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Jack Simpson - Much-maligned vine could be our energy savior

When I moved here to south Rockdale County back in the 1970s, the road in front of my house was dirt, narrow and dusty. When it rained, you might even get stuck in the mud or have to get out the tractor to pull out some stranger who drove off the straight and narrow!

Some of the land that wasn't supporting crops or cattle was covered with kudzu. Nobody wanted that vine covering their land. It was considered a nuisance. Folks who had some of it claimed that once it arrived you could not get rid of it.

There were stories about kudzu that if it did not come from China, then it came from Japan. Anyway, people over there welcomed its roots as a food source. They cultivated it from seeds or cuttings, something we would never do around these parts.

So, why, then, am I suddenly interested in this climbing vine that sends out many, many roots and covers everything - maybe even growing up trees? Because the word is out that kudzu may become our savior in our desire to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil. Holy cow! An invasive vine once the enemy of the farmer may become his friend and income source. Now, instead of sitting in the shade of his fig tree, the farmer may sit in the shade of his kudzu crop! This man of the soil may burn the midnight oil trying to learn how to turn kudzu into bioethanol.

Turning too much of his corn over for fuel may be causing a food shortage, so kudzu may be a way to keep his corn and substitute the vine to ethanol production.

Think about the possibilities. Kudzu grows and you cannot seem to kill it. No fertilizer seems necessary and probably the need for pesticides lessens because bugs do not seem too attracted to this nuisance. For the farmer, it could be a windfall if he can figure some way to harvest it economically.

I believe it was Ogden Nash who said, "God in His wisdom made the fly and then forgot to tell us why." Well, now someone is telling us why God made kudzu. A plant that has caused us crop and property damage may become a fuel that helps us run our cars and trucks up and down not only our dirt roads, but our paved super highways, as well. An alternative to gasoline which is sky high and going up every day ... hooray for kudzu! Let's hear it for the woody vine that once ate the South.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.