An August hello from Holly, HQ VISTA! Pretty soon, we’ll be seeing school buses coming up and down the streets again! Things here at HQ have been very busy lately: partner site visits, our new VISTA coming on board, a high tunnel build in Harlan County this week, preparing for a workshop coming up in September (stay tuned!!), our student Aja on a brief summer hiatus before classes start, and then me, attempting to juggle weekly newsletter/blog writing, new tasks I’ve learned, and then in a week or so, I’ll have to start putting documents together to wrap up my VISTA year (three and a half weeks to go, aaahh!!!) Anyway, quite enough of that…

This week, we’re sort of shying away from knowledge-dropping and looking at something that’s been “crop”ping up all around our partner sites and beyond, and that is sorghum.  I have to admit, I was not completely familiar with sorghum until I moved to Kentucky, but now it seems like it’s everywhere! 

At its core, sorghum is a cereal grain, a member of the Poaceae family, which is the broad plant family consisting of grasses and cereal grains (See, I did remember something from my field courses). It’s speculated that sorghum was first discovered in Africa, where it made its way to America via slave ships. About 1/3 of the world’s sorghum is produced in Africa today! Later, it became a staple sweetener in the Southern states; often marketed as sorghum molasses, it replaced its pricier counterparts and rose in popularity.

Nowadays, sorghum grows very similarly to corn and has become a popular component of both agricultural and commercial use alike. In livestock production, it’s used as feed and also turned into ethanol. It’s also popular to grow in the drier portions of the US because it is a drought-resistant crop. Moreover, what’s given sorghum attention recently is that it is considered a gluten-free food. The percentage of folks going gluten-free is on the rise, be it from celiac’s or personal choice, and sorghum can be used as a substitute for wheat flour or as a grain.  And here’s a fun little tidbit: Apparently it can also be popped like popcorn. It’s true- although you have to buy special popping sorghum grains! You can also buy sorghum as molasses or syrup, or ground as a flour.


Popped sorghum

“Ceeeeelebrate good times, come on!” 

Since we are in Kentucky, and it seems like there’s a festival for just about everything in this state (which I think is pretty awesome), it’s not much of a surprise that I discovered there is a sorghum festival, not terribly far from here at all! That’s right, the Morgan County Sorghum Festival takes place every year, during a weekend in September or October, in downtown West Liberty. The festival features a Sorghum Bowl football game, a crowning of the Sorghum Queen, and even a mule-drawn cane mill! You can check out the official festival website! And for you Morgan County/West Liberty and surrounding area readers out there, care to shed some light on this sticky sweet celebration?

Are you growing sorghum? If you have, or if you just enjoy it, what do you use it for? Until next time, happy harvesting!


Sources/Further Reading:

What is Sorghum? from Huffington Post

Sorghum Workshop at the Lend-A-Hand Center

Sorghum from the Whole Grains Council– history, recipes, and more!

Sorghum’s Savora book by Ronni Lundy (She’s part of the Appalachian Food Summit team!)

Feature image c/o Wall Street Daily