ARBUCKLE, CA -- Last week, Sun Valley Rice Company and USA Rice hosted two full days of farm and mill tours for foodservice professionals including food writers, registered dieticians, collegiate and professional sports nutritionists, representatives from Aramark, and chefs from the Aperium Hotel Group.
The tours began with a brief introduction on California rice and Sun Valley by their Director of Communications Brett LaGrande and transitioned to a tour of the grounds and state of the art milling and sprouting facility led by Sun Valley’s quality assurance manager and operations manager. From there attendees were shuttled to a field in harvest where they learned about harvesting rice firsthand and had the opportunity to ride (and take a few selfies) in an active combine with area farmer, Bert Manuel.
“It was great to have chefs, nutritionists, and the food service people out to California,” said Manuel. “These tours give the farmer the chance to tell his story on how we raise the crop and how it gets to the end user, and the end users come away with a very personal experience they can use to communicate the farm to fork story. They asked great questions on planting, growing, harvest, and delivery of the rice, and they shared with me their thoughts on food trends and ways they recommend the use of rice in everyday diets for their clients and customers. It was truly a win-win.”
Following the field tour, attendees were taken to the Foothill Warehouse where they sampled four varieties of rice, ate lunch, and concluded their day with a tour of the rice dryer.
“These farm and mill tours are a great opportunity to connect with people who work in the food industry and can directly promote the use and benefits of U.S.-grown rice,” said Brett LaGrande. “Additionally, the tours allow USA Rice to introduce itself as a resource for recipe and menu collaboration and foodservice sourcing, as well as marketing and promotions to help incorporate more U.S. rice on menus and tell the story of the ingredients.”
All attendees left the tour with a better understanding of the work that goes into producing rice and a unique outlook on U.S.-grown rice. “I will be thinking about this rice farm tour 15 years from now,” said tour attendee and registered dietician Patricia Bannan. “Actually being out in the field, riding the combine, and meeting the farmers is so much more powerful as a learning experience than sitting in a seminar hearing how rice is grown from a Power Point presentation.”
Prior to the tours, USA Rice hosted dinners for tour attendees at prominent Sacramento restaurants that featured a U.S. rice focused menu. USA Rice Millers’ Association Chairman Alex Balafoutis and California Rice Commission CEO Tim Johnson were on hand to provide a history of rice production in California, share the local farmers’ record on sustainability and commitment to conservation, and discuss industry trends and challenges.
USA Rice’s Foodservice Farm and Mill Tour program was relaunched last year with fruitful tours in Arkansas, and with last week’s successful California installment, plans are already underway for the next round of tours in another rice growing region. The program provides USA Rice an opportunity to showcase sustainably-grown U.S. rice and the hard-working men and women who make it all possible, and improves participants understanding of every aspect of U.S. rice, leading to increased use of the mighty grain.