Polyculture in rice growing

Polyculture is a type of agriculture that uses multiple crops in the same space, providing crop diversity in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems;  avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture.

Many rice growers in Asia grew rice in the early spring when the fields along the valley bottom were still flooded from the spring rain. The water helped control the weeds.  Over the years they  learned to create a complex polyculture with soybeans growing around the fields, fish in the fields as a sort of aquaculture and duck and geese eating weeds and insects before the fields were flooded.

This ecological science design of polyculture gives us an opportunity to use these diverse techniques and incorporate them into a new  adaptable way for us to inhabit the healthy Earth.

A visit the golden rice fields

Melotti Rice Fields

Melotti Rice Fields

Late September is the best time to visit the golden rice fields of Northern Italy. We traveled to Melotti Farm, who are celebrating their 30th year anniversary this year at Isola della Scala, Italy near Verona. Father Giuseppe and his wife Rosetta started the rice farm in 1986 and it continues to grow with his his three children: Luca, Gianmaria, and Francesca, Their sincere passion and pride was heart warming to witness. We were extremely lucky to observe the harvest process. We were like little children chasing around a massive-monster rice harvest machine in golden rice fields. Even the neighboring little boys came out to take a view. I wouldn't be surprised if they were dreaming about driving that very same machine one day. The cut and thrashed rice grains get delivered to their facility. Again, it is impressive to watch how they conduct the process beginning to end. Powerful, yet gentle and accurate drying machines operate constantly until the rice stabilizes to the required moisture ratio and then is transported to an enormous storage area. A milling machine starts to run and filters green rice, rice bran, broken rice, while selecting right grains for consumption. They then enter the final stage of pumping rice into each package. We were amazed to see getting fresh milled rice take only 10 minutes from the storage area.
 

Rice Education Center at Melotti

Rice Education Center at Melotti

We were once again astonished to see their education center how they keep their vision, mission and responsibilities for next generation. We found their philosophy, accomplishments, and their innovative ideas at an adjoining 30th year anniversary museum. Bravi-
 

Melotti Risotteria at Isola della Scala

Melotti Risotteria at Isola della Scala

They invited us for a lunch at their restaurant located in the center of Isola della Scala. We had visited a few times at their sister restaurant: Risotteria, located in New York City's lower East Side. One common ingredient is Melotti rice, but it was extremely interesting to taste the wonderful and different approach and flavors between the two counties. Each chef has carefully catered the cuisine to the palettes of the local communities. It touches a true farm to table experience in rice.
 

Bed & Breakfast at Melotti Farm

Bed & Breakfast at Melotti Farm

We stayed at the lovely "La Perla del Riso Melotti" Bed & Breakfast featuring rustic decoration encompassed in the setting of the golden rice field. This place is operated by one of the Melotti family members: Arianna. She was extremely thoughtful and made us feel relaxed. La Perla del Riso Melotti offers full experiences of rice atmosphere and culture.
 

Reticulated Sea

By  Davide Mantovani

Photo by  Davide Mantovani

Photo by Davide Mantovani

During the past few weeks, Venice has been sowing one of its main crops, rice. But now the planting has slowed, and the land has been flooded with water. The image above is a “reticulated sea”, as the rows of rice can be seen below the water.

The North of Italy, in the region called Veneto, rice cultivation was introduced in early 16th century by the Venetians. Because the rice crop has been sown for over 500 years, rituals and traditions of the rice culture here have a strong connection with the local Venetians. They were people dedicated to maritime commerce, but rice was also a major staple. The northern mainlands under the control of the Venetians have crops thanks to the ancient and extensively organized irrigation system, which is still on record in the archives of Venice.

Today the seeding happens by tractor, guided by satellite GPS. Under the funnel, the brown seeds are spread by a rotor that spins them around. This process takes place on a dry paddy field and when it is finished the rice field is immediately flooded to prevent flocks of birds from eating the freshly planted seeds. To prevent the rice from floating, the rice is pre-soaked in large tanks the day before planting occurs.

Modern tractors are still modeled on the ancient technique, when the rice was spread by the masterly hand of the “Risar” seed planter.

The Risar was a man of knowledge and experience because the best crop was dependent on his good work. On his left arm he kept rice seeds, and with his right hand he spread seeds every one or two steps with an arched motion.

In past they usually sowed in the flooded paddy.  The water let them control how well the paddy was smoothed. To see where the arch of seed had landed, two men called “spie” (literally “spies”) accompanied the Risar with long sticks so he could see where the last seeds had been spread. In this way, as they do now with GPS, it was ensured that the seeds were not wasted, and parts of the field were not left uncultivated.

Melotti Farm, Verona, Italy

Melotti Farm, Verona, Italy

The first day of sowing, the 25th of April, is dedicated to St. Mark the Evangelist, the Patron Saint of Venice. This day ensures good luck for the harvest. The Regent, or chief magistrate of the city of Venice, is also given a traditional Venetian dish; risotto I piselli or rice with peas. The dish is made with the rice of the lowlands and the peas of the hills. Of course, it is probably also combined with a good glass of wine.

Winnowing Basket

Korean Winnowing Basket: KEY (in Korean = winnowing basket) is a thin, flat wicker and bamboo woven basket. It gathers, separates and pours the grain. A winnowing basket  has been an important tool used in Korea for centuries. The flat and wide shape of the narrow backed basket is specifically designed to separate the grain from its husk.  When using an upward sweeping motion of the KEY, a wind tunnel is created, which causes  the heavier  grain to sit in the back of the basket, while the lighter debris, or husks escape into wind. This effect is called ‘winnowing’. In addition to separating grain, the KEY has an important ceremonial purpose.

The elders in Korea believe that during periods of severe drought, the KEY can bring rain.  The ceremony requires one of female villagers to go down to the stream, scooping and draining water from the KEY over and over, simulating rain falling from the sky in order to bring rain for their crops.