Comparatively speaking, this year’s operation is something closer to the space shuttle program.
This mill is now propelled by a tractor. The juice extracted from the plants passes through a vinyl tube that leads to a metal shed, which the Willises built this year to house their cooking and bottling operation.
“(Last year) the compression part was about the same, but it was all under a shed. We had a dirt floor,” said Rodney Willis. “Now we have a concrete floor. We’re totally enclosed. We have screens everywhere to keep insects out, hot water to clean up and it’s ventilated.”
Willis said the building was constructed so that his farm could be open to food safety inspections. Being able to pass them allows Willis Farms to sell its products at the largest farmers’ markets in the region.
“All of my piping and anything related to the juice has to be food grade material. This is something I had to learn as I went along,” he said. “I was using PVC pipe like a lot of people. It’s made for water, but not for food. So I got the vinyl tubing which is rated for food.”
Last year Willis Farms placed second in a national competition for sorghum syrup makers. They hope to improve their efforts this year.
“So far, the results have been good,” said Lynn Willis, who helps juice a preheated pan and bottles the final product. “Each step of the process is to remove impurities from the plant. We try to improve everything.”