Until about 1992, contract workers flown in from the West Indies for the sugar-cane season cut the stalks by hand with a "Collin knife." This Jamaican man is sharpening his knife. Shot circa 1989 along U.S. 27 in Hendry County. / J.D. Vivian Until about 1992, contract workers flown in from the West Indies for the sugar-cane season cut the stalks by hand with a “Collin knife.” This Jamaican man is sharpening his.

Note the shin- and foot-guards. In addition to cutting themselves and to injuries from sharp cane stalks, workers often had to contend with snakes, bees and red ants.

According to the contract, a worker had to cut one row of sugar cane (about one-quarter-mile) per hour. Today, a mechanized harvester cuts the same row in 15 minutes.


Shot circa 1989 along U.S. 27 in Hendry County. / J.D. Vivian

5 FACTS ABOUT SUGAR CANE AND SUGAR

It’s versatile: Sugar cane is actually a grass; its botanical name is Saccharum officinarum. One of the byproducts of milling sugar cane is bagasse. This sweet-smelling residue from the milling process is burned in generators and used to make paper. It also is used in animal feeds, since bagasse contains cellulose.

It is grown in more than 100 countries: In Florida, most of the cane is grown along the southern and southeastern shores of Lake Okeechobee, where the growing season is long and winters are usually warm.

Sunshine State is No. 1: Florida is the nation’s largest producer of sugar cane. In fact, the state grows about 20 percent of all the cane grown in the U.S. For each of the past six years, Florida has produced an average of 1.81 million tons of raw sugar.

What’s in a name? “Sugar” usually refers to the highly refined white variety. “Raw sugar,” usually light brown in color, is not as refined as “sugar.” If a small percentage of molasses is added to refined sugar, the result is “brown sugar.”

Enjoy some now! Because the harvest is going on now, many Cuban cafés are offering guarapo. A fresh sugar-cane stalk is put through a squeezer, and the juice (guarapo) is served with ice.