Every year my family and I gather wild rice. Here in Northern Wisconsin there are well over 50 lakes with rice growing on them. The amount of rice available to harvest in good year will exceed 100's of tons if not more. There is a small but dedicated sub culture around the harvesting of wild rice, most of which are made up of the varies bands of Ojibwe that live here in the area. But any resident of the state can get a permit to harvest so there are non-native folks gathering rice as well.
This tradition was started with the Native or First Nations people before contact with Europeans. Wild rice is and was a major food stuff for peoples living in the area in which it grows. During the fur trade era, wild rice among other foods and goods was a major trade item. Today it remains an important part of life, not only for food for the families that gather it but by selling some of it too. Folks can supplement their income pretty well if the year is a good one. I also want to point out that a lot of the rice is shared with the elderly and extended family who cannot get out to gather.
It's a season to work hard but also celebrate. As the warm days start to wane and the cooler fall weather sets in, winter is on the way.
Once we find a few lakes that seem to be ripe and ready to harvest, we make plans to meet up with friends who will be out ricing. We spend a day or two getting the canoe ready, the push pole, the rice knockers, camping supplies/gear and food. This year we camped out with some friends for a few nights on a nice little lake in the State Forest. Something to keep in mind is that Wisconsin is about 15,000 sq miles bigger than England, there's a lot of land. The northern half of the state is a mix of National Forest, State Forest, County Forest, and private lands, much of which is owned by the timber industry. When we go ricing we have to travel between 60-100 miles, this is pretty normal for us, so it makes sense to camp out for a few days while the ricing/weather is good. Here's a link to Wisconsin's info
. and here's one on Wild Rice.
We harvest the rice by pushing the canoe through the rice beds with a long pole then grabbing the long plants with slender sticks called "knockers" and swiping the ripe grains off the stocks, the grains falls into the canoe. After the day out on the lake we dry the rice in the sun, then run the rice through a series of home made machines. Like all grain, the seed has a husk that need to be threshed, to help with that process we heat the rice up in a "scorcher" (propane or wood fired) then into a threshing machine (rubber barrel with rubber flaps inside) then after the husk is loosened the rice goes into a winnowing machine (fan/wind and screens) that separates the grain from the husk or chaff. the yield works out to be about half the green weight to finish dry weight rice. In total we got about 400 lbs in 2 1/2 days which will set us up with about 200 lbs of finished rice. I'll take some photos of this process when we are running our rice through next week.
|the "crew" getting ready to head out|
|remember the story of the guy with the axe up on the roof? |
|Me poling the canoe|
|this was about 200lbs of rice.|