Hosley Hall is gearing up for his 16th annual Old Southern Sugarcane Grinding Festival with the help of community volunteers and Liberty County High School Future Farmers of America students.
The festival takes place Saturday at Hall’s Music and Farms in Allenhurst.
Every year the first weekend in November is dedicated to harvesting the sugar cane for the festival.
LCHS agricultural teacher and FFA advisor Jeci Bohannon and her students have helped Hall at his farm for the past three years. Bohannon met Hall at the opening of Tractor Supply in Hinesville.
Bohannon said the company put on a huge community event and had vendor tables. Hall was there selling produce and cane syrup and his booth was next to Bohannon’s who was there selling plants and T-shirts for the school. They met and since then students have volunteered to work on Hall’s farm.
“For agriculture they have to have an out-of-class project that’s 18 hours,” Bohannon said. “It’s called the Supervised Agricultural Experience. It’s an out-of-class project that shows they know how to do something other than playing video games.”
On Nov. 5 Hall, LCHS FFA members Keontae Grider, Tyler Menzies, Carlee Lairamore, Victorian Hardin-Cook, Shawntia Johnson, Bohannon and community members Julie and Trance Wilkins, Eugene Johnson and Shaun Yarbrough cut and topped off sugar cane.
The workers went row by row.
Students stripped leaves off the cane and loaded it onto a trailer.
“The thick part of the cane is juicy and the green at the top part is bitter. So you top it off and then make syrup out of it,” Bohannon said.
Menzies called working on the farm “fun.”
“It’s nice to know that we’re helping someone as opposed to just sitting at home,” Menzies said.
Hardin-Cook likes growing plants and has been volunteering at Hall’s farm every weekend since February. She originally came to do her volunteer hours and enjoyed the experience.
Hall grows 37 different varieties of sugar cane, which includes CP 52-48, Georgia Red, Yellow Gal, ribbon cane and sugar cane from Japan.
Hall said he does the festival every year to share the history and science of sugar cane grinding.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Hall said. “I participate in festivals every year and at these festivals is where you can obtain all your cane knowledge. They come in and I’ll answer questions, show them how to use different methods,” Hall said.
Hall said it’s all about the community and he couldn’t have prepared for the event without the help from others who pitched in.
“I needed help bad due to storms the last two years. The school saved my life here,” Hall said. “Mr. Trance and his whole family have been here assisting me this whole time. I have two hands but I need the help from the community. I’m happy with anyone who can help. Whenever someone gives me a hand we try to keep it (the festival) alive and do it one more time. It’s a blessing.”
Hall downsized his crops after Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma and Tropical Storm Hermine. The storms flattened much of the crops and the machine Hall uses to cut down the cane was unable to run through the field.
“We had to do it manually. It would take us no more than 15 minutes to do one of these rows with the machine,” he said. “This year we used some herbicide so the cane is really clean and nice. We have a good crop.”
This year’s festival will pay tribute to Native American culture and the Wilkins family will play an important role.
Trance Wilkins who is Apache, his wife Julie who is Cherokee and their daughter Serenity will demonstrate how Native Americans lived years ago. Hall said they will cook over an open fire, wear traditional attire and will have a tepee set up.
Hall called the Wilkins a godsend. The family moved to the area in May and have been helping at Hall’s farm.
“I’ve never been to a sugar cane festival, this will be my first,” Julie Wilkins said. “This is my first time working with cane. I’m actually learning a lot from Mr. Hall about working out in the fields and living out here in the country. I really enjoy it.”
The sugar cane festival starts at 2 p.m. Nov. 18. There will be live entertainment, family-friendly activities and demonstrations. Visitors can participate in the cane juice drinking, cane chewing and biscuit sopping contests.
Hall’s Music and Farms is located at 323 Whispering Pine Circle SW in Allenhurst.
For more information, visit www.hosleyhall.com or call 912-223-0363.