As hard as I’ve tried not to have expectations on this project, I’m happy to say that my expectations were exceeded the day I plucked a plump grain off a rice plant, popped it in my mouth and savored it’s sweet, tender taste. That was around September 25th. On September 28th and 29th, we harvested the entire plot by cutting the stalks just above ground level. We used harvesting clippers, which was a little tedious. Next year we hope to have scythes to make the task more efficient.
Next we took the bundles of rice stalks to a covered shed and set up a threshing/winnowing station. We threshed the rice by beating the seed heads over a wire-mesh table. We removed the legs of the table on one side, which created a nice angle for us to thresh upon. After threshing all of the stalks from our 800 square foot rice padi, we winnowed the chafe from the grains using a fan. We ended up with about 20 pounds of rice with the hulls on.
Then came the stage that nearly did our project in: getting the hulls off the rice grains. Each grain has a tight, tough casing on it that you could eat, but it isn’t particularly pleasant. We experimented with a variety of low-tech methods to get the hulls off. I tried rubbing them through a wire mesh screen…didn’t really work. I built a contraption out of a barrel with a wire mesh screen set inside the center of the barrel lengthwise, with rice seeds inside and the lid on. We rolled that barrel all over the place…that really didn’t work. Then I tried to convert a coffee bean grinder into a mini-rice huller by squeezing pen caps over the the metal blades. The pen caps got obliterated as did the rice grains, but the rice hulls did come off! Unfortunately my tiny portion of powdery rice chunks didn’t impress Haruka in the least, and it was back to the drawing board. The traditional mortar and pestle method turned out to work the best, but it still crushed a lot of the grains and it didn’t have the efficiency we were looking for.
That was early October. Four months ago. Most of our rice just sat in bags with the hulls on, waiting for a miracle. A glimmer of hope came in November when we applied for the RAFI Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund grant. Our proposal for the $10,000 grant asked for funding to aid us in growing a 1 acre rice plot. This included funding for a rice-hulling machine, seeds, harvesting tools and labor to build rice terraces and a rainwater-catchment pond.
Then came the long wait. A wait in which I apparently felt no motivation to write a third installment on our rice project blog. Thought about it a few times, but…nope, nothing. Then came the call from RAFI 2 days ago. The grant came through, and just like that, we’re back on track for producing rice in earnest here in Chatham county.
Thank you RAFI and thanks to all of you for the immense support you’ve given us! Rice is on the way !