Wild rice is a misnomer, as it is not actually rice, but rather an aquatic grass similar to corn. This tall, aquatic grass has long blades that grow best in the shallow waters of the Great Lakes region of the US (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio). Wild rice is the only grain native to North America and comes in a myriad of colors in the darker hues—green, tan, brown.
The Anishinaabeg people—one of the rice’s American Indian custodians—also call wild rice Manoomin, which literally means “the good grain”. Other tribes in the Algonquin linguistic group such as the Menominee and the Sioux also care for the rice.
Manoomin tastes richly complex with subtle earthy notes of mushrooms and wood smoke. Manoomin is harvested today using many of the original gathering traditions. In pairs, the Anishinaabeg canoe through the autumnal fields, bending the blades of grass over the canoes and beating the seeds from the grass with their paddles. On a successful day of harvest, a pair can gather up to two hundred and fifty kilos of manoomin. Once harvested, the seeds are sun dried or parched over a slow fire and then threshed and winnowed in the wind—to ensure that the husks blow away.
The beauty of manoomin is its easy cultivation, as the rice grows naturally, with no need to be planted or tended, and provides a bountiful harvest that can be stored through the winter. Unfortunately, the existence of wild rice is threatened in three major ways. Firstly, biotechnology and the genetic manipulation of the wild rice genome jeopardize the rice’s originality. Secondly, almost 95% of the “wild” rice sold in the US today is grown in paddies, primarily in California, where American Indian traditions are not observed. Lastly, the recreational zoning and damming of lakes as well as agricultural runoff are all leading to the rapid devastation of the natural ecosystems of the Great Lakes and Minnesota lakes.
The Slow Food Presidium strives to save the livelihood of the manoomin. With Presidium backing, the manoomin is harvested in the remote lakes of northern Minnesota on the White Earth Reservation, which is inhabited by the Anishinaabeg people. The Presidium works in conjunction with the existing projects established by Native Harvest as part of the White Earth Land Recovery Project to promote consumption of traditionally harvested and prepared wild rice.
Production Area: Great Lakes Region, Lakes of Northern Minnesota
To view the presidium brochure, click here.
Presidium producers sell their rice via Native Harvest:
White Earth Land Recovery Project
607 Main Avenue
Callaway, MN 56521