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Making molasses is a sweet assignment

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Carroll County ag students raise and harvest sorghum

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — This weekend’s homework for the Carroll High agricultural students: Make molasses.
Part of their classroom work up to now has been cultivating and harvesting the sorghum to cook up the traditional sweetener.
The ag classes and the Future Farmers of America chapter will carry out their assignment, for extra credit, at Shockley’s Old Timey Day on Saturday.
Students get involved from seed and throughout the process, until they turn out the final product during the two-day showcase for antique equipment and old-style farming practices this weekend at 1101 Worrell Estate Road, off Virginia 100 outside of Hillsville.

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Organizer Mark Shockley first asked for the classes’ help to harvest a crop of sorghum he got from Bland County, according to teacher Randy Webb. Students had to ride over after the school day, and by the time they got there, only about an hour of sunlight remained.
The next year, Webb dedicated a piece of the Carroll County Schools Farm to sorghum, and the students took over every aspect of growing the crop.
The spring class plants the seeds, clipped from the top of the previous year’s canes.
The field work in the fall includes chopping the sorghum at the base and stripping off the leaves, so the tall stalks will be ready to go through the cane mill this weekend, squeezing out the juices to cook into molasses.
Students only planted a quarter of an acre, but much of the work has to be done by hand  — just like they did in the old days, Webb said. An antique tractor will power the cane mill on site.
Setting up in Shockley’s field works out as a great fund raiser and outreach for FFA.
“We generally sell everything we make at Shockley’s,” he said. “A lot of people make molasses cookies and cakes.”
And barbecue sauce with molasses as its base, a student adds.
Pints will be $6 and quarts $10. Webb expects to raise at least $1,500 based on prior years sales.
“Shockley’s is a great PR thing for us,” the teacher added. “There’s several hundred people who come through there... and they actually get to see what we’re doing.”
It’s also good that the event highlights Carroll County’s rich farming traditions, Webb said.
“We’re glad that’s something that’s staying alive,” he said. “We’ve not completely losing touch with our roots here.”