Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More than a grain of truth - Buying local rice

Most of what I eat on a day to day basis comes from my local farmers' market - lots of vegetables (potatoes are an almost daily staple), herbs, honey, olive oil, and (mostly during the summer months) fruit. But there are a few local foods I enjoy that have to be purchased elsewhere - like the mushrooms from Madisonville (about 40 miles from home); fruit from pick-your-own farms and roadside stands in the area; and the rice I eat pretty much on a daily basis. 

Actually, last year I was surprised and delighted to discover that Texas is a HUGE rice producer. I mean, we have our own rice festival and everything! Access to local rice, means I have an alternative to potatoes. And when you're eating local, alternatives are a beautiful thing! But when you don't purchase from the farmers' market, where you can talk to the farmer, you have to set some criteria for choosing a grower you trust. And THAT can be difficult.

For the last year, I've been purchasing all my rice in bulk at our natural food store. It's organic, grown in Texas, and distributed by Arrowhead Mills. I love that I can buy the rice in bulk, using my own containers so that I eliminate any waste. Plus, buying the rice at our natural food store means I'm supporting a local business. Right. So, it all sounds good, but I still had two concerns, 1) I didn't know how local the rice was (where exactly in Texas it was grown); and 2) Arrowhead Mills is a pretty decent size company that doesn't exactly specialize in rice.  And the food recalls in recent years have me questioning the safety of the food industry. Can I trust them like I do the farmers at my farmers market?

There is one other option I've found and tried on occasion - RiceSelect (Alvin TX - 130 miles away). It's a fairly small company, yet their rice is lauded nation-wide for its great taste.  My only problem has been that the rice is sold in plastic containers. Don't get me wrong, the containers are nice and can easily be reused or recycled (they're #1 plastic), but I eat A LOT of rice (about one of those containers a week) and well, what am I going to do with all that plastic, right? The Arrowhead Mills bulk rice just seemed the way to go. 

Then, I discovered, that RiceSelect will ship direct to me in bulk. Hmm. So I started to do some research. First, I emailed Arrowhead Mills to find out where in Texas the rice is grown (this would address one of my concerns about the rice I had been buying in bulk). Second, I emailed RiceSelect to find about the extent of packaging associated with their bulk rice. So what did I discover?

Three weeks later, I still haven't heard from Arrowhead Mills. But RiceSelect responded to my inquiry within a few hours telling me that the 25# of rice came wrapped in cellophane (which as we learned in December is compostable) and then shipped in a cardboard box. Hmm. That doesn't sound too bad. Plus it's actually $0.60 cheaper a pound that buying it from the health food store because RiceSelect doesn't charge for shipping. 

As you can tell from the photos, I ordered the 25# bag of rice from RiceSelect. In just a few days, as promised, it arrived in a cardboard box inside of which was a large cellophane bag containing the rice. Now, that's a lot of rice, so most of it is now sitting in the freezer until I need it, but so far I'm very happy with this choice. The rice is local, it comes from a small company that is responsive to its customers, and the packaging (perhaps no different that the packaging that it would be shipped in to the natural food store) is recyclable/compostable. 

If I knew a rice farmer, there would be no question from whom I would purchase my rice. But when our choices are somewhere "in the grey" we do what we can. Being mindful isn't a destination. It's a evolution of choices that we fine-tune as we learn more about ourselves and our environment. It takes time; it takes effort, but in the end, I believe we are better for it the journey. 

What challenges have you faced lately in your journey to be more mindful about food, consumption, the environment? 


Holly said...

just a quick question about you storing the rice in the freezer. do you have to store the excess in the freezer? i store mine inside the bag it comes in, in a bucket with a tight lid in my pantry. this is white rice of course. thanks for letting me know about texas grown rice. i will for sure be trying it out. i love rice! and thanks for your blog.

Beany said...

Texas should really grow everything seeing as it is practically its own country!

I learned that San Diego has no local source of hormone free, grass fed cow milk. Strauss is my option and the glass bottles are returnable, but I was a bit saddened by that news.

Heather @ SGF said...

Holly - Since there's so much of it (25# at a time), one of the ladies at the farmers' market recommended keeping it in the freezer until it was ready to use. She had bought some (though from a different company) and ended up having rice weevels (I think that's what she called them). Putting them in the freezer keeps them from hatching and causing a mess. I've never had trouble with rice before, but I don't want to take chances.

Also, rice is good at room temp for about 6 months. I should be able to eat it up by then, but this way (stored in the freezer) there's no question. It's always fresh.

Glad you are enjoying the blog. Go Texan! :)

Beany - You'd think we'd have everything, but alas, we don't. I miss avocados, mangos, and bananas (although we can grow bananas, it's just a matter of finding them).

No hormone free milk? You'd think for such a big area, there would be something. Keep asking around. Perhaps there's something out there and you just need to talk to the right person. Or you never know when one might start up. If there are more of you wanting it, someone will surely step up to the plate and service the need...

Holly said...

thanks heather! my parents are the wise's that sell eggs at the brazos valley farmer's market.

Heather @ SGF said...

Holly - :) I'm getting to know your parents well. In fact they are coming to my house tonight for dinner and a craft project. What a small world!