How much do you know about rice?
Many of us eat a lot of the staple food, and yet we’re often far removed from where it comes from and where it’s produced. The earliest archeological evidence of rice comes from China, dating back to 7000-8000 B.C. Nowadays, however, rice is cultivated around the world. In the United States, for instance, we produce about 19 billion pounds of rice per year, with the top six producing states being Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. But there are smaller scale productions in other places as well, including in the Northeast, all part of the ever expanding local grain movement.
The logistics of growing rice is only the beginning for rice producers, though. Once you’ve got your paddy in order, how do you process? That’s where the hard work comes in.
“This is the stumbling block,” Nick Storrs, the manager of Randall’s Island Urban Farm, which runs all five of New York City’s rice paddies, told The New Yorker. For farmers looking to get into rice production it’s not climate change, land availability or even a lack of rice-growing experience that’s the problem, it’s simply that ”rice is literally super-hard,” said Storrs. And because it’s so hard, it makes it very difficult to hull. What’s an aspiring rice farmer to do?
Get a bike.
That’s what Storrs and Randall Island Urban Farm did–but not just any bike. Theirs was a supercharged rice hulling bike, the work of a guy named Don Brill.
According to Nicolaa Twilley’s article in The New Yorker:
“Brill’s day job is as a microscopist at DuPont, but he is known within the Northeastern rice community as the “rice engineer”—an open-source, proto-John Deere for commercially neglected urban and smaller-scale rice farmers. His hand-built rice processors incorporate vacuum cleaners, kitchen utensils, and car parts, process up to sixty pounds of rice per hour, and cost well under a thousand dollars, with delivery and setup included. (Brill gives away the plans on his Web site for free, and has even compiled a helpful shopping list at McMaster-Carr.)”
The bike huller helps to simplify the difficult process, which means producing rice to sell is much easier. And that’s a good thing for not only locavores, but the environment as well. Twiley notes that rice “offers Northeastern farmers the opportunity to maintain environmentally important wetlands productively, rather than losing money by leaving them fallow or draining them to grow something else.”
Consider the bike huller yet another tool in helping the local grain movement grow. Pedal on!
Photo Credit: Rob & Dani