Abbotsford Rice Paddies Thriving
June 29, 2019
For five years Masa and Yukiko Shiroki have farmed rice paddies in Abbotsford. In the summer if you venture behind EcoDairy off Sumas Way, you’ll find the husband and wife team knee-deep in the flooded fields, weeding. “It’s day-in day-out weeding until September,” said Masa.
Although possible to weed the four acres using specialized machines imported from Japan, the Shiroki’s must also spend time hand planting rice in areas where the ducks and geese have feasted, leaving notable gaps.
“It’s part of the game” he said, explaining birds love eating the rice seed in the spring but once they migrate they’re not such a disturbance.
Started from seed in greenhouses, the seedlings are transplanted to the paddies by machine in late spring. Before planting, the field must be prepared.
“You flood the field until it’s mud soup. Then you till and plant,” he said. The machinery used for field preparation must be modified so it doesn’t get stuck in the mud.
These fields stay flooded for the entire growing season, which is why ducks and geese find the crops so attractive. The only rice paddies in Canada, this is also the most northerly rice production region in the world.
Sake Rice Field, Abbotsford
Masa said he grows rice in the Fraser Valley because it’s sustainable, he can control what goes into it, and he can educate local farmers about the industry.
Climate and rainfall in the Fraser Valley have helped rice production. After beginning with homegrown sake rice for their OSAKE premium sake winery on Granville Island, the Shiroki’s now also produce signature marinades and dressings from the sake by-product as well as organic rice for table rice. This year they’re also testing a crop of ancient rice, a type of ornamental rice.
Artisan Sake Winery, Granville Island
When harvest season comes in September, the rice is threshed with a specialized combine and processed similar to other grains.
Both sake and table rice are dried and dehusked in the same way. The table rice is then milled, packaged, and distributed to local retailers and the sake rice travels to the Artisan SakeMaker winery for fermentation.
Table Rice sold at Nature’s Pickin’s
In Abbotsford, Nature’s Pickin’s Market carries the OSAKE marinade and dressing as well as BC Rice Northern Lite table rice. At the market, the response has been positive to the hyper-local product.
Masa has a passion for sustainable rice growing because rice production is pertinent to the pressing global need for food security and food sovereignty. He is proud he can call his OSAKE and table rice 100 per cent Canadian-made and hopes other farmers will be inspired to pursue rice growing in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
Visit Artisan SakeMaker for more information.