by Stan

Our big news is that we started our sorghum harvest last Thursday; by my reckoning, it is our 39th year of making sorghum syrup. Many folks call it molasses; in the past, sorghum=molasses. Now, sorghum producers are trying to change the name to sorghum syrup because what is sold in grocery stores as molasses is a by-product of making sugar from sugar cane: it’s what is left over after they extract the white sugar – hence, it tends to be very dark and a little bitter. Sorghum syrup, on the other hand, is a whole product – juice from the sorghum stalks cooked down to make it thick – like maple syrup.

Anyway, back to sorghum harvest – we do it all by hand and so it is very labor intensive: stripping the leaves, cutting off the seed heads, cutting the canes, picking them and putting them on a wagon and then feeding the canes through our press. The juice is collected in pans up at the mill and then runs down the hill to sugar shack where we boil it down. There we have a wood fired boiler that generates steam, which we use to boil the juice into syrup. The boiler is stoked by hand as well. All in all, it takes a lot of labor. When I first came to Sandhill in 1980, we did all of this by ourselves; well, occasionally we would have some friends stop by to help for a day or two. It took a long time to do the harvest and we were all very tired of it by the end. These days, we have a lot of outside help – mostly from other communities: Acorn & Twin Oaks in VA, East Wind in southern MO, as well as folks from Dancing Rabbit & Red Earth Farms. To kick off the harvest, we schedule a group from one of the VA communities to start; that way, we get a lot done immediately.

Currently, we have a group of seven here from Acorn (although two of them are members at East Wind: we have a labor exchange agreement with these communities). It feels like an old timey harvest time/celebration – I imagine the Amish still carry on this kind of tradition. Sorghum harvest feels very different now than in 1980. Now we have a lot of fun working together and getting to know like-minded folks – instead of the long drawn out physical labor (& getting on each other’s nerves).

Cooking days are always a highlight of the season; typically, we work out in the fields 3-4 days and leave the stalks to dry out in the sun, and then we gather the canes and process them. During cook days, we are generally all involved in the processing: gathering the canes, feeding the press, stoking the boiler, boiling it, bottling, and labeling the jars. That’s when it really all comes together: that we are all working on the same project – making sorghum syrup to eat and sell a wholesome sweetener. (We all need a little sugar in our lives, eh?).

As for the rest of our summer – the rains have made for a bountiful harvest in our gardens (& also a lot of weeds!!). We are still harvesting and looking forward to more crops for the winter in our hoophouse. Frankie left recently after being an intern for more than a year. A long term visitor, Bagles, came at about the same time that Fankie left. Trish and Bagles went to MN to harvest wild rice with some friends.

We are appreciating the wonderful fall weather – being out in the fields in warm sunny days – what could be better? That cold snap a few weeks ago scared us – too early!

We cook sorghum about twice a week; if you’re interested in seeing the process (or in helping!), give us a call at 883-5543, or drop by.