The California Wild Rice Story

Just as with so many other California “natives”, Wild Rice is an immigrant to the Golden State – a transplant from elsewhere that has found a fertile home and prospers under the warm California sun. Although California wild rice is a direct descendent of the naturally occurring wild rice which still grows in a truly wild state in the lakes and rivers of the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada, here, in California, it has been “tamed”, and only grows in a cultivated state – in partnership with California wild rice farmers who care for this precious grain. California embraced this ancient grain and went Wild with it, as only California can: today California is the top wild rice producer in the world.

Although California has taken some of the “wild” out of wild rice, California farmers have made it possible for millions of people to enjoy this once rare product, by ensuring consistent supply and quality, and alleviating some of the pressure to “over harvest” the naturally occurring stands – thus preserving them for the enjoyment of future generations. And the environmental benefits don’t stop there: California wild rice fields, situated in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, offer rest, food and sanctuary for local wildlife as well as for a multitude of hungry and weary migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. The amazing sight and sound of thousands of wild birds, feeding and resting in wild rice fields is quite common in California in the Fall and Winter months, and all but the most jaded witnesses to this annual phenomenon feel deep in their hearts what might be described as, the “Call of the Wild”.

Sowing the Seeds of a New Agriculture in California
When a friend brought Vince Vanderford some wild rice seed from Minnesota in an ice chest in 1972, Vanderford tried a little experiment. A rice farmer in Northern California’s lush Sacramento Valley, Vanderford used the contents of the ice chest to plant about an acre and a half in wild rice. And he sowed the seeds of a new agri-industry. Starting from zero pounds in 1976, just 30 years later California harvested an estimated 11 million finished pounds with acreage expanding to over 16,000 acres – making California the largest producer of Wild Rice in the world

Native American Origins
The term wild rice is the common name given to this aquatic grass plant (Zizania) and the seed that it produces. It is not genetically related to rice (Oryza) at all. There are similarities between the two in that both species grow in water and produce a grain. Wild Rice is America’s oldest grain and it is the only cereal grain indigenous to North America. In its finished form wild rice is a long, slender, coffee-colored kernel that butterflies open during cooking to reveal a cream-colored interior. The result is two-tone rice that can go anywhere. The strong woodsy flavor and chewy texture makes it frequently used in combination with other rices. Wild Rice seed contains an antioxidant, which is a chemical that is believed to reduce the chances of cancer.

What is Wild Rice?
When a friend brought Vince Vanderford some wild rice seed from Minnesota in an ice chest in 1972, Vanderford tried a little experiment. A rice farmer in Northern California’s lush Sacramento Valley, Vanderford used the contents of the ice chest to plant about an acre and a half in wild rice. And he sowed the seeds of a new agri-industry. Starting from zero pounds in 1976, just 30 years later California harvested an estimated 11 million finished pounds with acreage expanding to over 16,000 acres – making California the largest producer of Wild Rice in the world

Nourished by Water From the High Sierra
Wild Rice is grown in flooded fields, with planting in the spring and harvest in the late summer. The pleasant growing conditions in California are optimal for wild rice production, characterized by a long warm summer with little rainfall. Owing to the lack of rainfall, during the growing season, the water necessary to create the paddies for wild rice flows cool and fresh from the high Sierras into the wild rice growing regions, including Shasta, Lake, Modoc, Lassen, Butte, Colusa, Yuba, Yolo and Sutter counties. The water is controlled through a system of dams and irrigation networks, allowing farmers to regulate the amount of water, and when and where to water.

Purveyor to Wildlife
Although modern production techniques and variety development continue to improve the efficiency of the harvest, a large amount of wild rice remains in the fields after harvest. With the onset of winter in California also comes the rain; as well as the flights of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds in the Pacific Flyway. Flooded wild rice fields provide food, shelter and habitat for these migrating birds as they travel south. So as we enjoy California Wild Rice with our holiday meal the sights and sounds of the migratory birds in the wild rice fields assures us that they too are well feed.

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Always in Season

Wild Rice Month

September is National Wild Rice Month and National Whole Grains Month.  Visit our friends at Whole Grain Council to find health benefits, cooking tips and recipes, historical/cultural facts, and more.  


Recipes:
Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Wild Rice
CWR Tamales
CWR confetti shrimp salad
CWR and Pumpkin Gratin

Our Chef's Circle is continually developing new recipes and uses for wild rice especially with you, the professional chef, in mind.

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