Sunflower Oil and Wisconsin's Driftless Organics

In 2007, Josh Engel of Driftless Organics Farm in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin planted a trial crop of sunflowers. It was a pilot run, so he only gave it a few acres. At the end of the season he harvested the seeds, pressed them, and gave the oil as gifts to friends and local chefs. They clamored for more, so Josh knew his experiment had been a success.

In 2008, Driftless Organics expanded the sunflower crop, and began bottling and selling their sunflower oil at farmers markets and Madison, Wisconsin area co-ops. In 2009, they expanded delivery of their oil from Wisconsin to the Twin Cities. In 2010, they pressed about 200 gallons of sunflower oil and were awarded a USDA Value Added Producer Grant to continue to develop the sunflower oil as a viable part of their farm business. If you've been buying and cooking with olive or canola oil, this is good news. Driftless Organics Sunflower Oil is local, organic, humanely sourced, and more healthful for you than other fats and oils. In other words, it's simple, good, AND tasty.  

Driftless Organics Sunflower Oil LabelDriftless Organics Sunflower Oil LabelDriftless' sunflower crop is GMO free. Because it is small and localized, there isn't the chance of cross pollination contamination that makes canola oil so difficult to certify as organic. Industrially produced oils often use chemical titration and high heat. This results in higher yields, but less tasty and healthful oils. Driftless Sunflower Oil is cold expeller pressed and unrefined, just like the finest olive oils. This process allows all the natural compounds, nutrients and flavor to remain intact. Fresh, the oil can be used for dipping bread or in vinaigrettes for salad. It can also be used to cook pancakes, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. The oil has a smoking point of about 225 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can be used for low-heat stir fries and sautes.

In addition to its good taste, sunflower oil has health benefits. It's full of antioxidants, high in vitamin E, lower in saturated fat than olive oil, and considered more heart healthy than other oils and fats. Since the seeds store well, the oil can be pressed on demand, which means for less waste in the production process.

Their sunflower oil is a recent product, but Josh and his brother Noah Engel have been farming since they were kids on their parents' dairy farm. At 11 and 9 years old respectively, they grew a variety of potatoes on a quarter of an acre, and called themselves Rainbow Potatoes. They sold at a stand their mother got for them at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison. Eventually, the brothers acquired more land, began vegetable farming in earnest, and became Driftless Organics. Potatoes are still their marquis crop, with over twenty different varieties of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Driftless Organics potatoes can be found at the Mississippi Market, the Eastside and Wedge co-ops, and more throughout the Twin Cities and Wisconsin.

According to Josh and Noah, Driftless grows every vegetable type that's possible in Wisconsin ("from asparagus to zucchini," they say), as well as strawberries and raspberries during the summer. They sell summer CSA shares and had about 700 members this year. Customers can sign up for their winter share as well, which includes two boxes of storage crops like potatoes, carrots, and squash. Driftless also has a full winter stand at the Dane County Winter Farmers Market.

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Driftless Organics Sunflower Salad Vinaigrette

(makes about 1/2 cup)


1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

2 teaspoons local maple syrup or honey

3 Tablespoons apple cider or white wine vinegar

1/2 cup Driftless Organics sunflower oil

salt and pepper to taste 


Combine mustard, syrup or honey, and vinegar in a small bowl. Mix with a fork. Slowly add sunflower oil while whisking with your fork until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

I used this on a bright winter salad. While the fruit wasn't local, I was so captivated by the colors of the organic pomegranates and persimmons at my co-op I couldn't resist. I put them atop local hydroponic lettuce from Living Water Farm, and garnished with crumbled local goat cheese and local sunflower seeds.

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Winter Salad with Pomegranate, Persimmon and Sunflower VinaigretteWinter Salad with Pomegranate, Persimmon and Sunflower VinaigretteWinter Salad
(serves 4 to 6)


8 cups lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

2 Fuyu persimmons (these can be eaten firm or soft) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds


Toss lettuce with 2 Tablespoons of dressing. Place dressed lettuce on individual plates and top each with pomegranate seeds, persimmon pieces, goat cheese and sunflower seeds. Pass extra dressing at the table.

Kristin Boldon is a frequent contributor for Simple, Good and Tasty, who also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for us was "Tenderloin, Not Turkey: A Less Traditional Holiday Meal."