Organic rice is nice
After a few days in Mendocino County, we headed east over the hills of beautiful Highway 20 past Clear Lake and down into the Capay Valley and finally, into rice country in Glenn and Butte counties, just south of Chico, Calif. You know it’s rice country because on either side of the road are flooded fields of newly planted rice.
The trouble with most of the fields is they’re sprayed with herbicides. While insects aren’t much of a threat to rice crops, weeds and grasses compete with rice and most growers soak the fields with poison to kill the plants. The trouble with that is the land slopes ever so slightly to the Sacramento River to the west. That means all those chemicals flow into the river, which feeds into the San Francisco Bay and then flows into the Pacific Ocean. The broad spectrum herbicides take out a lot of other species with them in addition to plants like insects, amphibians and crustaceans.
But Lundberg Family Farms does things differently. The third generation farm is based in Richvale, Calif. and grows most of its 17 varieties of rice organically. Those crops not certified organic, are grown with more benign herbicides recommended by the Pesticide Action Network. They also practice crop rotation to restore fertility to the soil rather than use synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers.
One of the worst herbicides is Warrior, a particularly indiscriminate killer.
“When they use that there’s a lot less diversity,” says Bryce Lundberg.
On organic fields, the Lundberg’s employ a simple yet effective technique against weeds: they drown them. Flooded with 10-12 inches of water, the rice plant can outlast competing weeds and grasses. With careful management the fields are drained at just the right time.
Sometimes at the supermarket it’s easy to think organic products are just hype and not worth the money. But it means your food wasn’t grown with petrochemicals that poison the environment. Less stuff has to die. Looking at the flourishing bird life, buzzing dragonflies and darting shrimp in the Lundberg’s watery rice fields and the choice seems like an easy one.