September 11, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

When Hancock County officials wanted to find a way to increase tourist dollars, they turned to an agricultural tradition in the county.

Hancock County has long billed itself as the Sorghum Capital of the World and once was a large producer of the golden brown syrup, but production waned.

"We wanted to revive that tradition," said Stephanie Lamar, a member of the committee planning the upcoming Sorghum Festival. "We see it as a viable alternative for some tobacco growers."

In the past few years, interest has increased with some producers receiving grant money through the state's Tobacco Settlement funds to improve their operations, said Diane Perkins, agriculture and natural resources agent for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Hancock County Extension.

"Each year, we are getting more and more interest," said Perkins, a member of the festival committee.

Perkins said she helps relay information to farmers and also the Hancock County Fiscal Court.

Lamar said the idea of the festival stemmed from Judge-Executive Jack McCaslin, who had attended a meeting in nearby Perry County, Ind., and was amazed at the amount of tourism dollars generated there. The judge came back looking for ways to add to his own county's tourism dollars, and agri-tourism seemed a natural.

Lamar said they hope the festival and sorghum production in the county maintain a slow, steady consistent growth.

Growers in the county mostly sell directly off the farm, Perkins said. But the festival offers them another market, as well as encourages others who may be interested in sorghum production.

Irvin Stephens has been producing sorghum since the late 1980s and generally makes about 500 gallons for his own customers and cooks another 100 gallons for others who bring their sorghum cane to him for processing. He said business is good and most producers sell all they make but the festival is a good idea.

"It gets the sorghum out there before the people," he said.

Stephens uses a power mill to make his sorghum but also has one that uses a horse or mule to grind the juice from the cane. He will bring that mill and someone else will be providing a mule for a demonstration during the festival.

The festival, in its second year, is Sept. 28-29 at the Hancock County fairgrounds. Visitors will see sorghum produced using motorized technology as well as using mules to grind the cane. There will be an arts and crafts area, quilt show, antique tractors, car show, petting zoo, wagon rides and more.

For more information contact the Hancock County Extension office at 270-927-6618.



Diane Perkins, (270) 927-6618