What was once a way of life for the Coharie ancestors is now a project taken on by members of the local tribe.
Chris Faircloth, with the help of some volunteers and tribe members, has taken a piece of land and started growing sorghum. The project has been completed with the assistance of the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded through the Healthy Native North Carolinians project.
Sorghum was once a staple among the Coharie people. Native American tradition teaches that nothing should be wasted, and every part of the sorghum stalk was used by the native people for food, animal feed, baskets and the filling for mattresses.
“This is the sugar cane that your grandma used,” Faircloth said. “Our ancestors used every part of each stalk for some purpose and didn’t waste anything.”
In fact, Faircloth explained that the seeds from the top of a sorghum stalk can be heated to make something similar to popcorn.
Faircloth, along with the help of Tabatha Brewer, planted the sorghum crop, which covers about three-fourths of an acre, in May. For the last two months, Faircloth has been working to acquire the right sweetness in the stalk, while fighting hard to keep the crop from being taken over by bugs — a problem he had a couple of years ago.
This week, members of the tribe and neighboring tribes came together to harvest the crop and with the help of John Matthews from the McDaniel’s Crossroads community, will cook the sorghum and make syrup.
“This will be some good syrup,” Faircloth said. “You will be surprised by the taste of this.”
According to Faircloth, for years people have been asking about being able to get their hands on some of the sorghum syrup cooked from the Coharie crop. Plans are to bottle what is made from this year’s harvest and then sale it with proceeds going into purchasing equipment the tribe can use in the future to cook the syrup.
“People have been telling me that they want syrup what has been produced by the Coharie people on Coharie land,” Faircloth said. “There is an art to syrup making, and we plan to master that art just like Mr. Matthews has.”
Much like the community garden grown by the tribe, the sorghum crop has allowed the tribe members to come together, just like the ancestors did many years ago. Wednesday morning, when several of the Coharie Tribe members were gathered to harvest the last of this year’s crop, Dalton Lynch from the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe drove two and a half hours to help his fellow brothers.
“The good spirit drew me here,” Lynch said. “We can’t protect our traditions unless we educate our people about them. That’s what is being done here.”
Part of the Native Americans traditions is coming together as a community. The sorghum harvest, like other events, does just that.
“This has allowed us to come together as a community and talk,” Faircloth added. “When there is a community, there is progress.”
A few years ago, the tribe began a community garden project through the same initiative. The purpose of the project is to promote healthy living and eating among the Coharie people.
The Healthy Native North Carolinians grew out of partnerships formed during the American Indian Healthy Eating Project that started in 2008 to facilitate sustainable community changes around active living and healthy eating within the tribes of North Carolina.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.