Many of us have enjoyed a late spring drive through the country side where shades of lush, green colors and cultivated fields greet the senses. Often that vastness of green space is interrupted by the bright yellow stretches of rapeseed.
This plant, from the genus of brassica and related to cabbage, cauliflower and mustards, has been widely cultivated for thousands of years. Its many beneficial properties and versatility of application have taken it from the fields and transformed into vegetable oil but also into biodiesel.
The byproduct of the oil production is high –protein animal feed; besides, it is an excellent cover crop that helps prevention of soil erosion whilst at the same time its own root system improves soil tilth.
Together with soy bean and palm oil it is the largest source of vegetable oil. After barley and wheat it is the third most important crop grown in the UK. And although that is and was so, back in 2015, according to The Soil Association sources, there was no organic rapeseed production in the UK.
The Natural Agriculture explorations therefore, had to be taken over the border, to the Republic of Ireland and the County Kilkenny. This is where Ben Colchester and his wife Charlotte have been tirelessly developing and promoting organic farming for over 40 years. They met at the agricultural college in England and their vision of mixed organic farming found a promising base here, away from large-scale monoculture farming favored in the UK at the time.
Their home, the Drumeen Farm, has been a lifelong stage for the family life that included growing own fruit and vegetable, producing own meat and dairy. Every meal with almost every ingredient was prepared with the produce dug or picked minutes before being turned into a breakfast, lunch or dinner – all fresh and all traceable. Despite not having enough hours in a day for all the projects they dreamed up, they immersed themselves in organizing the new organic movement and, for a while, their farm was even the headquarter of The Organic Trust.
In 2006 Ben and Charlotte bought their first oil press designed to produce high quality, culinary oil for the house with a view to use the rape meal, the byproduct, as food for their livestock.
Around the same time, their daughter Kitty was doing her voluntary work on the Somali/Ethiopian border in refugee and food camps and the experience helped her decide to start a sustainable food enterprise. This is how The Second Nature oil business was born; at the time 100% of culinary oils were imported to Ireland so it comes as no surprise that this organic oil, staring modestly on farmers markets, won the JFC Innovation Awards in 2007 for the best innovative idea.
Produced organically, this oil therefore sees nothing of the usual industrial applications of pesticides fungicides, extraction chemicals etc in order to maximise the yields. Additionally, as Ben puts it “the plants bearing a lot of seeds are usually weak and easily affected by the environmental changes”. This means great variation in yields from one year to another and unpredictable profit; yet the shire determination and desire to get the best organic product possible means that the oil is extracted by gently pressing seeds ONLY ONCE. The valuable and considerable amount of leftover oil goes to livestock, in form of a nutritious “expeller cake” usually fed to animals during the winter time. This not only adds to the happiness and heath of animals but is also respecting the nature and showcasing the essence of organic production and promotion of sustainable farming. The feel good factor is, hence, added to the receiving end, the consumer.
Let’s not forget to mention that, in order to mimic the way Mother Nature treats this seed, the entire production process is designed in a similar way. What does that mean? The little seeds (1.5 – 3.00mm in diameter) are developed inside a long, green pod that turns into a hard brown shell at maturity. This is how they are protected from heath, light and oxidation.
During the pressing of the oil at the Drumeen farm, only dark, food grade piping is used (this minimises the exposure to light) along with stainless steel tanks; the oil does not go through filtering or sitting in the tanks. Once the pressing is finished the oil is immediately bottled in order to avoid oxidation from exposure to air and moisture. This precious liquid is bottled in only dark bottles and tins to protect it from the possible light damage that may affect the taste and flavour of the oil.
Being a man of a pioneering, open mind, Ben Colchester, with all his years of experience and expertise, believes that there is always a more natural way of farming. With this in mind, he started growing his rapeseed in Natural Agriculture way in 2016.
The Second Nature oil that was conceived in the minds of ambitious, hard working and determined parents and additionally developed and marketed by their daughter Kitty has been brought out of Ireland and, apart from the UK, can be found in Dubai, Hong Kong, Japan and China. Needles to say, this successful family story has served as a beacon of light to growing number of followers.
For those of you in the UK, who would like to taste this organic oil and enjoy its many health benefits, Shumei London Centre is the place to contact.
The oil that found its way onto the menu for the historic state visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in May 2011 needs no introduction and no marketing – it is quite literally fit for the Quinn.