Korjaj Sorghum

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Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor.  Seeds per pack ~ 70.  Germination 97% (Dec. 2021).

'Korjaj' is a lovely white-seeded grain sorghum from the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan. Ujamaa member Nate Kleinman, co-founder of the Experimental Farm Network, cut his teeth as an activist working to bring international attention and assistance to the people of Darfur during the height of the genocide there in 2004-2007, so he has particularly strong feelings about this plant. It bears mentioning that Darfur is still home to some of the most internally-displaced people of anywhere in the world. The genocide and war — which never truly ended — have left scars in Darfur that will never heal. It is our fervent hope that someday we will be able to return this sorghum to Darfuri villages where the indigenous people live in peace and security and prosperity.

This was one of the first sorghums Nate grew with success. He writes this about it: "While we always approach the plant with reverence and respect, mixed with sorrow about the state of the communities where it was developed, it has always responded with the plant equivalent of joy. It seems to succeed wherever we try it. When other sorghums fail, this one thrives. It is an early sorghum, no doubt an adaptation for the arid climate of Darfur, but this has allowed it to perform well for us even in upstate New York." Nate and EFN donated these seeds to Ujamaa this year, grown in southern New Jersey. The seeds of this sorghum are rather flatter than most, but they are bright white and tasty. Seedheads are densely packed with seeds. The plants are relatively short (between 4 and 6 feet usually), and very uniform. It has relatively sweet and juicy stalks, so might be good as a dual-use sorghum, but we haven't tried making syrup from it yet (largely because the stalks are relatively short). The unripe seed-heads, harvested when still green can be threshed by hand by holding them in a pillowcase and beating them with a broomstick, then the green seeds are boiled or steamed to make an utterly delicious food. (In India, green sorghum prepared like this is called "ponk," but it is also eaten green in Sudan and South Sudan, and probably other places as well.)

The original source for the seeds was the USDA, and the variety has been in the USDA's collection for over 70 years, since it was collected by a plant explorer named C.O. Grassl. He was in Sudan in 1945 as part of a massive USDA seed collection program. The original aim of the program, delayed by World War II, was to find varieties for crossing with the common sweet sorghums of the time. Those were good for syrup, but the stalk juice didn't crystallize well, so it wasn't a viable alternative to sugarcane or beets, and the USDA hoped to find or create varieties with sugar that would crystallize. 'Korjaj' ranges in height from 5 to 12 feet, depending on where it's grown, and it can develop a sweet stalk good for syrup production when it grows tall enough.