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Seed oil company germinates in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — It began with an idea and some initiative.
Now it’s about to become a well-oiled machine.
The founders of Full Sun Co. confirmed last week their signing of a lease with local businessman Tony Neri to occupy the former home of Vermont Soap at 616 Exchange St. in Middlebury. Plans call for that new enterprise to soon churn out thousands of gallons of non-GMO — and eventually organic — sunflower and canola oils for use in a variety of cooking preparations.
Full Sun is the brainchild of two friends, Netaka White of Salisbury and David McManus of New Hampshire, who have shared a vision to bring more healthy, locally produced foods to the marketplace. It was around four years ago that White and McManus began brainstorming ways to bring all-natural sunflower and canola oils to grocery stores as an alternative, or complement, to more widely used olive oil.
“A lot of people don’t give these oils a lot of thought, and we’re changing that,” White said.
Both canola and sunflower oil, he explained, are rich in naturally occurring vitamin E. Canola oil is also very high in healthier unsaturated fats and it’s higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, than any other oil except flaxseed oil.
The pair developed a business plan and started to raise the approximately $500,000 needed to get the venture off the ground. They have spent the better part of three years looking for the right spot and the various presses and other equipment required to mill their product for bottling. They went “all-in” on Full Sun during the summer of 2013, when they quit their prior jobs to invest full-time in developing the business.
Before long, the former Vermont Soap space will house some large expeller presses that White called “the heart of the system.” They will squeeze the oil from the cleaned canola and sunflower seeds. The oil will be diverted for filtering and bottling, while the meal byproduct will be gathered for sale as animal feed or fertilizer.
Once bottled, the canola and sunflower oils will be shopped to stores throughout Vermont and eventually throughout New England and New York. The partners will also market through Black River Produce, a food wholesaler, and of course through the company website, fullsuncompany.com.
Full Sun’s oils have a more full-bodied taste than a lot of other oils. Being unrefined and handcrafted, they are well-suited for dips, marinades, dressings and light sautéing, according to White.
“They impart their flavor to the dishes they are prepared in,” he said.
McManus said sunflower and canola oils are particularly suitable in making Asian dishes, marrying well with such spices as ginger, coriander, cumin and soy. The canola oil is described as rich and buttery, while the sunflower oil imparts “smooth and nutty” notes, according to company literature.
“They hold their own when you put strong flavors in there,” McManus said.
Full Sun will eventually employ around seven to 10 full-time equivalent workers, the partners said. And Full Sun Co. will also generate revenues for farmers from whom they will purchase the canola and sunflower seeds.
“We are already out meeting with farmers,” McManus said. “We have an active grower recruitment program.”
Plans call for Full Sun to receive roughly 20 percent of next year’s seeds from Vermont farms, with the bulk coming from readily available supplies from the Hudson River Valley. White and McManus plan to receive at least 50 percent of their seeds from Vermont growers by year five.
McManus and White have high hopes for Full Sun. They are confident it will be a $5 million-per-year business within five years. Once the presses get going at year’s end, they plan on milling around 400 tons of seeds during the ensuing eight months. They’ve done some preliminary runs of both oils, with positive reviews from professional chefs and home cooks alike.
Future plans call for production of organic and non-GMO soybeans, hemp and flax, according to the company website.
“We are excited about this,” White said. “I believe it will make (canola and sunflower oils) more mainstream.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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