When the annual Independence Bank Sorghum Festival returns on Saturday, Brody Cox and his family will be there to show why Hancock County once billed itself as "the sorghum capital of the world."

Cox, 34, is a sixth-generation sorghum producer who uses a wood-fired system in his backyard to make the syrup that he markets and sells as Kentucky Cane.

Sitting on top is a long, custom-made, metal pan that resembles a maze with its metal bars to separate the flowing juice at the front from the actual sorghum at the end.

In the weeks and days leading up to the festival, Cox's wife, Vanessa, said the family's time is consumed with making sorghum.

"Everybody goes to the beach for fall break; we stay with the sorghum pan," Vanessa Cox said.

For Cox, it's nothing for him to spend 16 hours a day preparing and going through the cooking process. It takes eight hours to produce 30 gallons of sorghum.

"I save my vacation to do this every year," said Cox, who's employed full-time at Southwire. "It's usually in September and October when we're making sorghum. Most years we'll make between 300 and 500 gallons. It's usually on the 300 end."

The Coxes grow 5 acres of cane sorghum. They start planting it in May and stagger it into July. Once a crop is ready, tobacco knives are used to cut it and then it's hauled to a local mill where the juice is crushed out of it.

Cox takes the cane juice to his backyard, wood-fired system where the water is evaporated, leaving behind the sorghum syrup.

Cox said this year he's seeing a 7 to 1 ratio -- 7 gallons of juice to 1 gallon of sorghum.

"The dry year really helped us as far as the quality," Cox said. "There's not near the water we're cooking out of it ... the 7-1 ratio is fantastic. Normal years it's 10-1."

At least three people are required to oversee the tedious evaporating process.

Cox's brother, Jordan Cox, along with other family and friends will often help to ensure the final syrup product isn't tainted by water or burned from overcooking.

"You can't walk away from it," Cox said. "You have to be right here to monitor it or else it will scorch. ... But we cook it all by sight."

Most of what the Coxes make will be sold at Saturday's Independence Bank Sorghum Festival that will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.

Wade Gaynor, Hancock County president for Independence Bank, said the bank revived the festival in 2013, which had ended three years earlier.

The bank is asking people who attend the festival to bring nonperishable foods to benefit the backpack program in the Hancock County Schools system.

"When we want to do something, we try to do it the right way," Gaynor said. "So when this festival fell apart and Independence Bank picked it up, the team here presented it back to the community. We added a little something to it by making it totally free and also accepting donations for the local schools' backpack program."

The festival, which has become a popular fall event, will feature inflatables, live music, food vendors and other activities.

Cox will be among at least two local sorghum vendors selling their product there.

He will also provide a live sorghum cooking demonstration.

Cox said he's introduced his three children -- Cy, 6, Emma, 4, and Will, 2 -- to the sorghum life in an effort to establish a seventh generation of sorghum producers.

"There's not much money in this, especially if I were to keep track of my hours," Cox said. "I'm just doing it to keep it alive and to keep the tradition going."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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