The Beet Goes On: Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project 2010

Some may recall my posts about Michigan Sugar Beets. They were about being excited about living in a region that produced its own sugar (beet sugar), but also about being concerned that, that same sugar was grown using GMO sugar beets. I realized that sugar making from beets was a Michigan food wise tradition. Home gardeners used to grow their own sugar beets, and process them into sugar on a small scale like home canning. I figure we local enthusiasts, and home gardeners could take back the tradition.

And thats where the Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project 2010 comes in.

I am growing a large garden of sugar beets this year, and will process them into sugar.

I am also calling for other gardeners, local food enthusiasts, home canners, and food activists to take up the call and grow their own sugar beets too. I will be offering sugar beet seed, and sugar beet plant starts at my Inchworm Microgreens Farm stand at the Westside Farmers Market this summer, starting on June 3, on Thursdays from 3:00-7:00PM. The idea is to restart a home sugar making tradition in Washtenaw County.

So how much sugar can you expect to get?

I have read various estimates, but having never done it before, so I am not sure. The rule seems to be about one ounce of sugar per pound of beets, or 6.25%. But the industry standard is 15%.  Each beet will weigh 3-5 pounds. After processing, a small plot of say 5 x 5, or 25 beets, you yield about 5-10 pounds of white sugar, with a good amount of leftover molasses. I figure I use about 10 pounds of sugar a year for a family of four with canning and home baking.

The leftover beets can be composted or be used as farm animal feed for some very happy goats, and pigs.

How to I participate in the Ann Arbor Sugar Project?

Pick up some beet starts, or order some seed from me and plant them in your garden. To official be apart of the Ann Arbor Sugar Project, participants are asked to weigh their final beets crop, report the square footage used, and of course the final yield of white sugar, and molasses. The result will then be tallied.

I have enough seed to plant an acre, which we will be able to plant if enough of us join the project.

How much sugar will we have if we grow an acre, and achieve the industry desired yield of 40 tons per acre? Yes, 40 tons per acre.

At 15% sugar, our humble one acre can produce 12,000LBs of non-gmo, organically grown (could not find organic seed) white sugar. Of course we need to process all of those beets, and find farmers with animals to feed 40 tons of processed sugar beet.

How do I make sugar from sugar beets?

Here is a great video on the process.

Please contact me with any question.

22 responses to “The Beet Goes On: Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project 2010

  1. I’m in, Brian. I will see you at the westside farmers market 🙂

  2. Patti,



  3. Some specialized equipment is needed, according to the video. A centrifuge, especially. Also, a seltzer bottle (makes heavily carbonated water). And where does one obtain the calcium hydroxide?

    This looks suitable for a group effort rather than a home kitchen process, or at least a group supply center.

  4. Varm,

    I do agree that like canning a community effort with shared space and equipment will be needed. I am starting to see “canning parties” that share resources during say tomato harvest season.

    Like the resurgence of the canning movement, I think the beet sugar sugar making movement can take off as a community effort in regions where sugar beets can be grown.

    Beet sugar making may even take off past the past the Sugar Beet growing regions where enthusiasts buy beets.

    Part of the Ann Arbor Beet Sugar Project 2010 will to find a shared community space, supplies, and equipment for use in group and at home sugar making.

    We might need a grant.


  5. Hey Brian – I can’t do much about the esoteric supplies or equipment, but I could help with space by making arrangements for us to use the GO common house some weekend for processing.

  6. I have no room to grow, but would love to buy to support this movement….

    Let me know what I can do to support this.

  7. I like this idea — but I live in Madison, WI, so I can’t participate in your project. Still, your post inspired me to go looking for some sugar beet seed, and after much scouting on the ‘net I haven’t been able to find any non-GMO sugar beet seed for sale. Can you please share your source for those of us who can’t just pick up some seed from you?

  8. Brian-
    Ruth Ann C. gave me your website. I am sure my grass fed beef cows would love a little organic sugar beet leftovers, my horses too probably! Let me know!
    Carrie DeJonghe
    Wind Hill Farm

  9. Hi Brian, our chickens at Dragonwood Farm would love some leftover beet debris… actually, they’re a bit goatish (piggish?) and will eat just about anything. And if they tire of beets, we’d certainly compost what they don’t eat. We’ll be at the WSFM this summer too, so we look forward to meeting you soon.
    -Paul and Mandy

  10. The centrifuge looks exactly like a centrifugal Juicer to me. It’s one of the pricey ones like the Champion. The process is much like juicing. The juicers aren’t cheap, but they aren’t something out of range of the individual, either. I use mine to juice things that would otherwise be inedible. I juice large woody kohlrabi, for instance, and beet stalks. Any part of the plant that is nutritious can be used. In the long run, this could save some money, if the device shown is indeed a regular juicer.

  11. Pingback: TT Super Club: Fundraiser for The Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project « Last One Eating

  12. Pingback: Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project: planting non-GMO sugar

  13. Hey there!

    I don’t live in Michigan, but I’d really love to get ahold of some Non-GMO sugar beet seeds! I can’t find them ANYWHERE on the net! If you would email me with instructions on how I might be able to obtain some, I’d be ever so grateful!


  14. Pingback: GMO beet yield drops in US; Monsanto raises seed price 22 pct « Last One Eating

  15. how did it go?! i saw your molasses vid, but have you done more? what was your actual yeild? we tap walnut and maple trees here in iowa, and am hoping to plant SBs as well, hoping to buy no sugar next year!

  16. Hi Brian,

    This is a wonderful project! I am into growing non gmoed sugar beets in California. Please check out my company website, especially the page about Beet Sugar.

    I will be following your work as we all need to work together to raise awareness about local sugar sourcing.

    btw, I am originally from Michigan, born and raised!

    All the best,

  17. Where did you get your sugar beet seed Brian… and do you have any you could spare to me in southern Utah :).. Thankx..

  18. Hi
    my name is Charles from Kenya. i come from an area where beet root is used as an ordinary animal feed!! – unbelievable ?? Believe it.
    But i now have known that there are some chaps in some parts of Kenya who are actually making white sugar from beets- i am told that the machinery used are small and quite ordinary, manual mainly.
    Would you in USA have a small machine that can do the same job??
    Interestingly Kenya and east Africa in general is very good for beet growing on commercial scale but as i said , most of us regard it as animal feed.
    Advice pse
    Charles Mbogori
    Director – Vision Plastics

  19. hello all,
    here is what we did this year
    (we may try juicing, then boiling the juice down at a later date)

    we simply grated our sugar beets
    barely covered beets with water, brought to a boil
    then simmered for about 20-30 mins.
    put it through a colander,
    pressed the mash with the back of a sturdy spoon, to get any remaining juice out
    filtered the juice through a kitchen sieve,
    finally boiled it to reduce it to 1/3 (or until thick like molasses)
    there is your sugar syrup, it will crystallize eventually (for solid sugar)

    hopefully that is a little more palatable, no lime, heavy eqpt. etc

    God bless y’all

  20. Pingback: The Nomadic Village

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