Cargill

This company sign is made from re-purposed cedar wood from trees that were burned during the big Anderson Creek fire. The bottom panel of the sign is made with chunks of salt from the site. (Photo by Elise Solloway)

Ezra Blackmon had a vision for northwest Oklahoma in the early 1900s. He decided to buy land near the Cimarron River eight miles west of Freedom in 1919. Despite having only a 4th grade education, Blackmon formed Blackmon Salt Company that was expanded in 1935 to produce more salt. Production by the Blackmon Salt Company continued until 1981.

Cargill, Inc. purchased 1,900 acres from Blackmon in 1985 and built the existing salt processing plant which is still in operation today. It is known as the Cargill Solar Salt Production Plant. Signs of the past can be seen at this site. Old rusty equipment once used by the Blackmon Salt Company is still on the grounds.

Aerial shots of the solar salt ponds look like a colorful quilt with patches of salt water caused by green dye drawing in more sunlight and speeding up the water evaporation process. (see YouTube video- “Aerial Footage of Cargill Solar Salt Plant in Freedom, Oklahoma, USA, May 11, 2020).

Solar production takes more time and costs more money but produces a higher quality salt than that from mined salts in other places in the U.S. and around the world. The brine (salt water) is pumped into large outdoor ponds exposed to sunlight, thus solar salt. This sunlight warms the pond and as the water evaporates it leaves behind purified salt crystals ready for harvest.

Cargill’s informational video shows the solar salt harvesting process which includes lifting the thick crust of salt from the ponds into big loaders, taking it to a washing bin, sending it on a conveyor belt, and stacking it up outdoors for draining the water before putting it in a cooler. Salt is then separated into fine, medium, and coarse grades before being made into pellets, weighed, bagged, sealed, stored, and shipped daily.

Products of the Cargill Solar Salt Production Plant in Freedom include the following: salt with iodine, salt without iodine, fine salt, water softener pellets, and water softener crystals that are marketed under the product names of Diamond Crystals and Champion Choice.

“Cargill Corporation has been around for more than 153 years,” said Rodger Gagnon, Facility Manager of the Freedom plant. “It first started as a grain elevator in Iowa back in 1865, but now has facilities around the world.”

Internationally, Cargill provides mining, producing, manufacturing, consultation, marketing and distribution of other Cargill products and services for animal nutrition, food and beverages, beauty products, pharmaceutical products, meat and poultry, bioindustrial products, food services, agricultural products, biofuels, cotton, palm oil, biodiesel, and bulk transportation. (cargill.com)

“The downturn in the economy, from both the slump in the oil/gas industries and COVID-19 pandemic, will not have an adverse affect on salt mining and production in Northwest Oklahoma,” said Gagnon. “There is no end in site to solar salt production and distribution (at the Freedom plant).”

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