This project will include several heirloom/heritage components. They are planning on planting African White Sorghum, an Ark of Taste heritage sweet sorghum also grown for the grain, and raising Buckeye chickens, a hardy multipurpose chicken breed developed in Ohio (Art of Taste breed listed as “Threatened”). Part of the sorghum harvest will be pressed to make sorghum molasses, part will be sold as a grain to be used as a gluten free flour, and the remainder will be used as part of the supplemental feed for the Buckeye chickens in addition to pasture. The chickens will be used for their eggs and meat as well as a starting flock to add to the flocks in the region to maintain the breed. This project will be a multi-year project as we hope to be able to become maintainers of the Buckeye breed and African White sorghum variety, making them available to others.
Their interest in sorghum comes from two areas. They farm at Tillers International, who raise a sweet sorghum variety which is pressed for syrup and cooked like maple syrup for a product much like sugar cane molasses. This molasses is used in baking and on pancakes. Agropraxis Farm raised a small amount of sweet sorghum the last two years, pressed the cane and, made molasses. It is a great locally grown sweetener option, adding to honey and maple syrup. The other interest comes from diet. Members of the family have celiac disease and cannot eat wheat. There are a number of grains which we use instead of wheat, barley, and rye. Some, such as rice, while great in the diet, are not easily grown here. We already grow several varieties of corn which are also sold at market. We have always been interested in adding other grains which can be grown locally to our product line both for personal consumption and as additional products to sell. The African White Sorghum is a dual purpose variety with high sugar in the cane as well as white seeds for use as a grain.
Chickens, heritage breeds in particular, have long been an interest to Agropraxis Farm and they have both raised them for both eggs and meat. They learned about Buckeye chickens through the Livestock Conservancy years ago. Their relevance to the region, cold tolerance, pasturing strengths, and dual purpose characteristics make them a good fit for Agropraxis Farm. They feel it is important to use grains they grow ourselves to supplement their feed from grazing, which can be done through the use of corn and the African White sorghum with the addition of purchased minerals. They have researched sources for the sorghum and the chickens. They will be purchasing the pullets from Cackle Hatchery, a hatchery in Missouri which has been breeding the Buckeye chickens since 2007. There are 3 Buckeye breeders listed with the Livestock Conservancy within Michigan and Indiana from whom they plan to purchase a few roosters to broaden the genetics of their flock. There are only a few sources of the African White Sorghum. Seed Savers Exchange Member Catalog, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Sand Hill Preservation Center have small quantities available.
There is increasing interest in heirloom vegetables and meats in the Kalamazoo local food market. They will develop labels for their sorghum molasses, sorghum grain, and sorghum flour which will highlight the variety name along with any background information they can find on the variety. The chicken eggs, live birds, and in the future frozen whole chickens will also be sold with attention being paid to the variety along with stories about the breed, it’s history, and characteristics. The local food co-op, People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Farmers Markets will be ideal places to promote the products as they are big promoters of local foods. The Bank Street Farmers Market, where they sell from May until October, accepts “Project Fresh”, “Double-up Food Bucks”, and Bridge cards which increase low-income shoppers in Kalamazoo access to nutrient-dense food.