Heirloom Rice is MORE than Nice

Heirloom Rice is MORE than Nice

by Carl Haakenstad, Bulk Buyer

Seed Savers has done incredible work preserving heirloom vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds for future generations.  In addition, they continue to educate us all on the importance of heirloom seeds in agriculture.  We sell Seed Savers Exchange seed packets in the spring, and heirloom-variety local items in the Produce department.  However, did you know that you can get heirloom varieties of rice in the Bulk department at the Oneota Co-op?  We carry two heirloom varieties of rice: Forbidden Rice and Madagascar Pink Rice.  Just like the heirlooms at Seed Savers, both of these rices are distinct varieties bred to grow in specific areas.

These unique rice varieties are marketed by Lotus Foods, a company that is also working hard to spread the word about an amazing development in rice farming: the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).  SRI is a change in the techniques of rice farming that have been developed in Madagascar by Fr. Henri de Laulanie.  Fr. Laulanie was interested in helping the Malagasy farmers increase their yields in order for them to have greater food security and stop their slash and burn agriculture that was taking away the island’s endangered rainforest.

SRI methods have been shown to increase rice yields from 20 to 200 percent.  This increase in yield is part of what makes the SRI methods so appealing.  With higher yields, presumably, farmers will have to farm less land.  The SRI methods also allow farmers to use 90 percent less seed, 50 percent less water and little to no chemical fertilizers.  The SRI system is based on six major changes in the traditional rice growing methods:

• Seedlings are planted early, 8-15 days

• Seedlings are planted singularly instead of in clumps

• Wide spacing of seedlings in a grid pattern

• Soil should be moist but not flooded

• Fields should be weeded 2-3 times a season

• Increased use of organic fertilizers (compost or manure)

All of these changes add up to healthier plants and increased yields.  For many years rice paddies have been flooded in order to control weeds.  Even though rice plants can survive their roots being submerged it will cause the plant to be less healthy and less productive.  However, this does mean that rice farmers need to weed their fields.  Consequently, this adds benefit with the aerating of the soil and the decomposing weeds provide organic matter.  These growing methods also allow the farmers more independence by reducing their seed and chemical fertilizer purchases and increasing the use of organic fertilizers that can be made on their farms.

Changes to techniques of rice cultivation are important because rice is the second most cultivated crop in the world (corn is number one).  Rice accounts for over 20 percent of all calories consumed by humans worldwide.  Since rice is grown on such a massive scale, think of how much more rice could be grown on the same amount, or even less land.How many more people would have greater food security, and how much less fresh water would have to be used for rice irrigation?  I encourage you to visit Lotus Foods website (www.lotusfoods.com) to learn more about the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and to support the work they are doing to promote rice varieties grown with SRI methods.

For a twist on a classic holiday dish, try the following stuffing recipe made with Madagascar Pink Rice. Enjoy!