By Meg Klepack, Serving Up Vermont, March 11, 2011
I’m worried you won’t believe me when I tell you what the latest local food prospects are for Vermont.
While I’ve known that rice is technically possible to grow in Vermont for the past few years, I couldn’t have anticipated that we’d be able to offer it for sale here so soon – we’re hoping to have a small amount for sale this fall with much much more for sale next year.
But I’m getting ahead of the story.
A few years ago Linda and Takeshi Akaogi, who farm down in Westminster, realized that the climate of Vermont is very similar to the climate of northern Japan. Their hypothesis was that if rice could grow over there, it should also be possible to grow in Vermont. They got some research money, grew some test plots, and confirmed that rice seemed to grow very well here.
I had heard the Akaogi’s trials had gone well, but hadn’t heard much more about the project until we got a surprise call from Eric Andrews. Eric, who farms Boundbrook Farm and runs Good Companion Bakery in Vergennes, came up to meet with us yesterday. The plan he laid out before us to grow rice on a commercial scale made our jaws hit the ground.
Eric is developing a few acres of rice paddy this year with… get this… ducks! The ducks in the rice paddy help keep weeds at bay and provide a source of fertility for the plants.
At first I wondered if rice was a crop that would tax our soils and water and require more energy input to grow, but Eric soon convinced me otherwise. In fact many of the heavy clay soils of the Champlain Valley have been converted from wetlands and turning them to rice paddies is ecologically more sensible than growing any of the crops that don’t like wet feet. As Eric says, “If the Champlain Valley had been colonized by Asians and not by Anglo-Saxons, we would already have been growing this crop for a few hundred years.”
At the end of this season Eric hopes to be able to offer not only a few thousand pounds of rice, but also duck meat for sale. While he’s in the experimental phase this season, he hopes to be producing 16,000 pounds of rice next fall!
Eric’s story kept getting more and more amazing the longer he talked. He farms with horse power, currently growing wheat for his bakery. He built a ‘Savonius’ wind generator out of plywood and 2 by 4s to power his farm. And, in addition to the rice, his other project for the season is trialing growing sugar beets to make sugar and molasses (that’s a whole other story that I’ll have to pass along soon!).
I’m excited to work with Eric as the season progresses. I’ll keep you all posted!