Relearning Sorghum-Making: Barr Farms Restarts Sorghum Syrup Production After 60 Years; West Liberty Hosts 43rd Sorghum Festival

 Invitation to readers: Scroll down to learn how you can volunteer to help re-launch sorghum production on a seventh generation Kentucky family farm.

In my "sorghum sermons," I often say sweet sorghum cane—Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench—grows easily in Kentucky.

It's true that this syrup-making type of sorghum has an affinity for Kentucky's soil and climate. The cane is drought tolerant, pulls few nutrients from the soil, requires few chemical inputs (or none.) The resulting sorghum syrup is easy to use in cooking. It's easy to store, keeping perfectly well, unrefrigerated, for many months, even years. Sorghum is so fine and so interesting I wrote a little book about it, a kind of Sorghum 101, with recipes: Sweet, Sweet Sorghum: Kentucky's Golden Wonder.

And goodness knows sorghum is easy to eat. 

Last year a sorghum producer reminded me that sorghum is far from easy to harvest, press, cook, bottle, and market. A lot of the work brings tobacco labor to mind. It is hand and back labor. Cane by cane, sorghum requires cutting, lifting, stripping in some cases, hauling on wagons, feeding into a mill, hefting juice to a cooker, managing the heat, bottling, marketing.  

Animals work too. This beauty powered the mill at the 2012 West Liberty Sorghum Festival. Some sorghum-makers use petroleum power to run their sorghum presses.

Here's a most unusual opportunity: You can volunteer time and labor to get sorghum syrup bubbling again—after a 60 year pause—on historic Barr Farms in Rhodelia, Kentucky. Rhodelia is in Meade County, near Brandenburg. Barr Farms is a seventh generation family farm dedicated to raising food in ways good for land, people, and animals. Meet the Barr Farmers here and here. This farm, with volunteer community help, will harvest, mill, and cook sorghum syrup from 1/3 acre of cane on September 28-29 and October 5-6.

Learn more at Barr Farms (facebook), which offers this information: "If you would like to volunteer to help: harvest, mill, cook and bottle this heritage crop please contact Gary Barr directly at 859-338-3564 or" Work will take place in two shifts daily, with a shared meal at midday for workers on both shifts.

The sorghum-making at Barr Farm will have its own distinctive approach and look, but the fundamental steps of cutting, hauling, pressing, cooking, bottling will be there—along with tasting and communing, barn-raising style, with some fellow sorghum supporters. One other fundamental will be in play that day: the principle of self-reliance. We Kentuckians can grow our own food. We can achieve (or regain) food independence. Thanks to sorghum, we can make and eat sweet things made from our own land. For all its sweet appeal, sorghum has a bigger role to play as a freedom food.

A community always gathers around sorghum making. It's an opportunity to watch chemistry and physics turn pressed sorghum cane from green juice... caramel syrup... sorghum-maker Danny Townsend of Townsend Sorghum Mill and helpers did last year. They cook sorghum at the West Liberty Sorghum Festival, which is also happening this weekend. Sweetness abounds! 

And hard work makes it happen. Be part of sorghum's continuing renaissance by volunteering at Barr Farms, or taste and buy sorghum at West Liberty. It's all so sweetly Kentucky. 

For more about sweet sorghum, visit or

Rona RobertsComment