Leaving North Dakota

We left after breakfast at Eggert’s Landing and drove through Fargo, ND into Minnesota.  Again we saw the huge fields of wheat, corn and soybeans.  Occasionally we saw a field of blue flowered flax.  Now you ask what flax is used for.  Flax was one of the most important crops to early American farmers and to the economy of our emerging nation. Grown in almost every state east of the Mississippi River, and some beyond, flax was literally the fiber and preservative that helped sustain our people. Before the spread of the mechanical cotton gin in the early 1800s, most Americans had a choice of two clothing fibers – wool or linen. Even after the advent of inexpensive cotton, linen fiber from the stems of flax would remain an important source of fiber for clothes and other products.  In addition to being a fiber source, flax was also an important oilseed in America until the mid-1900s. Linseed oil, squeezed out of flax seed, can still be found in most hardware stores and is used as a preservative finish on wood. Despite the valuable characteristics of both linseed oil and linen fiber, flax began to fade from American farms after the development of the petroleum industry, especially following World War II. Many farms moved away from a rotation of flax and small grains (wheat, oats and sometimes barley or rye), to a rotation of corn followed by soybeans.

Fortunately, U.S. flax is not a lost crop, though the production area is much more limited. Flax is now grown almost exclusively in North Dakota and Minnesota.  Part of the reason flax has remained competitive in North Dakota and Minnesota, is that these states need fast maturing, cool season crops. Flax, like spring oats or spring wheat, is planted as soon as the soils begin to warm (typically April), and can be harvested in August, well before the early frosts that can hit the northern U.S.

The renewed interest in flax has been partially based on increased demand for linen clothing, but more so because of certain healthful properties of the seed oil. Flax oil is high in omega-3 fatty acid, which is believed to be helpful in lowering cholesterol when included in the diet. This same fatty acid is found in fish, one reason that seafood is advocated for those with cholesterol problems. The high omega content of flax is playing an increased role in foods. Flax seed is being fed to chickens, with the eggs from those chickens sometimes being marketed as high omega eggs.  So now you know that probably what you are eating is flax!

By the way, we hurried out of Fargo as it was a crazy place to be with lots of traffic and people driving like maniacs.  We actually ate a sandwich at Subway in Walmart because we could park our rig in the parking lot and watched the Walmartians go by.  Should have had our camera!  And we wanted to get to our next stop in Minnesota before too late!.

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