Gold in them there fields

Les Huiles d’Amérique’s sunflowers yield fresh, pure oil

BY LAURA ROBIN, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN AUGUST 31, 2010

While Loïc Dewavrin’s farm about 160 kilometres from Ottawa has just 20 hectares of sunflowers, when they bloom the sight stops traffic on Highway 20.

While Loïc Dewavrin's farm about 160 kilometres from Ottawa has just 20 hectares of sunflowers, when they bloom the sight stops traffic on Highway 20. Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Even the most devoted local-food enthusiasts usually have a short list of foods for which they make an exception — lemons, salt, cinnamon and other key ingredients you won’t find around here. Olive oil is usually on that list, though, increasingly, local restaurants are offering canola oil from the Canadian Prairies, rather than olive oil from Europe, to dip your Art-Is-In bread in.

But a few local-food devotees have discovered liquid gold: high-quality, organic sunflower oil from just this side of Montreal.

« I first tasted it at a one-day market in Montreal, » says Anne Janssen, of Aylmer. « It’s such a great product that I had to find out how to buy it directly from the farm. There’s nothing else like this — a beautiful local oil that’s so fresh and pure. It’s really too good to cook with, but I do. »

Les Huiles d’Amérique comes from Les Fermes Longprès, a 600-hectare farm near Les Cèdres, which is between Highway 20 and the St. Lawrence River, just west of Montreal. The sunflower oil is made by Loïc Dewavrin, who runs the farm with one of his sons, two brothers and their parents.

Is it within 100 miles of Ottawa?

By road, the farm is about 160 kilometres from Ottawa, which is nearly exactly 100 miles. But it’s closer as the crow flies, which is how the radius-distance tool works at 100milediet.org.

How long has this farm been going?

Dewavrin’s parents bought the farm 33 years ago, when they moved to Canada from France. They’re now in their mid-70s and, one at a time, their sons, two of whom have degrees in agriculture, have moved to the farm to take over some of the responsibilities. Loïc Dewavrin, 47, who is an industrial engineer by training, was the most recent, moving onto the farm 15 years ago and adding sunflowers to the crops of soy, wheat, corn and buckwheat.

Is the farm organic?

It wasn’t always, but the sunflowers convinced the family to go organic. « When I took the first bottles of cold-pressed oil to stores in Montreal, they pointed out that the competitors, from Europe, were organic, » says Dewavrin. « So we went organic for the sunflowers and, after having a good experience with that, we made the whole farm organic. We grow oats, vetch and peas to use as green manure. We were pioneers at going organic on a farm of this scale. »

How much of the farm is devoted to sunflowers?

Just 20 of the 600 hectares are planted with sunflowers, but the fields of large yellow blooms still stop traffic. « It’s really a wonderful sight, » says Dewavrin. « Now that we have sunflowers up beside Highway 20, people stop their cars to see them, » says Dewavrin.

When is the harvest?

The sunflowers were at their golden peak a couple of weeks ago. Now they’re starting to lose their petals. They have to dry on their stalks for about another three weeks before the seeds are harvested.

Are the plants still beautiful when they’re harvested?

« No, no, they’re really ugly, » says Dewavrin.

And then he makes the oil?

« We usually let the seeds settle for three months before we press them, » says Dewavrin. « Then we let the oil settle for 10 days to two weeks before we pour it into bottles. People love this oil because we take our time. If you go too quickly, the quality will suffer. That’s why I don’t want to do a big volume. »

How many sunflowers does it take to make a one-litre bottle of oil?

150.

What does his oil taste like?

« Like sunflower seeds, » says Dewavrin. « Our oil is very simple. We don’t use a chemical solvent, so we don’t have to refine it. When you refine oils to remove a chemical solvent, you end up removing nutrients like Vitamin E and a lot of the taste and the smell. Our sunflower oil is like wine — it has a slightly different flavour every year. »

How much does it cost?

Both True Loaf and Janssen sell it for $15 a litre; Janssen also sells half-litre bottles, for $8. « It’s comparable in price to extra-virgin olive oil, » she says.

Where can I buy this oil?

Dewavrin mostly sells his oil in bulk, to restaurants and bakers in Montreal. « That uses the least packaging, » he says. But you can buy it by the bottle at a couple of places in the Ottawa area:

– True Loaf Bakery, at 573 Gladstone Ave., started buying it in bulk to oil the buckets where the bread rises. But Yael Matte, who runs the bakery with her husband Patrick Graham, says they were so impressed with the oil, they started selling it by the bottle.

– Anne Janssen, who calls herself an urban farmer, sells the oil on Saturday mornings from the porch of Boulangerie aux deux Frères, at 146 rue Principale in Aylmer. Or you can contact her directly.

Anywhere else?

Loïc Dewavrin’s 22-year-old daughter, Valentine, opened a café called La Petite Cuillère at 3603 rue St-Denis in Montreal last weekend. She’s using her dad’s oil in her cooking and selling bottles of it too.

Can I buy the oil directly from the farm?

There’s no shop at the farm, but if you call ahead, you can arrange to buy the oil from Dewavrin. If you stop by the farm to pick it up, you can get half-litre bottles for $6.50 each, one-litre bottles for $12 each (he encourages you to bring your own refillable bottle) or a box of six one-litre bottles for $60. « Or some families go together and buy it in bulk, » says Dewavrin. A 20-litre pail costs $120. Call 1-450-452-4559.

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