from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Rice: A New Crop for New England?

Here in Burlington, Deborah’s test features rice grown using water from three sources: Municipal water, Winooski River water, and water from a nearby pond. After the rice is harvested and tested in late September, we will know if the rice has any contamination from surface water.

In the backyard of our offices in Burlington, VT, you will find our test garden, where Deborah Miuccio tests products we sell or innovations we hope to bring to market.

During the gardening season, it’s fascinating to see all the tests in progress, including Grow Bags, vegetable supports and Tomato Success Kits. This year, one of the more unusual tests involves three kiddie pools. Each pool is filled with soil and what looks to be a lush crop of tall, green grass.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that it’s not grass, but rice, a grain that thrives in boggy soil. What’s the point?

A lot of the land in Vermont’s Champlain Valley is too wet for conventional crops. Could it be used to grow rice? How would the crop be affected by surface runoff and periodic flooding from the Winooski River?

These are the questions being asked by Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap, who wants to build more resilient food and energy systems with local capital. He got interested in rice when he heard about farmer Erik Andrus, who has started growing rice at Boundbrook Farm near Vergennes, VT. “The heavy soil, the poor drainage and excess rainfall have all been detrimental to our efforts to grow various dryland crops over the years,” he says. “But for rice, each of those disadvantages becomes an advantage.”

Vermont is a good place for other reasons, too. “With accessible government, an economy dominated by small locally owned businesses and unifying values, Vermont is providing a model and a map for a more sustainable state economy,” Raap says.

Erik, who has lived in Japan and learned about growing rice in northern climates, believes rice might become a viable crop for New England farmers and this test will help pave the way.

David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    September 10, 2012    

    Question, how much rice do you get from a kiddie pool? I would love to grow some for the novelty but I also want to get enough for a few meals….. Thanks!

  2. September 10, 2012    

    We don’t know yet, but we don’t expect a lot. Harvest is later this month, we think. Our goal in using the pools is to find out how/if the crop is affected by different water sources. -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

  3. Anonymous
    September 10, 2012    

    I hear you…. just curious… I like to plant odd things, keeps the neighbors on their toes!! ;) Thanks!

  4. September 11, 2012    

    Fabulous! I’ll have to keep checking in to see what your harvest was like. We’ve been playing with the idea of doing the same thing on the west coast.

  5. giuliana
    September 11, 2012    

    What a great project! Would it be possible to experiment on a city terrace, in Rome,Italy for example?
    Keep up the good work
    giuliana

  6. Diane P.
    September 11, 2012    

    Small ideas can make big changes. Good work!

  7. Anonymous
    October 5, 2012    

    Do you think we can plant rice in a vlei area for food security in an impoverished community? If so I have the right community, and a large scale vlei(currently being used for dumping)

  8. sean
    October 6, 2013    

    Rice yeilds have reached above 7000 pounds per acre in the last few decades, but if i understand correctly that number is based on 2 plantings per acre. An I correct in my understanding? If so is the growinging season in northern new england going to lend itself to a cost effective commerical production of rice? In any event, i do like the fact that people are pushing the envolope in areas of human endevor that may prove profitable to mankind, even if the end benifit is only reaped by home gardeners.

  9. Anna Thomas
    July 26, 2014    

    I am wondering how this turned out? I want to grow backyard rice in North Dakota and it is hard to find info on cold climate rice.

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