Anson Mills, a company dedicated to preserving the heirloom grains present in the early American South, recently cultivated another crop integral to the nation’s beginnings: hemp. As explained on their website, Anson Mills has used benne a, “flavorful, verdant, nutty African field heirloom brought to the Carolina lowcountry by slaves in the late 17th century,” as a rotation crop for its flagship Carolina Gold rice for more than a decade.
“If benne is the rotation crop required to grow great Carolina Gold rice, what rotation crop grows great benne? The answer is hemp,” they say. “Hemp ‘fixes’ in companion cropping and rotations, working magic below the soil surface, making everything that grows with it and after it in rotations — especially benne —healthier, greener, tastier, and more vigorous.”
Known for the preservation of Carolina Gold – once the primary crop of South Carolina – Anson Mills and its founder Glenn Roberts were featured on the award-winning PBS show “Mind of a Chef.” On the program Roberts, who also heads a foundation dedicated to the preservation and awareness of heirloom grains, showcased his work to highlight the cuisine of the early American South through recipes crafted by chef Sean Brock.
While hemp – widely cultivated in the nation’s beginnings – can now be grown for research purposes in states that allow for it, its cultivation on American soil remains prohibited.
Ryan Loflin, a Colorado farmer, made history in June of last year when he grew the first large industrial hemp harvest in America since 1958. With companies like Anson Mills also embracing hemp cultivation, awareness of the American heirloom crop will continue to blossom.
Have you heard of benne before? Tell us what you know about hemp in the comments.