Could rice make comeback as a Carolina crop?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2014

Growing your own fruits and vegetables can be one of the most rewarding pastimes or hobbies a person can have. One of my favorite activities being a Cooperative Extension agent is seeing different growing environments and techniques. This week was one of my best experiences.
I was invited to see a Hmong farm that was growing and harvesting rice. The purpose of this visit was to see if Extension agents could assist the farmer by making the harvest easier, possibly increasing marketing and gathering some new ideas. The Hmong farm was located in Catawba County outside of Newton. When we first drove up to the farm, there was not anything that really jumped out at me. But once I stepped out of the truck, I was awestruck.
The farm we visited was shared by three families. Each family grew crops to sustain themselves, and whatever was left would be sold. I saw amaranth, also known as pigweed, nightshade, unusual eggplant, jicama and rice. The crops were not really placed in rows, and crops were grown on every piece of land available. This farm was growing food to sustain its own families. Crops were grown for food or medicinal purposes. The farmers have also created their own tools to harvest the crops. One unusual piece was a hand-held tool that used a blade to cut the rice from the stalk.
Growing rice in North Carolina was originally common. North and South Carolina used to have large rice plantations before the Civil War. Now, growing rice is like finding a needle in a hay stack. Most of the rice grown now is by Asian families. Now that local food is becoming increasingly popular, so has the demand to find locally-sourced rice.
The grower we visited had about two acres of rice, and most was grown for his family. They thresh the rice, cook the rice within the shuck to remove moisture and add flavor, and beat the shuck off the rice. The whole process is labor intensive, hence the reason we were there to see if we could help.
This is just the beginning of this project. We are hoping to do some more research on growing rice. We also want to see if it may be viable for others to try their hand in growing it, as well. Only time will tell. Stay tuned as there may be some interesting developments in the future on rice trials.

For more information on growing rice or other interesting fruits and vegetables, contact your local Cooperative Extension Agent, Danelle Cutting, at 704-216-8970.