The Arkansas Times and Arkansas Food & Farm magazine recently partnered with the Arkansas Corn and Sorghum Board, Trio’s Restaurant, Dempsey Bakery, the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Bureau to throw one heck of a unique party at Capi Peck’s party room out on Cantrell. The theme of the night was sorghum, and our goal was to introduce members of Arkansas’ food community to an often-overlooked grain that is growing in popularity.
Now when I was a kid, “sorghum” was shorthand for “sorghum molasses,” a dank, sweet syrup that my dad always liked to pour over his biscuits. I’d seen grain sorghum—or milo—all around, of course, but in those days, milo was mostly just a cover crop that farmers planted as part of crop rotation, the resulting harvest to be sold for livestock feed. And indeed, even to this day, most of the milo grown in Arkansas still winds up being used for animal consumption.
That may be about to change. The rise of the gluten-free, GMO free movement has caused chefs and consumers alike to take another look at alternative grains like sorghum. Now, I don’t follow a gluten-free diet (quite the contrary), and I don’t have many issues with GMO crops, but there’s a third reason to be a fan of milo: It just plain tastes good. And that’s something I think we can all get behind.
Capi Peck is certainly behind the grain. When she introduced the dishes that she and Paula Dempsey had created for the event, she did it with an enthusiastic, “I love sorghum!” She went on to explain that despite nearly 30 years in the Little Rock food community, she had to undergo something of a crash course to learn how to cook the grain—but if she hadn’t told us that, I wouldn’t have known, because the dishes she served up tasted as good as any I’ve ever had. Sorghum risotto, a kale-and-sorghum salad and a spinach dip with sorghum crackers were all mouth-watering delights, and the cookies and breads that Paula Dempsey brought to the table (all made, in part, with ground sorghum flour), were also wonderful—especially those snickerdoodles.
In addition to the great eats, we also got to talk with some members of the Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board, including farmer Mike Richardson from Holly Grove. Mike’s been a member of the board since it was founded in 2000, and he works his family farm to grow corn, soybeans and milo—three of Arkansas’ biggest crops. He told us all about the desire to open a sorghum processing mill in the state, citing the need for increased demand to make it economically feasible. He also talked at great length about the modern technology and science that allows row crop farmers to minimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides so that food is as safe as possible. “We’re just like you,” Richardson said to us. “We don’t want to eat things that aren’t good for us, and we don’t want to feed those things to our families.” It’s a point that often gets lost between the farm and the plate.
I learned a lot from the event—and farm writing is part of what I do for a living. I’m sure that others who aren’t as lucky as I am to be connected to Arkansas growers learned even more—and I know everyone had a good time talking and eating. My hope is that this is one of the first of these sorts of events where we bring consumers, chefs and farmers together to have conversations about Arkansas food. We grow a lot of wonderful things here in the state, and I want everyone to know about them.