Daily Herald
Nutritious rice is farmed around the world
By Hope Babowice | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 8/18/2010 12:00 AM

Check these out

The Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville suggests these titles on rice:

• "Biography of Rice," by John Zrouk

• "Rice is Life," by Rita Golden Gelman

• "Rice," by Pam Robson

• "One Gram of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale," by Demi

• "The Roly-Poly Rice Ball," by Penny Dolan

A student in Mrs. Bowle's class at Matigian PreSchool in Libertyville asked: "Where does rice come from?"

Rice is quickly becoming the largest grain crop in the world. Most rice farms are in Asia, but there are large rice farms in India, the United States and even Africa.

Rice is a green grasslike plant with feathery tips that cover the rice seed. Rice is very nutritious and is enjoyed by nearly two thirds of the world's population. Rice is so healthy that it's often used to feed starving people in times of drought or natural disaster. You can help feed rice to hungry people for free by logging onto the website freerice.com sponsored by Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Programme.

Rice is typically grown in water. Seedlings are planted, and within four months the sprouts mature into a stalky mound with many green blades. During the growing season, farmers intentionally flood the fields and construct small levees to hold the water around the rice plants. Before the harvest, farmers drain the fields. Collecting the rice means driving a combine through the fields. The machine strips the seeds from the plant and the rice plants remain in the ground. Fields are flooded a second time to create a watery marsh that becomes a home to migrating water fowl. During years where the farmer rotates the rice crops, the fields are planted with soy or turned into crawfish farms.

Many of the rice farms in the United States are situated along the Gulf of Mexico. While the oil spill along the Gulf coast this spring hasn't harmed this year's rice crop, the threat of hurricanes can be a real concern to farmers.

"Strong hurricanes can bring salt water inland and have been known to damage rice fields, so the effects of the oil spill are yet to be seen," said Veronica Vargas of the Houston-based U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Want to learn more about rice? The association offers math, science, health and social studies lessons that focus on the subject of rice and rice farming on its website, riceromp.com.