“I’m at a point in my career where I want to impact the welfare of society. And the Sapelo cane project is a perfect opportunity. It’s a blend of research, genetics, and direct outreach with a community.”

Stephen kresovich on the purple ribbon sugarcane project

clemson's photo — need permission

clemson's photo — need permission

Sapelo Island Purple Ribbon Sugarcane

This project began in 2014 when the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society invited Dr. David Shields, chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, and several of his colleagues to the island to discuss opportunities for creating a sustainable revenue stream for Sapelo residents. 

Sapelo Island is a barrier island off the coast of Georgia that is home to a dwindling community of Geechee residents,  the direct descendants of West Africans who were forced into slavery three centuries ago.  Today, they number around 50 people who are under increasing economic pressure to abandon their island.

Galvanized by his meeting with the Sapelo residents, Shields enlisted the help of Clemson's Stephen Kresovich to locate Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane. By reaching out to various collectors, they were able to find and validate the authenticity of Purple Ribbon. From there, the sugar cane was planted at Georgia Coastal Gourmet Farms, and finally chopped down and transported to Sapelo Island, where a crop is growing and will be ready to for harvest in late summer of 2016. 

Watch the video below to learn more about this important and exciting project. You can read more at Clemson's website. 

Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane in the Media

Ark of Taste

Slow Food USA recognizes the importance of Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane and includes it in the Ark of Taste, a living catalog of foods facing extinction. 

By the end of the 20th century, the lack of breeding discipline meant that it was uncertain whether true Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane survived anywhere. Several producers in Florida claim to grow it, but the plants they display vary markedly in height and coloration.
— Slow Food USA

Hakai Magazine

Jill Neimark wrote a piece in March 2016 for Hakai Magazine called Southern Sugarcane Revival. In this story, Cornelia Bailey of Sapelo Island vividly recalls the days of grinding sugarcane. 

If this sounds like yet another romantic story about the revival of a heritage plant, it’s actually far more. When plants die, the tastes they evoke die, too. Cuisines that arise out of local ingredients are inextricably interwoven into local customs and rituals and a sense of identity—their flavors become a shared sensory language. Losing an heirloom cultivar is, ultimately, a profound cultural loss.
— Jill Neimark, Hakai Magazine

Georgia Public Broadcasting

Radio host Celeste Headlee interviewed the main participants in the Purple Ribbon Sugarcane project and discussed the importance of sugarcane to the Gullah Geechee community. 

Listen to it here