Run by EFN Co-Founder Nate Kleinman, this project aims to develop perennial sorghum for use as a grain crop in temperate climates. Volunteer growers in various climates with multi-year access to the same land are requested.
Sorghum is a wonderful plant, producing a variety of crops: gluten-free grain, miniature popcorn, sweet syrup, biomass, silage, and even brooms. Most varieties are annuals, but there are a few tropical perennial sorghums, and some folks have managed to hybridize annual grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor) with cold-hardy wild perennial Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense). These rare perennials provide the basis for this collaborative effort.
At this stage of the project, most volunteers will be sent an important sorghum variety to be multiplied and kept pure, and/or tested for perenniality in your climate (it may be a perennial type or an annual). Others will be sent both an annual and a perennial type in order to attempt to cross them (or possibly two perennials or two annuals).
The three perennial strains being utilized initially are ‘Kapupu,’ a tropical grain-type sorghum from Zambia; ‘M61,’ a grain-type sorghum believed to be selected from a grain sorghum crossed with wild Johnson grass (from plant breeder Tim Peters); and 'Coral', a large-seeded grain and cane variety from Malakal, South Sudan, which is normally grown as an annual, but according to one EFN volunteer grower is growing as a perennial is Los Angeles. Various annual types are being utilized.
Participants are encouraged to post questions here. Private questions or concerns can be emailed to Nate at [email protected]
Nate Kleinman is one of the co-founders of the Experimental Farm Network. He is an activist, organizer, plant breeder, and farmer, based in Elmer, New Jersey. His background as an organizer includes work with Occupy Sandy, Service Employees International Union, the Sudan Freedom Walk Campaign, and various political campaigns. He serves or has served on the board of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the Project for Nuclear Awareness, the Cumberland County (NJ) Long Term Recovery Group, GMO Free Pennsylvania, and the Roughwood Seed Collection.
As a farmer and plant breeder, Nate is primarily interested in utilizing agriculture as a tool in the fight against climate change -- while at the same time working to preserve crop biodiversity, restore ecosystems and wildlife populations, and further the cause of social and economic justice for farmworkers and all people. He speaks on food justice, agroecology, participatory plant breeding, climate change, and other issues at conferences and events around the United States.
Nate's favorite food plants include mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), maypops (Passiflora incarnata), chinquapin chestnuts (Castanea pumila), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), 'Nanticoke' squash (Cucurbita maxima 'Nanticoke'), 'Sehsapsing' corn (Zea mays subsp. mays 'Sehsapsing'), 'Tracy' rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), red & white currants (Ribes spicatum), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), seakale (Crambe maritima), garlic (Allium sativum), and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas).
Are you seeking volunteer growers or other types of volunteers?
Yes, seeking volunteer growers
How many volunteers do you need?
What will you ask volunteers to do?
Volunteers will be asked to grow sorghum, most likely for multiple consecutive years. Volunteers will need at least 15 square feet (or one 15ft row a foot wide) to participate, and must be willing to leave plants in the ground for 3+ years. Some years, mulching will be required over the Winter. Some volunteers will be asked to secure waterproof bags over blooming sorghum heads during the Summer (which requires checking plants daily for a couple/few weeks). Taking detailed measurements will not be required, but would be helpful in some cases. Ability to take photos and post them here (or email them to researcher) is strongly appreciated. Volunteers will be required to mail seeds (and possibly live plant material, e.g. rhizomes) back to the researcher at the close of each season. Volunteers will be encouraged to keep some seed for themselves, if they so choose.
Other requirements of volunteers?
Volunteers need a willingness to pay attention to what neighboring farms or gardeners are growing in order to be aware of possible cross-pollination issues (sorghum is wind-pollinated, and its pollen can travel over quite large distances).
Is this a multi-year project?
Can volunteers expect to be able to keep some germplasm (seeds, bulbs, cuttings, spores, etc) at the close of the project?
Yes, of course
Sorghum shows great potential for becoming a perennial staple crop. We hope this project will result in a viable perennial sorghum variety within a decade.