I had the privilege of spending a full day on a tour of Lundberg Family Rice Farm in Richvale, CA. Here’s what I discovered about how this family-owned business takes rice from farm to table!
Hellooooooo again! It’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted here on the blog and it’s good to be back. Life has ratcheted up from busy to bonkers as my freelance food and nutrition writing career has taken me in new directions.
One such direction: the opportunity to occasionally travel on press trips. Last week I had the chance to go to Chico, CA for an insider’s look at Lundberg Family Farms, the rice giant whose products you may know and love at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and tons of other stores around the country. Owner Bryce Lundberg and his daughter Brita, along with several other members of the Lundberg family, graciously invited me and several other food writers on a day and a half of in-depth education about all things rice, rice cakes, rice syrup, and more. If you ever wanted to know, well, anything about the world’s most popular grain, they’re your folks. And now, to a much smaller degree, so am I.
Here’s a little bit about what I learned on my Rice 101 tour.
Kicking things off in a party bus
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post by mentioning possibly the coolest (and funniest) aspect of my time in Chico. To transport the six of us writers and two accompanying PR ladies around the Chico area, the Lundbergs chartered–wait for it–a party bus. As we climbed in to head to dinner the first evening, one of my fellow writers jokingly called it “the world’s most awkward bachelorette party,” since here we were, a group of total strangers piling onto a bus tricked out with neon lights and a mini bar.
But hey, but the end of our 36 hours together we got to know each other pretty well. We were practically like…
After a lovely dinner at The Red Tavern in Chico, which featured Lundberg mini rice cakes as part of a charcuterie board as well as some delicious black rice as the base for a cod entree, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the day ahead.
Touring the farm
Our morning kicked off with an informative presentation about life on the rice farm–the company’s history as a pioneer in the organic farming movement, the fact that each season comes with different tasks and priorities, and how Lundberg is committed to providing a habitable environment for the waterfowl population of northern California, among other cool facts.
From there, we headed to the greenhouse, where one of Lundberg’s in-house botanists showed us the painstaking process of creating new rice varieties. Believe it or not, this is done by hand! The botanist carefully snips off the hulls of each rice grain in a “panicle” (AKA a “branch” of rice)–like the one below.
After snipping the rice grains open, the botanist pollinates each one with particles from a different breed of rice. The panicle gets covered for about 10 days and then, voila! a new breed is ready for planting.
Next up, we headed out to the rice fields for a two-part experience. We first had the chance to meander through a field that grows multiple rice types to snip off individual panicles, creating our own unique bouquet. Since Lundberg Farms grows a total of 17 types of rice and quinoa, from short-grain to long-grain and from white to red to black, it wasn’t hard to assemble an assortment with variations in color and texture.
Part two of the experience in the fields was participating in the harvest! October is rice harvesting season in northern California, and our small part to play (which I kept thinking would have absolutely thrilled my sons when they were little) was to ride in the big yellow combine as it threshed the heck out of the ripe rice grains.
The real surprise here: the inside of the combine was super cushy and comfortable. I had no idea modern combines have A/C and internal technology that practically looks like the inside of a military jet cockpit.
There was one more quick stop before lunch: a visit to the drying silos, where the rice is (you guessed it) dried and stored.
We even stepped inside one of the giant structures, but I must confess all I could think of was the scene in Witness where the villain gets killed from being trapped inside a silo as corn suffocates him. Still, wow! It’s a really impressive operation.
The Lundbergs then treated us to a lovely lunch at one of their homes overlooking the rice fields. Afterward, for a breather, we even spent an hour with a relaxing paint-and-sip guided paint activity! (No picture of this–I promise you don’t want to see my “art.”)
Finally it was time for the final stop of the tour: a walk-through of the rice cake production facility. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera on this portion of the tour, but suffice it to say, it was super interesting, much like an episode of How It’s Made.
We watched rice cakes shuttle their way from blank canvases on the production line all the way to flavor-infused, prettily-packaged sleeves ready to hit store shelves. We also discovered that 95% of Lundberg’s waste goes to renewable uses and that they pay close attention to best practices for employee ergonomics.
To cap off the day, we were treated to a dinner of the most delicious arancini rice balls I’ve ever tasted, plus chicken over wild rice and a coconutty rice pudding for dessert. Yum!
As a whole, the day was a great way to experience farming up close and personal, and a meaningful reminder of the fact that food comes from real people working real land. And for me, it was meaningful relationship-building with a company whose values I respect and whose products I really enjoy.
Favorite Rice Recipes
Finally, I can’t finish things off without some favorite rice recipes of my own! If you’re looking for some tasty ways to use rice from Lundberg Family Farms (or any other brand), check out these options: