Friday, May 30, 2008

Local grains

At Tuesday's Farmers' Market (which I rarely attend, because it is not near my apartment) a few weeks ago, I was pleased to discover two local suppliers of grains.

Massa Organics grows and sells rice, and only rice. (And they do not mill white rice, only brown.) They are located near Chico, about three hours drive from Berkeley. They seem to be doing everything right: recycled water, organic, and they built their own house out of rice hay bales. Check out their blog for info about the farm, videos, and rice-based recipes. Massa Organics sells their rice for $2/lb in 2-lb bags, and $1.5/lb in 20-lb bags. Their rice is very tasty.

California is the largest rice-exporter in the world — we export 15% of the crop. (China is the largest rice producer, no surprise, but is a net importer.) So chances are that your generic supermarket rice is from California. But to get there, it got blended with other farms and shipped around the world first.

Rice milling begins by removing the inedible hull from the paddy rice, leaving brown rice. From there, the germ can be removed, leaving white rice. For information on California rice production, this article from UC Davis in 1997 is replete with information.

California rice is milled and marketed through grower cooperatives and independent millers. Paddy rice is transported to the mill and hulled to produce brown rice. Mills remove the bran to produce white rice. Price to the grower is principally based on the milling yield from 100 pounds of paddy rice, which includes head rice (the percentage of unbroken whole kernels) and the sum of head rice and broken rice (total rice); mill by-products add to the overall market value of rice (fig. 30).  [quoted from UC Davis' Rice Project, 1997]

As always, brown rice should be combined with 1.5 parts salted water per part dry rice. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cook covered with well-fitted lid between 20 and 30 minutes, until the water is essentially gone. Without uncovering, remove from heat, and steam at least 20 minutes (rice will be crunchy but yummy after only 40 minutes cooking). Rice will hold its heat for a long time. As it continues to steam (say another 20 minutes, bringin total cooking time to one hour), it will start tasting richer, as if it has been mixed with butter.

Full Belly Farm primarily grows standard horticultural crops (vegetables, herbs, and fruit), flowers, eggs, wool, and wheat. I have yet to try their wheat, since I still have pounds of red wheat berries from Berkeley Bowl. Full Belly is located near Guinda, about an hour from Berkeley, and sells their wheat for $1/lb in 2-, 5-, and 10-lb bags.

California produces a fair amount of wheat, but not nearly as much as the inland northwest and north. Producing 2% of the national wheat market, California ranks 19th among the fifty states in wheat production. More statistics are available here. For comparison, Montana produces 20% of the organic wheat crop.

Wheat berry takes forever to cook. It is yummy and crunchy after an hour, and will very slowly soften for hours after that. I like to combine one part wheat berry with two parts salted water, simmer covered until the water cooks off, and continue to steam after that. Better is to first sauté aromatics (onions and fennel) and then add the berries.

A year ago, I would have balked at the asking prices for these two farms. But the price of grains has doubled nationally and tripled worldwide in the last year, and $1/lb for wheat and $2/lb for rice are perfectly reasonable.

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