NEW-FASHIONED: Todd Mill modernizes sugar cane production

Published 3:00 am Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Joe Todd of Todd Farms in Dothan said “Amen” to that.

The seventh-generation syrup-maker with deep Pike County roots, has built a better “mousetrap” and already he can hear the footsteps on the path.

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Todd said syrup making begins at the cane mill but no new cane mills were produced in the United States after December 7, 1941.

“When President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan, he also ordered the foundries to cease manufacturing all equipment except that necessary for the war effort,” Todd said. “With all manufacturing directed to the war effort, there was no way to replace parts on cane mills that went down. They had to be repaired.”

Todd’s experience in the syrup-making business qualified him as a cane mill repairman and business was good for a while.

“Then, it got to the point where you couldn’t find replacement parts for the cane mills or, if you could, they were too expensive,” said Todd. “I decided, with today’s technology, there ought to be a cane mill on the market that was durable, affordable and one that could be moved and setup without a lot of trouble.”

Two years ago, Todd designed and manufactured the first cane mill since 1941. And, with a couple of upgrades, he is certain that the cane mill is a better “mousetrap.”

“With average use, this new mill should last 50 years without needing to be repaired,” Todd said. “It’s that maintenance free.”

Todd said, said the old cane mills were manufactured between 1906 and 1941.

“The mills were operated steadily and without changes or upgrades so the bearings in the old-model cane mills only lasted a couple of years,” he said.

But the bearings in Todd’s new cane mill are brass and oil impregnated.

“These bearings will never have to be greased,” Todd said. “The new mills also have a reversing switch that allows the user to back the mill up if it becomes clogged.

“And, the mill is lightweight and portable. It’s easy to set up and take down and it runs off a 110-electric plug. It’s made out of durable materials and it’s meeting the demands of the growing interest is syrup making. People all across the country are getting back to producing their own vegetables and fruits. Farmers’ markets are increasing because shoppers are looking for locally grown products.”

And with that movement, comes syrup makers and the increasing market for cane mills.

Industrial Metal Works in Dothan is the manufacturer of Todd’s Cane Mill 2.

Steven Robinson, owner, said orders for the cane mills are steady.

“In addition to Alabama, we have shipped Todd’s Mill 2 cane mills to Kansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina,” Robinson said. “In May, we shipped two cane mills to Haiti, so we are beginning to export the mills.”

Robinson said he is working to fill an order for 20 of Todd’s mills for a bar in Miami.

“What I understand is the bars are selling a drink that is made with cane juice,” he said. “The juice is ground in the bar, rum is added and it’s served right there at the mill. The drink is extremely popular.”

Robinson, laughingly, said he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the cane juice and rum concoction but he stands by the Todd Mill 2 and also believes that syrup making is making a comeback in today’s high-tech world.

Bevin Brown is the first syrup maker in Pike County to purchase a Todd Mill 2.

Brown said his father-in-law John Virgil Botts grew a little cane and he had an interest in and taste for cane juice.

In 2010, Brown went to Perrie McCartha’s syrup day and watched him make syrup. His interest in the old way of making syrup grew and his desire to grind cane juice.

“John Brabham let me borrow his cane mill,” Brown said. “A couple of weeks ago, he decided he needed it back. I heard Joe Todd had developed a new mill so I decided to buy one and set it up for the family’s enjoyment, especially the grandkids.”
Brown said he enjoys raising cane and operating a cane mill. And, he just might get out an old syrup kettle and make syrup.

Todd isn’t surprised that syrup making is coming back strong.

“People want to get back to doing things the old way and that’s the best way,” he said. “You won’t get syrup from a manufacturer that is as pure as that made the old way. At Todd’s Farm, we grow our own cane, grind our own juice, cook it in a kettle, and put the syrup on a biscuit. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Todd’s syrup is also bottled and sold right there on the farm. And, those who want to see what syrup making is all about are invited to Todd’s Farm on Monday, October 14, to see cane harvesting, grinding and syrup making.

Those who twist Todd’s arm just might get a biscuit to sop in the syrup.