Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sunflowers in Lawrence County Part 2

The Daily Republican
 (Monongahela, Pennsylvania)
 17 Nov 1899, Friday Page 3

      The narrow, yellow petals wither and fall away, or turn brown and sere, and then the harvesting of this most unique crop begins.  The heads are cut off the stalks by hand and thrown into a wagon.  After being carefully dried they have lost all their beauty and are dark, angular, ugly things that impress one most with their size.  Some of the flowers are as large in diameter as six columns of a newspaper is wide and the brown tonsure in the center is often a foot in diameter after the petals have fallen and it is dried.  The seed is separated by running the heads through an ordinary threshing machine cylinder, which knocks the seeds from the pockets in which they are embedded.  The operation of cleaning is rather crude yet, there being no special machines for the purpose.
   The yield per acre varies greatly.  A field of flowers only as large as a dessert plate will not have half the amount of seed as a field of flowers as large as a half-bushel.  Almost any kind of land with slight attention will yield 600 pounds to the acre, and crops of 1600 pounds to the acre are not very uncommon, although they are the result of extra attention by growers who have studied the habits and needs of the sunflower and who also have very rich land.  Just now the buyers are paying from $1.25 to $1.50 per hundred pounds for the seed delivered at the warehouse.  The cost of raising an acre of sunflowers is very much less than the cost of an acre of wheat or corn and the crop is much more certain.  This city is the great sunflower seed market of the world, but small quantities, comparatively, are bought at Bridgeport, St. Francisville, Sumner, Birds and others of the smaller towns in this county, each station sending out several carloads in a year.  The crop of 1899 is now being thrashed and sent to market and in this county will aggregate about 5,000,000 pounds in the opinion of those interested.  Small quantities of sunflower seed are sent to market occasionally from widely separated points in the United States, but in no other place is the seed-raising a business. 

   What does the world do with 5,000,000 pounds of the seed of a plant commonly associated only with aesthetic craze?  Only a few men know, and they won’t tell.  The secrecy which envelops the whole matter of its use like the hint of a stage burglar, suggests that it is an adulterant.  It once sold readily at ten cents a pound, which was the equivalent of nearly $2 a gallon for oil, and what oil can be used for an adulterant at such a price?  The same man, Crackel, who started the whole thing here as a farmer and now handles nearly the whole crop as a dealer in grain, thought of all that.  He is a man who takes excellent care of his own business and at the same time has a philanthropic interest in the doings of his neighbors down here where everybody visits everybody else.  Some other people had a casual curiosity about the matter, but when they discovered that Crackel had to shamefacedly admit what he did not know and could not find out, they let it go at that.  Crackel found out that the oil was pressed from the seed, and that was all.
   After several years’ dealing with the Cincinnati firm, who buys the seed finally, he took an excellent opportunity and made it clear that he thought he might now be admitted into the degree which enlightened about what was done with the sunflower seed.  The senior member of the firm acquiesced, and after initiatory ceremonies over an altar with a big mirror behind it, he gravely told Crackel that the seed was used to feed canary birds, at the same time giving a sign by slowly lowering and raising his left eyelid.  One of these days Crackel will take in a capitalist and corner the market on sunflower seed; then he will loosen up only on condition that he is allowed to see exactly what becomes of the seed in its final resting place.  In the meantime the public will have to do without knowing for what the seed really is used for.
   Sunflowers have always flourished here in this oldest part of the State, where Jesse K. Dubois belongs to its modern history, and George Rogers Clark passed on his way to capture the neighboring Fort Vincennes and the northwest from Great Britain.  But they were used to feed chickens and to keep off “fevernnager” until recent years.  It is a fact that plenty of sunflowers growing around a place will lessen the malaria there.  They take up so much moisture from the ground that the latter is a less healthy culture medium for the plasmodium malaria, and perhaps the chemistry of their own existence and growth is antiseptic to that queer-shaped germ which the Italian scientist discovered to be the essence of malarial poisoning. 
   As a consequence of the great change in farming in Lawrence County bringing the sunflower crop into such prominence, there is more money and less malaria along the banks of Muddy Creek and in the valley of the historical Embarras River.

Thanks to N King for transcribing this article.