The preservation of small-scale agriculture may help feed the world. But they are about more than just bodily sustenance. As shown by the Native American farmers reviving sustainable agriculture, many small farms are vital stewards of our cultural heritage too. At Peaceful Valley Farm in Western North Carolina, John McEntire is possibly the only person in the world still growing Crooked Creek Corn, an heirloom variety handed down through generations. He also grows sorghum for molasses, and he knows a thing or two about a more taboo use of corn too.
With sugar now being a global commodity, sorghum molasses are not as in demand as they used to be. But not so long ago, they, along with honey, were the primary source of sweetener in North Carolina. In fact in my region of NC, I know of a number of farmers reviving sorghum growing in anticipation of sugar becoming more expensive as fuel costs rise. Peaceful Valley Farm continues to mill sweet sorghum the traditional way, giving visitors a sample of an age-old tradition that might just be making a come back.
And of course you probably can't talk about the heritage of corn farming in the mountains of North Carolina without touching on the topic of moonshine. But at this point, McEntire—whose grandfather was a prestigous moonshine maker—goes a little quiet. Still, Daniel of The Perennial Plate gets to sample some aged corn juice of unknown origin. Mirra respectfully declines. (Someone has to keep that Prius on the road.)
Once again we see how dedicated small farmers don't just make our food systemmore stable, but more interesting and connected too. And with the younger generation watching on (I'm pretty sure that's sorghum juice, not moonshine, that the little guy is sampling!), there's a hope that these traditions will get carried on too.