New Rice Rising

A soggy spot of ground prompts an experiment in rice farming.

By Frank Hyman

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An experiment in growing rice.Jason and Haruka expanded the 2010 crop to 1⁄2 acre. To accomplish this, they wanted to build ankle-high berms to create scores of paddies, each with the footprint of a pickup truck. They didn’t have a river, but they could flood the paddies from their pond to germinate the rice, and rainwater would fill the paddies sporadically over the summer. But it would take weeks of daunting work for the two of them to shovel up a few linear miles of berms. Fortunately, Jason and Haruka are part of a local group called Crop Mob, a social-media-driven flash mob that helps family farmers in exchange for dinner, experience, and fellowship. About 100 Crop Mobbers of all ages showed up on a sunny February day for an afternoon of muddy, barefoot work that felt like play. With shovels, rakes, and wheelbarrows, they shaped up almost a half-acre of rice paddies in one day.

Beyond rice, the Oatises also grow Asian varieties of herbs and vegetables, such as Japanese parsley, mizuna, daikon radishes, Thai bottle gourds, Japanese cucumbers, and sweet ‘Shishito’ peppers. Their greenhouse production features in-ground crops such as tomatoes, turmeric, and ginger. They bring a skillet to market so they can share samples with customers. They also have a 30-member community-supported agriculture operation (CSA) in winter and sell to restaurants year-round.

The Oatises believe in taking a philosophical approach to life and to farming—an approach that embodies the ebb and flow of nature. In summer, they have a strict rule of only doing farm work from dawn until they break for lunch. Lunch itself may take a pleasurable couple of hours. In the afternoon, they are free to read or go swimming. Some afternoons they do some nonfarm work; last year Jason built a porch at a leisurely pace. But they feel that spending every daylight hour working on the farm isn’t sustainable for their emotional and physical health. Jason says the afternoons-off policy has “made farming really enjoyable for us.” And their rice sales have made eating locally really enjoyable for their customers.

 

Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, December/January 2014

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