Today is Earth Day and we've been thinking about what motivated us to make some changes on the farm over the past few years and to restart the flax crops that once thrived on Mallon Farm.
At the height of linen production here, farmers would have grown flax as part of a crop rotation. Today, 80% of farm output in Northern Ireland consists of meat, dairy and eggs. This system is increasingly unsustainable and has contributed to a reduction in biodiversity and soil quality.
We’re passionate about restarting the tradition of Irish grown flax, not just because it played such a huge part of our industrial heritage but also because we believe that natural fibres will be at the heart of a sustainable future.
We have restored a Mackies Scutching Machine from the 1940's, pictured below. These machines were sold all over the world. This one had been dismantled in the 70's and had lain in a barn for many years in (helpfully numbered!) pieces. It's been a bit of a jigsaw but we've managed to getting it up and running again and it is now housed in a mill we have built on the farm.
Heritage Seed Stocks
We are working with the Irish Seed Savers Association to build up stocks of heritage flax seed. These seeds were developed by LIRAL in the 40’s and 50’s to suit the growing conditions in Northern Ireland. Farmers here didn’t tend to hold stocks of seeds so when the industry declined these were lost. They were preserved in the Vavilov seed bank in Russia which has a fascinating history itself.
When linen was grown here it was retted in dams which were often damaging to the rivers. We knew we had to rethink this part of the process and have worked closely with Ballinderry Rivers Trust to develop a river friendly retting process. We use only harvested rain and spring water in repurposed cheese vats (see photo below). The leftover water is distributed across the fields after retting as a cost effective fertiliser.
Looking ahead we believe that reintroducing flax as part of a crop rotation can have a huge positive impact for local farms. We are already seeing new wildlife with flocks of linnets and owls. We are looking at ways to use every part of the plant to make this one of the least wasteful crops on the planet.