Seed to risotto: I visit the first rice farm in Maine

When I saw on the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) website that Ben Rooney, a Colby College grad, was beginning to farm rice in nearby Benton, I got excited. Not as excited as I was about finding heirloom apples, since that involves detective work, but almost as excited, and you should be too.

Ben Rooney shows us the rice paddies at Wild Folk Farm

Ben Rooney shows us the rice paddies at Wild Folk Farm

Why? Because Ben’s work on Wild Folk Farm, co-founded by David Gulak, owner of Meridians beer and wine store in Fairfield, is pioneering, literally. Although a few people have grown some rice in Maine, this is the first effort at making a go of it whole hog. And Ben is hoping to get his methods down well enough to teach others how to grow the crop all over the state.

Last year's paddie holds promise for this year's crop

Last year’s paddy holds promise for this year’s crop

“Maine has all these abandoned cranberry bogs and other wet places that would be ideal to grow rice in,” Ben said yesterday, Earth Day, appropriately enough, when my husband and I visited. Wind kicked up and let us know Spring in Maine is long-coming, but we got a good idea of what Ben and his cohorts are trying to accomplish at Wild Folk. Turns out the soil is mostly clay, which is ideal for this endeavor.

The soil between rice paddies will be used to grow other things, like hazelnuts. The water attracts ducks and frogs, which fertilize the rice naturally. Although Ben hasn’t produced much rice to eat, (most of it is seed rice for other farmers), he hopes to make a machine this summer that will take the hulls off, producing rice fit to sell and cook. My eyes lit up when he mentioned experimenting with an Italian Arborio rice variety…risotto, anyone?

There is much, much more to know, and I suggest you get on Ben’s Indiegogo site to see his vision of rice farming in Maine and its future. The Libra Foundation gave them a grant to help things along, but your donation to the crowd-sourcing effort will help even more.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/maine-rice-project/

And for a longer, in-depth article from last year, see the great Mary Pols’ write up at:

http://www.pressherald.com/2014/06/08/two-maine-farmers-try-a-new-crop-rice/

 

Kate Cone

About Kate Cone

Kate Cone has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, is a freelance writer and the author of "What's Brewing in New England: A Guide to Brewpubs and Microbreweries," published by Downeast Publications in 1997. She is currently updating What's Brewing with a second book about New England craft beer to be published in 2015.