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High Barn Oils: Seeds of Success

Durwin Banks at High Barn Oils

Linseed oil has some unusual benefits. Gary-Nicolls, the famous cricket bat makers of Robertsbridge, use linseed oil to  produce a shiny and protective bat surface.

It also helps to ensure that the city of Venice doesn’t fall into the lagoon, as the oil is mixed into the plaster to help repel the water. It’s not just good for batsmen and perilously positioned buildings; linseed is something that we should all be taking every day because of its well-proven health benefits. That is, at least, the opinion of Durwin Banks.

Durwin does, however, have a vested interest! As the owner of High Barn Oils in Barns Green, he grows linseed on 200 acres of farmland and produces tonnes of pure oil each year. High Barn is possibly the only farm in the country growing linseed as well as pressing it and selling it directly to the consumer.

Linseed oil contains the essential fatty acid ALA, more commonly known as Omega 3, and therefore offers health benefits, from helping those watching their blood pressure or cholesterol, to providing clearer skin, shining hair and stronger nails. But there is also a great deal of misunderstanding on what various oils can provide.

Durwin said: “You might have heard the phrase ‘fats can heal and fats can kill’. That is true, as we are consuming a lot of bad oils that can do us harm as they are unrecognisable to our bodies. The body requires a balance of oils and fats. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fats, not just because you need them, but because you don’t actually make them.

“However, the human body is like a Stone Age chemical factory. The blueprint for our chemistry goes back to the time when we sourced these essential oils from nuts, seeds and plants. We don’t do that any longer. I was in the cereal aisle at a supermarket recently and I saw a sign on one side that read ‘Healthy Cereals’ and on the other side the sign read ‘Kids Cereals’. That just shows you the scale of the problem.

“But when you put the right fats in, our bodies will keep us well and heal us. It is always a hard sell as you have to educate people on how to change their life. There is so much food that’s really not good for us, yet we are eating too much of it. There is a huge opportunity for people to learn about food and eat in in a way that helps their bodies. You really are what you eat.”

The Banks family moved to Barns Green in the 1970s and brought a goat herd with them, running a mixed farm but as always they made very little money.

Durwin recalls: “Our younger lives involved a lot of hard work and not much in the way of money, but this was the first sizeable bit of land we managed to own. I was always looking for that ‘make a million’ idea, not that I’ve ever managed to find one, so I started producing distilled chamomile as I was always interested in alternative foods and medicine.

“I was successful in that I could produce Chamomile but I didn’t have enough space to sell it wholesale or enough money to turn it into soaps or creams. I even looked into opening a health farm here. I thought about making a still as there were a lot of people producing lavender and things liked that at about that time. Then a farmer who was pressing hempseed invited me to his farm to show me his methods. I went along and saw the pressing process.

“I just happened to be growing some linseed that year as part of the rotation and I thought ‘This is something I can do more of.’ So it was serendipity really.

"In 2000, I bought the press and started producing linseed. I used to knock on the door of anybody who owned a stable and say ‘Can I sell you some oil?’ and eventually I established about 20 sale merchants throughout the south of England.

“We had abandoned dairy farming in about 1977 and focused on beef and sheep and arable farming, but it was becoming more and more difficult to earn money. The linseed idea came along at the right moment and it’s been a completely life changing experience.”

High Barn farms linseed on about 75 acres of its own land, whilst Durwin contracts other farmers to produce the rest of the crop on about 125 acres of land at various locations. Each acre is only able to produce between half a tonne to a tonne of linseed, so vast areas are needed to meet High Barn’s ever-increasing demand.

Durwin said: “You have to rotate the linseed crop as you can’t grow it year after year on one spot. If land hasn’t had linseed for a number of years you might be able to do two years in succession, but ideally we would grow linseed once every few years in any one field. The danger is that disease can build up in the ground and on the plants. That was one of the reasons why the Irish flax industry fell by the wayside, as the farmers kept growing year after year.”

Once the oil is pressed, it settles for a couple of days before the bottles are filled by hand at the Barns Green site, so that the oil is not pumped through a series of pipes. Within a few days of being pressed, the bottles are distributed and sent to customers and retail outlets. The fast turnaround is one of the unique selling points of High Barn Oils.

They also produce linseed oil in capsule form, although the oil is actually placed in the pods at a factory in Wales as the equipment needed for such a process would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. High Barn and now produce about 1.5million capsules a year. High Barn also sells milled seed.

Linseed oil is sometimes used for animal feed, which can in turn bring benefits to us, but Durwin recommends it for mixing in with mashed potato, or adding it to vinaigrette for a pasta or salad. He also claims it tastes great when used in fruit smoothies!

The future looks good for High Barn Oils. Whilst convincing people to use linseed oil daily might still be a hard sell, the numbers of people using it are growing. As a consequence, High Oils have been awarded a DEFRA grant that will allow it to make improvements in the barn and to create a little bakery. A second press may also be brought in soon, and Durwin is always looking to grow the collection in his small Linseed Museum.

Much to Durwin’s delight, his two sisters, Gay Banks and Wendy Dorkings, have returned to full-time positions to create more of a family-feel to the business. Another person is employed two or three days a week. Another of Durwin’s sisters died of breast cancer and that has led to Durwin looking more deeply into the health benefits of Omega 3.Durwin said that he had tried to encourage his sister to change her diet rather than continuing with chemotherapy, but admitted he “had to stop talking to her about it as it was upsetting for her.”

He added: “As a consequence of what happened, I’ve spoken to a lot of people with cancer and the common theme is that doctors will not give much dietary advice, but it really is critical for them to eat the right food.
“It’s not a question of ‘go away and eat what you like’, which is what a lot of people do.”

Durwin is hopeful that scientific studies, which suggest that poor eating habits are being passed on genetically, will lead to dramatic changes in our day-to-day eating habits.He said: “At Southampton University, they have looked at the blood of pregnant women and found that high levels of Omega 6 may be the reason for more obese children being born.

“Omega 3 helps us to produce anti-inflammatory hormones whilst Omega 6 produces pro-inflammatory hormones. If the two are balanced, you’re likely to be healthier. But in the western world people sometimes have 15 to 20 times more Omega 6, so we are seeing more diseases which begin with inflammation. The research at Southampton suggests we are passing that imbalance on to our children.

“If we continually assault the body with bad fats they can get into the cells and that’s how cancer begins. The huge rise in cancer and autoimmune diseases can be dated from the moment we gave the food manufacturing
industry the job of feeding us.

“I hate the idea that we are eating ourselves ill and spending millions through the NHS trying to solve problems we shouldn’t have the first place.”

For more visit https://highbarnoils.co.uk/

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