Featured Farmer

Ed Lambert – Starke County

Mint Farm

 

Mint oil is the main ingredient in Lambert Farms’ recipe for success

From the front seat of Ed Lambert’s pickup, touring the lush carpet of green mint fields is refreshing. For the full olfactory experience, just step outside the truck, snap off a few sprigs of peppermint or spearmint and breathe in the familiar, sinus-clearing scent.

Tuesday, August 15 – Celebrating Mint

The first Lambert to till this fertile soil was Ed’s grandfather in the early 1930s.  Ed, along with brothers David and Chris, and “retired” father, Ed Sr., now grow corn and soybeans, and more than 700 acres of various types of mint on their Starke County, Indiana family farm. Ed’s wife, Lynn, who earned her Certified Public Accountant license shortly after the couple married in 1982, is integral to the operation. She handles bookkeeping duties and helps with the summer mint harvest.

Despite the financial risks involved with farming and the uncontrollable challenges of Mother Nature, the Lamberts have persevered for more than eight decades. They’ve never wanted to do anything else.

“Every year is a new challenge,” Ed says. “There have been good years and not-so-good years. Our family’s love of farming this land in a sustainable and responsible way, and our willingness to try new things and diversify the operation, has served us well. We’ve added more land over the years and we’re still here, making a good living and happy. What more could any family ask for?”

While corn and soybeans are staple crops on Lambert Farms, mint has long been a part of the operation.  “My grandfather started growing mint in the 1930s so it has been a staple of Lambert Farms since the beginning,” Ed says. “A perennial crop, mint takes a year to get established, then typically produces well for two to three years before it is time to rotate to a different crop.”

The Lamberts grow sterile hybrid mint varieties that originate from root plantings, not seeds. As part of their sustainable cropping practices, they dig and replant roots on other acres in rotation with corn and soybeans.

Mint harvest, comparable to cutting alfalfa, is in late-July. Clipped mint stems and leaves are windrowed and left to dry briefly. Clippings are transported to large steel tanks of steaming water where the heavily concentrated mint oil is extracted in a process similar to separating cream and milk. Achieving perfect oil extraction depends on an expert sense of timing.

“Success depends on the amount of moisture present in the mint leaves,” says Ed. “Experience determines how long the leaves need to be distilled to achieve maximum mint oil quality, but the average steaming time is about an hour. There’s a sweet spot there where it distills really nicely. We’ve gotten pretty good at finding that over the years.”

After the oil is extracted, the Lamberts return stems and leaves to the sandy yet fertile Northern Indiana soil to nourish the next crop.

“All Lambert mint is grown on contract that supplies concentrated mint oil to companies like Wrigley, Proctor and Gamble and others. Mint oil flavors diverse consumer products including candy, chewing gum, breath mints, mouthwash, toothpaste and many others. Thanks to its antimicrobial properties, the oil is an important natural preservative that extends the shelf life of many foods. Mint oil is highly concentrated,” Ed says. “A little can go a long way. A quart of quality mint oil will flavor more than 150,000 sticks of chewing gum.”

He concludes, “We are proud of the long history Lambert Farms enjoys in supplying quality mint oil to so many global food and candy companies. It is gratifying to know that the mint we grow affects so many people in such a positive way, and they often don’t even realize it.”