The owners of Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil, Ken Seguine and Jay Gilbertson, are the first to grow and produce this special product in the United States. Luckily, they have brought this beneficial organic oil to our stores and to our attention as one very versatile food. Rich in alpha-linolenic acid (omegas-3 and -6), phytoestrogens, phytosterols, lutein, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins E and K, this oil is recommended for a number of common ailments.
This green oil is best used when added to dressings, in soups, sauces, or for dipping, and has a nutty taste; it’s not recommended for frying or baking. Willy Street Co-op grocery buyer Jim Fischer commented recently, “These guys are first class. Very professional all the way around, and their gourmet oil is delicious, especially on salad and believe it or not, on ice cream. I eat it if I start to feel down and it perks me up.”
We asked Ken a few questions about the business and farm and he was happy to give us a chance to know a little more about them and their product.
Lynn Olson (LO): Where are the pumpkins grown and by whom?
Ken Seguine (KS): We live in NW Wisconsin, about an hour northwest of Eau Claire. Our long-term goal is for our part of Wisconsin to become noted for producing America’s pumpkin seed oil. Our vision has always been to involve lots of smaller family farms in this project. Like many rural areas, there is not much economic opportunity; there is also a lack of agricultural diversity. We are certified organic (MOSA) and believe in sustainability, but we think that does not just apply to the earth, it applies to people too. We pay the farmers that grow our seeds anywhere from $400 to $1,000, depending on their yields. We work with the most wonderful people. Our crew has been together a few years and they are hard-working, competent, responsible and fun. We also pay everyone involved in producing our product substantially above typical agricultural wages. Consequently we get to work with a fantastic team (10 seasonal employees). We want Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil to grow, add extra dollars to family farm incomes and provide jobs for people in our community.
We had three farms growing for us this year besides our own field. Kate Stout, North Creek Community Farm, is a smart, experienced vegetable farmer who consistently gets the best results of anyone growing for us. Andy Gartner, Lake Country Land School, has participated with us from the beginning, and we have new, ambitious farmers, George and Gayle Adams, who we expect to be producing an increasing amount of seed.
LO: Can you describe the farm a bit?
KS: Well, we are hardly objective but we think we live in the most beautiful place on earth. We’ve got 80 acres of hills, springs, forests, a stream and we are so grateful to be here. Also special is the amazing Prairie Farm community. It is a pleasure to participate in and be a part of a real, functioning community. We have a beautiful new home, too. In March 2010 our old farmhouse burned to the ground, a total and complete loss. It was a very tough year for us but now we’ve got the beautiful house to go with the land.
We normally have a huge family garden and chickens but with the turmoil from the fire and rebuilding, we’ve had to take a break. We plan on starting again in 2013. We’ve got three main fields and we rotate pumpkins between them. Being organic certified means that we have a plan to maintain and improve our soil.
LO: Describe the production facilities used in the production of the oil.
KS: We greenhouse-start the seeds. Pumpkins are extremely frost sensitive, and up north, we can get frost in the first week of June so we try to get a jump on the season. After harvesting the seeds they are washed, weighed then dried in custom-built equipment. The seeds are then bagged and transported to Botanic Oil Innovations in Spooner, Wisconsin for pressing.
LO: Can you tell us about the process of extraction?
KS: Botanic Oil Innovations uses German-made Komet equipment to cold-press our seeds. It is a very simple process. Seeds are augured into a chamber and briefly exposed to heat to enhance flavor and improve oil yield. A large stainless steel screw compresses the seeds, and oil is expressed through a fine mesh screen, and then collected in a large drum. The partially defatted pumpkin seed meal is extruded and collected.
The oil sits for 4-6 weeks to clarify. Very fine particles of seed will sink to the bottom of the drum. The oil is then poured off and our bottles our filled. The top of the bottle is flushed with nitrogen gas to help preserve freshness and a cap is applied. We then apply the label and decorative cap.
The pumpkin seed meal is sold in bulk to a Canadian nutriceutical company, Biosential. They produce a beverage—Zenbev, and a bar —Rest Bites, as a sleep aid.
LO: What type/genus of pumpkins are used for your oil?
KS: All pumpkins are Cucubita pepo Genus-cucubita, species-pepo. The variety of pumpkin we grow is called hulless or, more fun to say, naked seeded pumpkins.
LO: And is there a reason for that?
KS: The Austrians are the world’s largest producers and consumers of pumpkin seed oil. Pumpkins were domesticated by American Indians and taken back to the old world by Christopher Columbus. By the late 1600s the Austrians were pressing pumpkin seeds for oil. In 1870, there was a naturally occurring genetic mutation where the hard white shell around the seed had become vestigial. The shell was still there but it had withered away and was more like an onion skin. As you can imagine, eliminating all that fiber made it far easier to press the oil.
There are now about 15 varieties of naked seeded pumpkin. Back in 2003, we planted all of them to identify one that would work best in our Northern climate.
LO: How much oil is produced at this point, and do you either want to produce
more, or have the capacity to do so?
KS: Our production is small and we absolutely intend on growing. Our weak link is harvesting the seeds. Pumpkins are easy to grow, and the product sells well but we are limited by harvesting. We custom designed a mechanized harvester, not so fondly called, “The Contraption,” AKA “Jaws of Death.” It has had three major rehabs and it is still way too slow. In 2013 we hope to purchase some German-made harvesting equipment that will allow serious scale up in 2014. Watch out!
LO: How do you and your partner divide tasks/duties for the business?
KS: It’s simple. Jay does all the work. Well, sort of. My job as Vice President of Savesta herbal supplements has me extremely busy these days. We are in a growth phase and I’m traveling 75% of the time and just do not have time to do much day-to-day work. Jay’s busy too but has a more flexible schedule. He is an author and his brand new book, Full Moon Over Madeline Island has just been published. Jay and I make all business decisions together.
LO: How does your farm benefit from your community, and visa versa?
KS: Jay, myself, and Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil are all active members of our local community. A community is a special thing, a group of people and families that come together in a time and place. We are honored to be members of our very special Prairie Farm community. Long-term, we hope to add more to the economic opportunities in our area.
LO: Will our Owners have a chance to meet you and taste your product?
KS: Please come and visit us, we’ll be sampling Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil at Willy West on Sunday, January 6th from 3:00–6:00pm.
LO: What other connections do you have to local, organic agriculture?
KS: I am very proud to serve on the State of Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council. Wisconsin is a real leader nationally for organic production. Although just a fifth of the size of that state over in the west, Cali-some-thing-or-other, we are a solid #1 and in some categories, #1 nationally in organic production. Go Wisconsin!
For more information about Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil, see their website at www.hayriver.net.