See that woman above? She's a farmer.
Her name is Jessica Lundberg, and for three generations, her family has grown rice in Oroville, California using sustainable methods. If you go to your local supermarket, I'm quite sure you'll recognize the packages of Lundberg rice and related products (including 20 kinds of rice cakes) on the shelves.
The Lundberg family grows 17 different varieties of rice, including white and brown basmati rice, black japonica, wild rice, arborio, short grain brown rice, jasmine rice, sushi rice, and more. My favorite is the nutty, chewy wehani rice, a reddish-brown variety that looks like this:
As manager of the farm's seed nursery and chairman of the board, Jessica identifies and develops new rice varieties. She also takes great pride in her family's use of wind energy and solar technology as a means of treading lightly on the earth. More than 235 species of wildlife call the Lundberg rice paddies home.
"When we plant our cover crops," she says, "the waterfowl use that for habitat. So we gather the eggs from the waterfowl and bring them to local hatcheries." This year, the Lundbergs brought some area schoolchildren to the farm to help gather the 1,100 eggs. After incubating at the hatcheries for about 4 weeks, these eggs turn into ducklings. They're then banded, and released. In 20 years, the Lundbergs have released about 20,000 birds back into the wild.
For this family, sustainability means more than just organics, more than just being responsible stewards of the environment. It also means paying fair wages, and providing health benefits and bonus programs for their employees. As I heard over and over at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Foods Institute -- where I met Jessica, snapped her photo, and listened to her story -- sustainability is not just about the earth. It's about people, too.
"Rice isn't just rice," Jessica Lundberg says.
And she's right.
Recipe for Wehani Rice Salad with a trio of cherries, almonds, and mint
Meeting Jessica Lundberg inspired me to create this salad because cherries and chewy brown rice strike me as a completely natural fit. Since it's cherry season here in California, I went all out, incorporating red Garnets, yellow Raineers, and even dried Montmorency cherries into the mix. A touch of greenery, a few nuts, and a slick of almond oil finished things off beautifully.
1 cup wehani brown rice (available at major U.S. markets), or your favorite whole grain or wild rice
2 cups water
1/2 pound assorted fresh cherries, pitted, stemmed, quartered
1/2 cup dried cherries, halved
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 handful baby spinach leaves, rolled up into a cigar-shape and thinly sliced (chiffonade)
8 to 10 leaves fresh mint, cut into chiffonade (see above)
1-1/2 tablespoons almond oil (or other nut oil)
1/2 teaspoon raspberry or other fruit vinegar (or more, to taste)
Generous pinch coarse salt
Cook rice according to package directions either on the stovetop or in a rice cooker. Fluff with a fork and let cool completely.
Combine rice and all remaining ingredients in a large salad bowl. Stir gently to combine.