For rice farmer Lance Benson, the secret to great-tasting pot of rice is…soil. “If we can make the soil better, then the resulting crops are better,” he explains. “They produce a higher quality food.” Lance puts soil first on his 300-acre farm in Biggs, California, where he grows intensely flavorful Biodynamic Organic Short-Grain Brown Rice and Biodynamic Organic Sushi Rice for Lundberg Family Farms.
What is Biodynamic?
Biodynamic agriculture is an ecological approach that views the ideal farm as a self-sustaining organism. Like organic farmers, biodynamic farmers avoid synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In addition, biodynamic farmers strive to reduce the volume of imported resources (such as fertilizers) and maximize the potential of the farm’s own resources.
For Lance, that means rotating rice crops with cover crops that add more nitrogen to the soil. It also means bartering with his neighbors for a local source of organic fertilizer.
“The biodynamic model is based on an old European agrarian model,” he says. Farmers raised livestock, and the animals produced fertilizer for the crops. The crops fed the farmers and the animals. “It was a closed energy loop.”
Since Lance himself doesn’t raise livestock, he turned to his alma mater, California State University Chico, which runs an organic dairy nearby. Now, instead of buying fertilizer, Lance grows organic hay for the cows and, in turn, collects organic manure for his homemade biodynamic compost.
“I’m trying to reduce the size of my carbon footprint here and close the energy loop,” he explains.
Defeating Weeds, Saving Water and Winning Flavor
Biodynamic standards are set forth by , the world’s oldest ecological certification organization. In order to achieve biodynamic certification from Demeter, Lance had to take a local and low-input approach to weed control too.
Instead of relying on synthetic herbicides, Lance uses water and sunlight to control weeds. In the spring, he floods his fields and seeds the rice directly into deep water. The fields stay covered for approximately 30 days, allowing only the rice plants and certain aquatic weeds to flourish.
What happens next is a little dramatic. In the summer time, when local temperatures reach above 100, Lance drains the fields and allows the sun’s heat to kill the weeds. The rice plants get stressed out too, and they effectively go dormant for a time. He has to find the sweet spot—just enough sun to kill the weeds, but not so much heat that he loses his crop.
“It’s a fine line,” he admits. “If I go much further, I’m going to kill the rice. But, if I chicken out too soon, the weeds will come right back and it will all have been in vain.”
While it may be a bit harrowing for the farmer, this method uses less water than conventional rice-growing methods. Furthermore, Lance believes that this back-to-basics approach allows the “true flavor and essence of the plant variety” to shine.
“You might not think that there would be much difference, but people can take the biodynamic rice home and cook it and say ‘this tastes totally different’ than conventional or even organic rice.”
If you’d like to taste for yourself, look for Lundberg Biodynamic Organic Sushi Rice Lundberg Biodynamic Organic Short Grain Brown Rice in the bulk section of Whole Foods Market.