never wear that. So, I mean, it still has that classy. I mean, silk has that too, you know, but I always think of silk and linen, kind of as buddies, you know, the same on the same scale of class. And I, I think that I'm all for the small-scale flax industry. I mean, I think in America, I think that is kind of the way that we can make it happen.

I mean, there's several that are sincere in wanting to try it and keeping it small, keeping us get those little harvesters made again, getting our equipment small because you know, even though we're not doing our 3.75 acres, when we do, we can produce a heck of a lot, want to make some money off of it.

I think so.

[:

Or locate one. I mean, I'm sure you've looked, are there any like antique ones that are...?

[:

No. What's going on worldwide, there's a resurgence of interest in flax. So used equipment up until about 10 years ago was available. You can't find used equipment today. No, there aren't any.

[:

That's what that man said.

[:

Historically, the historical sequence of this is that DuPont came out with monofilament nylon in the late twenties. I think it was just before the depression during world war two, at the beginning of the war, most of the parachute chords were linen by the end of the war. They were all nice.

And parachute cords became the standard for boot laces for dada on and on and on. And so that's, that was one of the killers, even though in, in some places, linen was always a small scale industry with co-ops or industries within a country or a province would get together and then do something with them.

So it's different and yes. Oregon. One of the things that was mentioned in an article, uh, for killing the industry, besides some other stuff, but the biggest one was the closing down of using prison, labor to do the harvesting, and the processing.

[:

Wow. That's really interesting. You know, it reminds me of the hemp story as well because hemp was a homestead kind of crop it.

[:

And I've heard something similar to the, not the parachute cords and the shoelaces, but hemp was the main for its sales for the boats. That used in the military and then the nylon sort of just replaced it. Yeah.

[:

Yeah. That's interesting because you know, you sort of see a trend that these small natural operations were pushed out by the big synthetics and, and here you go.

And. You know, reversing that turning back on that is, um, proving to be quite the task.

[:

What was the original seed though for you guys that planted that?

[:

The variety?

[:

I mean, the proverbial seed, the, um, idea.

[:

Too.

[:

But my question is I wanted to, what have you guys seen in terms of like growth of the movement or, you know, consciousness or awareness? Have you seen it like just really blossom where you are? People are understanding what this is about?

[:

The last couple of years, maybe just because we've been out there, we've had a lot of people contacting us about doing small scale, maybe they're barnyard, or they've got a small parcel in and want to try it.

And one of our friends in Yuba city Marysville area, which. 50 60 miles away. He got the idea. He was an x-ray technician. No, he was an RN. Yeah. Anyhow he's uh, and he just thought, oh, I can make a shirt. So he bought some seeds and he's been growing it for several years and spinning it himself and then learning to weave.

And sometime soon he'll, he'll get there. We're seeing more and more people with that sort of obsessive-compulsive component. And I think, and I think in some ways that's what it is because the other component we're seeing is, uh, we got a call from a grower who had put in quite a few acres and had harvested his stuff for seed and sold the seed.

And he said it was an oilseed, which is essentially the same thing as a food flax, anyhow, and he said, he's got these big round bales that he's got a tremendous number. And he, I think he was thinking I would buy them and we could process it into linen fibers. And when I got through telling him that know that you, you, you, if you grew up to harvest seed, you grew up way past.

Yes, usefulness as a fiber. It's no, no use. I said, if you've got one, a lot of it, you could probably sell it to this meal in it's in Northern Poland and they do nothing, but make Baylor twine and stuff, light ropes. And they, their thing is to use. Um, so do you use those kind of fibers, but he didn't want, I think he was really wanting to sell it.

That's the other component that we're seeing is people want to make sure money real quick. They'll grow it. Well, you know, we're not buying it. Yeah, but we'll let you come and process it or come and we'll work with you and train you on how to process it so you can either get disillusioned or you can go on with it.

There, there isn't. No. And the worst part from our perspective is if somebody said, oh, I've already read it and you go, oh my God, no. And the chances are that it wouldn't be useful anyhow.

[:

Well, I guess what Emma was asking was Durl, if you were already growing flax, what was inspiring you way back when before?

[:

Oh, well, we, we kind of hit that together. I didn't want to get too involved at the very, very beginning for a wide variety of reasons. Uh, I waited until all these numbers of people were self-selected the thing that they would continue or not continue.

And then I got involved in the mechanical technical stuff and that's kind of my forte and Sandy of course, is the, you know, the fabrics and the, uh, and those things and the artistic side. Cause she's really a great artist.

[:

So speaking of that part of it. So currently in your operation, what is your output? Is it, are you mostly R and D, are you producing tow? It sounds like mostly and then selling that? How has, how is this working for you guys now?

[:

I have to say just because we couldn't get like a whole acre done, you know, it's more of an R&D, but it's enough for me to actually make a product, you know? Cause I can sell enough on a limited, limited scale.

Um, I'm finding, um, I've had fun with weaving it, you know, and I'm finding that a lot of my, my clientele are people who want that finished product. Yeah.

[:

And the finished product being like a woven piece of fabric?

[:

Well, I did fabric that way, so I still want to see that happen. And I'm kind of drawn to having more of the finished product right now because it's a, it's a doable volume that I could do, but I also want to try like, What last year I had enough, I put them into, um, for the wool and flax blend. I put them into 50 gram balls and I was going to go to some yarn shops.

Well, everything was kind of closed down. So, so this year I see myself in the, in the San Francisco bay area. There's a, there's a couple of them that sell locally sourced mule. And I'd like to try that to see because I feel like if I have the product out there and my demands are there, then why not expand my production end of it.

And work out that, I mean, it kind of all works together.

[:

One of the things that we recognized several years ago, it was, we have to have a product. Okay. If we can't sell something, We can't pay for what we've been doing in the big picture it's research, but we've developed some things that are salable. And for the most part, despite the economic situation in the United States, thanks to COVID and the burn burning fires that are going on in this story, you know, we've been getting well-received we're.

Process now where we need to extend that area of being well-received and encourage some purchases to take place so that we can continue what we're doing and then expand even more.

[:

We've run out of time. I want to talk about the die hedgerow. Is that what y'all call it?

[:

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

[:

This is how that came about was we were awarded a California department of food and ag department food and agriculture grant to put in a hedgerow.

It was all for carbon sequestering. And so I thought, you know, let's go California natives. I want to select ones that bloom all year around. And a lot of those are my guy plant. We have elderberry, coyote bush, toyan a couple of them. I'm going to experiment with that. We have a buckwheat, but I don't know if that'll die, but we're going to do some more experimenting.

But after four years of that, they started producing last year for the first time, especially the elderberry.

[:

17 varieties of California natives. Yeah. 14 of them are die plants. Yeah. There isn't a time period throughout the year that we don't have something blossoming. Yeah.

[:

That was my goal. And it's really neat to see.

I highly encouraged hedgerows because I'd seen habitat and pollinators and birds coming back. Weren't there because the orchard didn't sustain them. And it's really wonderful to see that. So there's a plus on that. So that's been, you know, when I started getting the elderberries out of it and I started dying it and our barn actually has a space.

But I'm making it into a di area where we can offer workshops where people there's a whole group of people that are creating like a little, I'm going to call it a club, an organization of natural dyers. And so, you know, I've said, Hey, let's get this here. You can come and die. Cause it's hard to get a facility in your kitchen or your backyard to do that.

So that's one of our future goals. And through a seed fund grant from, um, Fibershed we actually are acquiring some other plants, so that can as borders that we're planting, we had some color Angela's Coreopsis we were shorthanded. So this next year I'm going to be putting more in the fall for growth.

Couldn't quite get there this year that I was hoping. So that's the next phase for us.

[:

That's wonderful. So is elderberry one that will stay? It's not a fugitive?

[:

It does, it does fade a little bit, but you know, I, I always put that on a little to me. I, you know, a lot of the plants, I want to have them of course last longer than others, but I think that's the wonder of it, if it does fade.

[:

We're so used to things needing to be like, you know, permanent, like plastic and, you know, we need, we can think about it a different way. Like it is a plant. It is a living vibrant thing and it, yeah. So I'm gonna try some of my elderberries.

[:

Yeah. In our climate elderberry is a year-round.

We get color only once a year, once a year, once a year, but we've got one. We planted the elderberry. Most of them were eight inches high, and many of them are now over 12.

[:

Yeah. Yeah, they get

[:

I've heard, they like edges of things.

[:

For hedgerow, I highly recommend that. They're great.

[:

Yeah. So what does The Good Dirt mean to you literally or metaphorically?

[:

I think good dirt is helping the world with all the climate change and it's so in my face right now, I might go outside and I can't, you know, breathe very well. So I feel like putting my hands in that soil. That's going to create that fiber that I'm going to be putting on my loom to then having harvesting that elderberry.

I mean, that's The Good Dirt to me. It comes from within yet it's also around me.

[:

For me, when we first took over this property, after the orchard was removed, uh, and the stumps pulled out or ground down. Grind them. They dug them out and, um, it was a really fine soil. It's a river bottom soil in the great valley of California.

Beautiful, gross. Anything. But it had been mistreated with chemicals and mechanical things for quite a few years. Anyhow, what I'm seeing, what makes me feel good? Like we do have good days. Is that now I can go out there and in our cover crop and I can pull up a wheat and pull it out by the roots. And there's an earthworm.

We did not have earthworms anywhere on the property. Uh, when we bought it, we never found it. We found lots of aunts and we still have aunts. We still have those, those little fire ants things. But so now we almost, I can pull up a weed and almost every one of them will have an earth bar. So I pulled it a little worth, warm-up, put it back in where it was and then pat the soil down.

It means to me that now what I grow here is going to be healthy. If I'm going to eat it and it's going to be good for me, whatever it might be. Cause we do grow a few other things out there once in a while. Um, and that we're contributing to the reversal of the what do I want to say monoculture high use of petroleum products for fertilizer for weed control.

[:

I'm looking forward to getting a shirt too. Yeah. Anything else that you want the listeners, the world or your people to understand about the work that you're doing?

[:

I think that there's a lot of the creator in it. And that should be appreciated. And I've always had that. I mean, you know, I've always worked with my hands and, and way back when I was in college, I went to Africa and it was, I wasn't a textile person then, but I was with, I lived with a tribe of people and the beadwork they did was all handwork. And then we went to a little island off the coast of Kenya called Lamu and they had boat builders and they were all built by their hands.

And so I think that, that there's an awareness. That all these hands are making things that I wear, you know? And it becomes so special that I'm not just buying a garment because I like it. But I know that someone who made it, you know, put their hands in it. And maybe if it's a sheet that I like or animal or a plant that I have that connection to that, and that I can purchase that outfit and feel good about it, then I, and I think that that's the awareness I'd like to bring to the people.

[:

Yeah. And I would, I would like to be able to say to all of your listeners, that if you are interested in trying this rather than reinvent the wheel, you could communicate with us and we can either point you at something or share tips on how to come up with the combs quickly, easily, accurately, meaningfully, I have a tool that really works and, and other parts of the redding.

Stuff like that because there's a lot of stuff that I'm seeing a lot of people are going through. I like to help you not have to go through it again.

[:

That is so generous.

[:

It is. I mean, resource sharing and experience sharing all that.

[:

That's not very capitalist of you Durl.

[:

Consultation fee maybe. No, thank you. That's great. And that's what this community is all about. Going through a new way and yeah. Thank you so much. Well, y'all, this was so interesting. Yeah, I've loved it. And man, I have come a long way since the magic thing in 2016.

[:

Yeah. Now we get it. And we have found true resonance with this. Our job now is to help other people understand why there's no domestically grown organic linen.

[:

I follow you guys on Instagram and that's how I heard about you.

[:

Yay.

[:

Oh, I know who they are.

[:

Thank you so much for tuning in today. And as I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, please, don't forget to go to www.ladyfarmer.com/survey where you will tell us about all of your hopes and dreams for The Good Dirt podcast. You will get your 15% off the Almanac membership and be entered to win a free Slow Living Retreat ticket.

[:

And thanks you again, Sandy and Durl for coming on and telling us all about your exciting flax project and helping us to bring domestically produced linen back home to the U.S. of A. We are excited about this.

[:

Yes, this one's very exciting.

[:

All right, folks. We'll see you next week. Bye.

[:

See you next week.

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