Local Linen: Exploring the Feasibility of Small-scale Mechanized Processing of Fiber Flax for Linen Production in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $14,587.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Black Cat Farmstead
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Andrea Myklebust
Mountain Heart Farm
Robbi Bannen
A to Z Produce and Bakery


  • Agronomic: flax


  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:


    Linen is an ancient textile material, cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Cloth made from flax – linen – is an extraordinarily long-lasting and high-quality textile. Immigrants to this region brought flax-growing knowledge and the tools for working flax into linen with them when they arrived here in the 19th century, but a local linen industry never took hold; flax is time-consuming to harvest and process, and cotton became the dominant natural textile fiber in the United States. Today, cotton and all other natural fibers are a smaller and smaller percentage of global textile production; replaced by synthetic, petroleum-based cloth.

    Even so, interest in “local linen” is strong among hand spinners, knitters, weavers, and papermakers in our region. Many people have come to recognize the importance of developing (or rediscovering) options for locally-grown and processed textile materials. Flax is part of a traditional organic rotation; it grows well in our region without significant inputs, and has the potential to be a local, sustainable textile crop. At this time, no regional infrastructure for processing flax straw into finished linen products exists in America. A lack of processing infrastructure has prevented fiber flax from being grown at anything but a very small experimental scale.

    Lack of processing machinery has been an insurmountable obstacle to overcome in beginning to explore the creation (or revival) of flax growing in our region. However, new developments in small-scale processing machinery present the potential to bring local linen production to our region. The purpose of our project is to begin to explore the elements of a system of growers and potential end-users who would be part of the “ecosystem” of creating a local linen infrastructure in our area.


    Taproot Fibre Lab is a project of Taproot Farm, an organic CSA farm outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Taproot began growing flax several years ago, and met the same challenges posed by lack of processing equipment that everyone interested in local linen production encounters. Taproot undertook an ambitious project to design and build small-mill flax processing equipment, and as of fall 2016, their innovative processing line is complete and in operation.

    The development of Taproot's game-changing processing machinery presents the possibility that the historic barrier to creating local linen may be surmountable if flax growing can be incorporated within the existing planting regimes of regional small, diversified farms, and production scaled to the capacity of a cottage industry-scaled mill of the type being developed by Taproot.

    Short term
    Our team will grow a modest amount of flax; one half acre in 2017 and 2018. Working in collaboration with Taproot, the bulk of our crop of flax straw will be transported to their site in Nova Scotia for processing. The processed flax fiber can be used for a variety of purposes; primarily handspinning, weaving, and papermaking. The purpose of the project is twofold: to demonstrate that flax can fit into an existing organic rotation on a diversified farm, and to show that flax and linen products could be produced here for a local/regional market.

    Long term
    This project is intended to be a preliminary feasibility study working towards building a local linen mill in our area using Taproot's machinery. If it appears feasible, our long-term goal is the development of a small, local linen industry here in our region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Explore the feasibility of developing a local linen industry: growing flax in an organic rotation on a diversified farm, then utilizing newly-developed mechanical processing equipment to turn flax into linen products such as line flax, tow fiber and roving, linen yarns, and handmade paper.
    2. Positively impact the environment by creating long-lasting, natural linen made from flax, which can be grown locally with minimal inputs.
    3. Improve local and especially rural economies by growing local textile markets.
    4. Benefit the community by reducing the need for young farmers to leave during the winter for jobs in the city and eventually developing a local linen economy that could generate jobs that fit with both a farming and tourism season.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.