SSince 2016, USA Rice’s Foodservice Farm & Mill Tour program has played a central role in how we tell our story to the critical world of catering. It creates a bridge from the field to the plate, connecting our producers and millers with caterers who are so unique as to convey the history of U.S. rice to the consumer. Over the years, he has embraced dozens of influential chefs, writers and industry professionals, inspiring them to be creative and passionate about food, as well as expanding their understanding and appreciation of rice grown in the United States.
The program began in Arkansas when we took a few chefs to a field and windmill rice mill in Jonesbar. The following year the tour went to Arbuckle, California, to the fields, dryers and factory of the Sun Valley Rice, and we expanded the number of attendees to include nutritionists representing Division I NCAA sports programs.
The following year we became even more responsive to the chefs ’interest in aromatic varieties. We drove to Saunbrecher Farm in the Rhine, Louisiana, to see and smell the jasmine rice grown by the brothers, and then drove to the Falcon rice factory and the Supreme Rice Mill in Crowley.
We’ve also added a sustainability perspective by sending everyone to the Grosse Savanne Lodge on Lake Charles so they can see firsthand the connection between rice and waterfowl habitat.
In 2019, we returned to culinary roots in Mississippi, taking chefs to dryers and farms in Washington County and to the Mars Foods Mill in Greenville. We’ve added a TV-style culinary contest for Viking Culinary School chefs with great prizes and bragging rights.
But then the pandemic hit, and the reality of taking chefs to farms and factories in 2020 became virtually impossible. So we moved on to the virtual tour, which has several advantages besides not soiling the boots.
The turn of the pandemic
First, we were able to “transport” visitors to geographically diverse locations. We visited fields in Illinois and California and returned to the Sun Valley Rice Factory. Secondly, we can reach many more catering professionals with the help of video – a tour of the mill and trips on combine harvesters severely limit the number of participants. Third, we can see more of the process – from field preparation to planting, through harvesting, drying, shredding and packaging.
We also added a host tour. This is chef Jerome Grant, nominated by James Byrd, loves to talk about rice grown in the US. (By the way, Grant went on our 2019 tour of Mississippi if you were interested.)
Participants in the USA Rice Outlook 2021 conference received a preview of the video of the tour, but now it is available to everyone. Digital catering advertising directs chefs and decision-makers to videos on our special catering website (www.thinkrice.com/farmtour), and you can also see it on the USA Rice YouTube page.
We can’t wait for catering visitors to come out into the field again, and we plan to do so in 2022. But in the meantime, I’m thrilled that we were able to maintain an important program and even expand our reach. Visitors and viewers return what they have learned in the program, to their restaurants and menus, to their hometowns, to social networking platforms and to their fan bases outside, and it allows them to have a good time.
https://www.ricefarming.com/departments/rice-federation/usa-rice-pivots-brings-farms-and-mills-to-chefs/ US Rice turns around, bringing farms and mills to the chef