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 Risotto
No matter what your favorite rice dish, you can find an organic version of the rice it needs and avoid the pesticides—up to 15—used in rice farming. Photo courtesy of USA Rice Federation.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them.

 

 

October 2007

Product Reviews / NutriNibbles

Organic Rice

Organic Brown Rice & White Rice


Click here to read other months’ Organic Matter columns.

My name is Stephanie Zonis, and welcome to Organic Matter for October, 2007.

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, rice is produced worldwide, and it is “the primary staple for more than half the world’s population.” In the U.S. alone, rice farming generates up to $1.5 billion annually in income, a figure which would be less shocking if it weren’t for the fact that this country accounts for less than 2% of worldwide rice production. In short, this grass (rice is actually a grass and not a grain) is one of the more important crops in today’s world. Top producers and exporters include China, India and Thailand.

Although most Americans associate rice-growing with intentionally-flooded paddies, rice can also be grown in upland regions, as well as in areas prone to unpredictable river flooding. Rice, which is highly adaptable, is grown in warm and cold climates, and on six of the seven continents (everywhere but Antarctica). Depending upon microclimate and variety of rice used, a rice crop will take anywhere from three months to about seven months to mature.

As an agricultural product, rice is subject to the usual host of diseases and pests that annoy farmers and reduce or destroy yields. In the U.S., these include kernel smut, rice blast, seed rot, tadpole shrimp, crayfish (their burrowing often disrupts irrigation networks) and the infamous rice water weevil. Even in a nation that produces so little of the world’s annual yield, there are difficulties to combat when growing rice, exclusive of any weather-related issues. While different regions of the world will be subject to variations in pests and diseases, one thing is certain: Conventional methods of rice production use a great many agrochemicals. While some of these are relatively harmless, others are anything but.

Pesky Pesticides In Rice

Longtime readers of organic columns will recognize the acronym PANNA, short for the Pesticide Action Network of North America (the North American Branch of PAN, the Pesticide Action Network). PANNA compiles and maintains a pesticide-use database for crops grown in California. In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, PANNA lists about 40 synthetic pesticides employed in rice production in The Golden State, America’s second largest producer of rice. Of this number, 15 are considered “bad actors,” meaning that they have demonstrated ill effects on the human system or in groundwater pollution, whether that’s in the short term, the long term or both. The bad effects range from a high acute toxicity to a toxin that works on reproduction and/or development to a known or suspected carcinogen. Remember, these 15 are used for one crop, in one state, in a country that produces a small fraction of the world’s annual rice yield—albeit a country with some regulatory control over such substances. The total synthetic pesticide use on the rice crop within the U.S. must be much higher, because far more rice is grown in Arkansas than in California. Other leading rice-producing states are Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri.

Change Agents

The same use of pesticides is practiced throughout the world. Some synthetic Rice Farmerpesticides and fertilizers inadvertently poison beneficial as well as harmful animals and birds. Their residues can build up over time in the human system, when fish or animals living in the rice fields eat smaller creatures that have been sprayed, followed by humans eating those fish or animals. In many third-world countries, where rice is the staple food, women sometimes use water from flooded fields to cook with or for drinking water, further increasing opportunities for these chemicals to find their way into people’s systems. Even if the governments of these countries have regulations for working with or around agrochemicals, farmers don’t have the money to purchase proper equipment and clothing, so these insecticides, herbicides, etc. are often applied by hand, without protection for the farmer.
Photo by Mee Lin Woon | IST.

Slowly, however, things may be starting to change for the better. The Indonesian government publicly admitted that the spraying wasn’t working, ordered it stopped, banned over 50 classes of insecticides, and declared Integrated Pest Management (IPM, a system that combines different techniques to control pests in a manner least harmful to the environment and most effective regarding the specific pest) as official policy. IPM doesn’t necessarily employ strictly organic methods, which may not always be practical or even possible, but it does shift the focus away from agrochemicals, a very positive step. Incidentally, the Indonesian government is seldom admired as a model of efficiency or virtue, yet it accomplished an incredible amount in a very short time period. One is forced to wonder what would happen if the U.S. government suddenly issued an identical declaration.

Unhappily, with a couple of notable exceptions, the American rice industry has been slow to pick up on the organic movement. Growing organically will make rice farming Purple Vetchmore labor-intensive and comes with its own set of challenges, but most of these have at least one viable solution. According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the chief problems in growing rice organically “relate to nutrient management and weed control.” Nitrogen “supplements” are required in rice growing fields, but can be supplied through leguminous cover crops. According to the Butte County, California website, the wildflower purple vetch is most commonly used for “covercropping” rice fields, a practice that maintains soil quality, in which the soil is “covered” with a crop. Weeds, another significant issue for organic rice farmers, can be managed via mulching, crop rotation, careful water management, and proper crop cultivation, according to the IRRI. And insect pests are often controllable through selection of rice strains suitable for the farmer’s geographic area.
Purple vetch is often used in organic rice rotations. Photo by Bob Bugg, provided by the
U.C. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Organic farming of any type is going to require more work than conventional farming, period. Currently, organic rice production in the U.S. (and, in fact, worldwide) is only a fraction of total production. When agrochemical giants have the freedom to aggressively pursue their bottom lines, as happens now, it is always difficult for organic agriculture to gain a serious foothold. But even from this small article, it’s easy to see that organic agriculture, and specifically, organic rice growing, has many advantages to both people and the environment. I hope you’ll choose to purchase organic rice, as its cultivation will only flourish in the U.S. with sufficient demand.

Organic Rice Producers

There are rice farmers who understand the organic movement in the U.S., and are growing rices to meet the demand. Two producers are RiceSelect of Texas and Lundberg Family Farms of California.

Lundberg Family Farms

Lundberg Family Farms of Richvale, California (in the Sacramento Valley) is the country’s leading organic rice producer. The company currently offers 19 different types of organic rice. Thirteen varieties are also “eco-farmed.” Eco-farming, while not organic, employs many of the same ideas and is based on sustainability. (For a better explanation, click on the “Farming” tab on the Lundberg.com website.) Both organic and eco-farmed lines are certified kosher by Kosher Overseers Associates of America.

Whatever your rice needs, there’s a Lundberg organic rice. They seem to be committed to ensure that no one has to eat pesticide-farmed rice.

  • Organic Sushi RiceOrganic White Rice. There’s regular long-grain white rice, plus organic basmati rice and organic jasmine rice. For medium-grain organic rice, there’s arborio for risotto and organic sushi rice.
  • Organic Brown Rice. Want more nutrition with your rice? There’s short grain, long grain, brown basmati, brown jasmine, Golden Rose (a medium grain) and sweet brown rice, ideal for Asian recipes and rice puddings.
  • Organic Gourmet Rice Blends. Try Wehani, an aromatic brown rice (more about that below); Black Japonica, a whole grain brown rice blend of short grain black rice and medium grain mahogany rice that grow together in the same field (great with most meats and game); and California Basmati and Wild Rice Blend.
  • Wild Rice & Blends. Organic wild rice is available straight and in blends with basmati and Wehani. There’s even a Quick Wild Rice, which will sound tempting to anyone who has ever spent time standing over the stove waiting for this delicious dish to cook.

Rice is available in one and two pound packages and in 25-pound bulk sacks. Not all products and sizes are available in the company’s online store, but the Lundbergs will direct you to where to find them. For more information visit Lundberg.com, or telephone 1.530.882.4551.

RiceSelect

RiceSelect of Alvin, Texas, produces a number of rices, including organic basmati rices, plus organic rice mixes. The line is certified kosher by Star K.

  • Organic Rice MixOrganic White Rice. The aromatic “Texmati” version of aromatic basmati rice is available in white organic rice.
  • Organic Brown Rice. Texmati aromatic basmati rice is also available in a brown organic rice. There’s also an organic whole wheat couscous.
  • Organic Rice Mixes. There are five organic white rice mixes: Garden Vegetable, Roasted Chicken & Herb, Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil, Three Cheese and Toasted Almond Pilaf. Organic brown rice mixes are available in Organic Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil, Garden Vegetable and Wild Mushroom & Herb.

Some products can be purchased at RiceSelect.com.

Both RiceSelect and Lundberg Family Farms have a cache of tempting recipes online that may make even a 25-pound sack of rice disappear quickly.

Organic Find Of The Month: Lundberg Family Farms Wehani Rice

As a kid, I never cared for rice. It was so boring! Of course, like most American families of that era, all my clan ever ate was white rice. In fact, I didn’t come to an appreciation of this grass until I was on my own and discovered the great flavors and textures of brown rice and other rice varieties.

Now that I’m older and wiser, there are times when I just get a craving for rice. I prefer to eat organically-grown rice, of course, and Lundberg Family Farms makes that easy with all of their choices of organically-grown brown rices and rice blends. My favorite is the Organic Wehani & Wild Rice Blend. Wehani is an aromatic brown rice variety developed by Lundberg. Just look at that rich brown color compared to most pale brown/dark beige brown rices (photo at right). If you’re only going to try one rice in this article, try this one—although as long as you’re ordering a bag, get the Black Japonica, too.

The company also makes organic rice cakes, organic rice entrées, organic rice pasta, and more, but I have yet to try any of these products. Surf over to their website, Lundberg.com, for more information.

Wehani Organic Rice
Wehani naturally aromatic brown rice is organic and kosher.

 

Lundberg Family Farms Rice

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