Help us grow our Flax Project!
Our Flax Project keeps moving along in unexpected and exciting ways! The more we learn and experience and the more connections we make, the closer our dreams of revitalizing domestic linen production become.
Choosing natural, locally grown fibers is an important choice for the environment; such fibers can be an integral part of regenerative farming systems, help build carbon stocks on working landscapes, and improve regional environmental health.
Thank you - my community of customers, textile artisans, activists, and farmers for being so eager to support these efforts in textile development. We couldn't do it without you and the others we've connected with across the country pursuing similar work.
Our flax project has appeared in the local press, is generating the support of several local growers and small business owners, and was presented at PASA (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture). We're excited to expand our commitment to our local economy and textile supply chain. While this small investment in our local textile economy is a great new initiative for my business to explore, growing flax for linen is a huge undertaking and we are counting on your continued support to make this happen. Scroll down to the 'what's next" section to explore ways to get involved and please, consider becoming a Flax Friend.
looking forward with gratitude,
founder, kitchen garden series
82 Days of Flax Field Magic
I met with Emma of Kneehigh Farm on March 12, 2020 to explore a textile collaboration just as the news of the COVID19 pandemic was filtering into our lives. We met to have a conversation about a natural dye project using my linen textiles and the indigo she grows on the farm, but our chat quickly turned into an enthusiastic musing about the possibilities of Pennsylvania grown linen. I shared with Emma that I was inspired by the story I heard about on Instagram via Rustbelt Fibershed, a volunteer group of gardeners and artists in Cleveland, OH that planted a small plot of flax on a vacant lot to harvest for making linen fabric. Emma shared my glee about home grown linen and before the hour was up, she had offered up an 1/8 acre at Kneehigh Farm and our Flax Field experiment began. Maybe it was the looming pandemic, or the climate crisis, or simply kismet, but in that synchronous moment everything seemed possible as we sat there fantasizing about reviving local linen production in spite of the uncertain times. Only eighty-two days after we bloomed the idea in my studio, with a lot of hard work and a ton of help from our community, we harvested our first Pennsylvania-grown flax crop.
Because traveling around the country or the world to visit other flax growers wasn’t an option this year, our Flax Field project has brought us a sense of hope during a difficult season. It’s allowed us to journey metaphorically and dream big for the future. It broadened the scope of our businesses in unexpected ways and strengthened our commitment to our community. The textile industry as it exists today is a classic example of a global system dependent upon the overuse of natural resources and the exploitation of human labor. Furthermore, much of the infrastructure necessary to process raw materials like flax into linen cloth has moved overseas like so many other American industries. However, there are a dedicated few who are revitalizing the American made textile processing and there are local fibershed affiliate organizations that are working to change the options for better regional linen, cotton, and wool production systems. Growing this flax with Emma is the first step of materially realizing a local textile industry that’s part of a regenerative system that values labor and the earth.
Read more about local fibersheds here.
Here’s a breakdown of how we grew hope in a flax field during 2020.
Planting the flax began the day after Earth Day 2020, during the April new moon. Emma and I gathered our cross back aprons in front of us to form carrying pouches and filled our makeshift sacks with the sweet smelling seeds. Next, we dipped our hands into our seed bounty and broadcast the small, precious kernels by casting handfuls in one direction, then tossing more handfuls in the other direction, until the entire field was covered. The flax seeds were glossy, impossibly smooth to the touch, and scattered gracefully when released before falling steadily to the ground.
Read more about planting here.
Our first community event in the Flax Field, the Germination Jubilee, took place on a sunny Sunday in May 2020 about a month after planting. Time was flying by! We hosted a small gathering of just 10 people to make sure everyone would be safely distanced for an afternoon of weeding, learning about the crop and getting to know each other over light refreshments. For many of us, it was a first gathering together since the pandemic lockdown and we were happy to be in the fresh air, with our hands in the soil and enjoying the hardy flax seedlings.
Musings on flax growing here.
Our community farm to table Flax Flower Dinner by the Flax Field took place on June 28th, 2020, a few days after the summer solstice. What an incredible evening! We worked hard to make sure everyone was spread out safely and happily in family pods, solo, or at long tables with friends at either end within chatting distance. Thirty-eight of us sat outdoors next to our flowering flax plants and shared a special menu in the summer twilight, carefully prepared by chef Gabrielle Badway. All the ingredients in the dinner were thoughtfully raised on Kneehigh and other diversified farms in the neighborhood. We saw old friends and made new ones as the community around our flax project began expanding in unexpected and exciting ways!
Thoughts about community here.
Our final Harvest week took place in July as we began the laborious process of reaping our first Pennsylvania flax crop. There is a perfect moment to harvest flax for fiber - too soon and the flax is hard to process, too late and the plant starts to rot. We knew the flax was ready when it turned golden and the flowers started to fade. We carefully ripped bunches of our beautiful flax from the ground and gathered them into tidy bundles to be stored for processing. Each bundle is a future ball of linen twine that can be woven into textiles. Even now, the stalks are waiting to be processed into fiber!!
Read more about the linen here.
The yield from this modest eighth of an acre at Kneehigh Farm has inspired us to look towards a time beyond a carbon economy that includes exploring the possibilities of large scale regenerative fiber farming and a regional scutch mill. We are dreaming of connecting regional and national flax-to-linen networks and we’ve found folks at rustbelt_fibershed, PNW_fibershed, All Together Now PA and others who are thinking similarly. We’re excited to see how this endeavor can help our business reduce waste and we look forward to seeing what beauty we can make as we work towards sustainable economic farm to fiber models. We would love for you to join us on this journey!
Calling all growers, large and small
January is the month to place your seed order and start planning for next summer’s crops. Whether you want to grow a flax faerie field or dream of acres upon acres of flax plants waving in the wind, we’d love to work with you! You can grow your own home grown flax in containers in your urban backyard, on your deck, or on your balcony, or even dedicate a meadowed flax area to a yard or lot if you have more space. Small scale flax growing will help support our project and you can purchase flaxseed for here on our website (see flax faerie field options below). If you’re interested in larger scale flax growing or want to learn how becoming a Flax Friend will support our project, please reach out via email to Heidi Barr (firstname.lastname@example.org) as this is all part of a much bigger plan!
Raising seed money
We will be raising $700 in seed money for our Spring 2021 plans and you can directly help support us by becoming a Flax Friend (see options at the bottom of this page)! We are so excited to be among the first growers to acquire Linore, a dual variety flax seed developed by Oregon State University in partnership with our friends at Fibrevolution/PNW_fibershed. As a dual variety seed, this is the only commercial scale fiber flax seed grown in the USA that can be grown for flax oil as well as fiber making. We are hoping to afford 200 pounds of seed at $700 because this amount qualifies as a commercial quantity and offers the best price per pound. 200 pounds of seed will be enough for us to expand our modest plot at Kneehigh, share freely with other community gardeners interested in trying flax for fun, help other gardeners use flax as soil remediation in urban environments, and to distribute at cost to other growers in our region wishing to help support the expansion of our linen dreams. You can also sign up for our mailing list to be the first to know about special KGS product offerings that will directly benefit our project. Join the flax to linen revolution!
Collaborating with Fibrevolution/PNW_fibershed
January 6th, 2021 will mark our first meeting of the new year with Fibrevolution/PNW_fibershed and the beginning of a formal business relationship with other like-minded folks growing flax for fiber production. We are excited to have Shannon and Angela as our consultants. They have been working toward regenerating textile systems in Oregon for eight years now
(in their words) “to revive and establish regional fiber manufacturing hubs focused on bast fiber (flax and hemp) located in strategic growing areas around the United States.” We are very much looking forward to sharing our vision and expanding our community and this will be a great start to 2021.
Looking for other brand partners
If you are a designer looking for homegrown American made linen, come talk to us! We have big dreams for our Flax Field Project. In the next three to five years, we hope our flax fields will provide fine linen for a growing community of designers. You can be a crucial part of this exciting project by becoming an early brand partner and making a commitment to use the linen we produce in your future products. Your vote of confidence in this project will help us fine tune our business model, set goals for future growth and flax crops, and secure investment capital. Plus, you get to be among the first to create beautiful textiles with linen grown from flax right here in Pennsylvania. Please reach out to email@example.com for more information about partnering with us.
Research and development
Sadly, it’s been impossible for the kitchen garden series to source linen within our local fibershed in Pennsylvania, which is how our Flax Field idea came into being. Learning about the history of the flax industry in Pennsylvania will be one key to our success in reviving it. New farm bills are opening up pathways to reviving local textile industries, but larger scale production will need startup costs. Mechanical harvesting can be done using a single-row puller that costs $12,000 or more, a mechanical turner is $17,000, and a baler is nearly $10,000. The largest expenditure by far is a scutch mill, which could be used regionally by a cooperative of flax producers and costs $3 - 5 million. If you are an investor interested in contributing to these projects, please contact us!