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An agricultural legacy thrives in the Golden State

More than 95 percent of California's rice grows within 100 miles of the state Capitol.


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Did you know that more than 95 percent of California's rice grows within 100 miles of the state Capitol? That makes the Sacramento Valley the heart of the state's thriving rice business. Thanks to some creative farmers, chefs, and a few brewmasters, too, people are changing the way we think of rice … one grain at a time.

Rice is the most widely consumed grain in the world and some of the best rice is being produced right in our own backyard. Cool nights and warm days make the Sacramento Valley the most ideal place to grow more than 500,000 acres of some of the world's finest grains. That's not news to Charlie Matthews. He and his family are responsible for farming more than 1,000 acres of Calrose rice in the Sacramento Valley.

"The thing that always interests me as a farmer is growing something every year. This ground is always growing something and that's extremely rewarding as a farmer," he said.

From the fields, the rice is taken to a West Sacramento mill where it is ushered through a series of sorting machines that separate the kernels encased in a hull. The rice is then sent on its way through a multi-faceted milling process that cleans, polishes and grades each and every kernel that passes through. The growing, milling and marketing of rice is a $500 million industry in California.

And while California rice growers produce one of the highest quality crops in the world, they also simultaneously provide a vital habitat for millions of local and migrating water birds. California's rice fields have become a critical link in the annual migration of millions of ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl. After harvest, the rice fields provide these birds with wintertime food and sanctuary.

"During harvest, rice goes through so fast there's a lot of rice that goes through the machine. And I can't get every single kernel. So when I'm all done here and it's flooded, birds fly over and they're going to stop by because they know there's food here. And it's just kind of like a buffet table," said Matthews.

Today, California farms produce a variety of short- and medium-grain rice used in a variety of ways, including one of the most widely recognized uses-- sushi. In fact, every piece of sushi made in the United States uses California rice.

And what goes better with sushi than a little sake? Often known just as "rice wine," sake has become a favorite of those looking for the perfect accompaniment to sushi and at the top of everyone's list as the best is Gekkeikan. Back in 1637, Gekkeikan was established in the tiny town of Fushimi, Japan--a place famed for its water and rice. As it turns out, those were exactly the two reasons that Folsom was selected for the U.S. Gekkeikan brewery. Today, Gekkeikan brings the newest technologies to a 2,000-year-old brewing process at its state-of-the-art brewery.

So whether you like it in sushi, sake or just by itself, there are a lot of reasons California rice is nice for just about any meal. And as long as we keep enjoying it, farmers across the Sacramento Valley will keep growing one of nature's most important gifts and one of the state's most prized agricultural legacies.

For more information about Gekkeikan, visit www.gekkeikan-sake.com.


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