TapRoot Farms co-owner Josh Oulton of Lower Canard has been selected as one of four 2018 Nuffield Scholars from across Canada and will participate in international study travels. He will be concentrating on best practices for growing high quality flax fibre for long line linen processing for the purpose of producing high quality clothing and uses for waste materials.
Oulton said there are two area farmers who he considers mentors, Richard Melvin of VitaBites and current Kings North MLA John Lohr, who established Farmer John’s Herbs. Both are former Nuffield Scholars who benefited from the experience and encouraged Oulton to apply.
The mission of the Nuffield Scholarship is to foster agricultural leadership and personal development through international study. Oulton said he and his wife Patricia were both selected for the Young Farmer program and Oulton also participated in the national CTEAM (Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management) program. Through these initiatives, they met other Nuffield Scholars and became better acquainted with what the program entails.
Oulton said he applied last year but there were more farmers interested than usual. He was asked to re-apply this year, which he did, and was selected.
“I’m excited but it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “It will push me out of my comfort zone.”
There are a few European countries that produce a lot of flax for fibre. Although the TapRoot Farms production will probably be on a smaller scale than the foreign operations he visits, Oulton said there’s “a lot to learn from those large-scale farmers in terms of growing.” He said part of the growing process is harvesting and that’s where it can get a bit tricky.
After it’s pulled from the ground by the roots, flax has to be left on the ground for retting. This process involves microorganisms and moisture essentially rotting the flax stems so the fibres can be more easily separated and processed. Oulton hopes to get hands-on experience with that process and to learn to do it very well.
He said Nova Scotia has a similar climate to those European countries currently producing a lot of flax, which include France, Belgium and the Czech Republic. Oulton hopes to become better acquainted with the processes and equipment involved in the industry and bring that knowledge home to Kings County. He believes it will give their operation a significant boost.
“There’s nobody in the industry doing it in Canada, growing flax for fibre, so we’re just kind of out there on our own right now and there’s a wealth of knowledge in those countries,” Oulton said.
He said everyone likes having clothes to wear and there’s a lot of opportunity when it comes to using flax fibre to produce fabric.
Oulton will be attending an annual general meeting in Ottawa in November and will participate in a weeklong conference with other Nuffield Scholars in the Netherlands in March.
He’ll have two years to complete his studies. This will include six weeks of travel, likely with a study group, and individual travel to focus on the finer nuances of the flax industry. The experience will include producing reports and making presentations.