U.S. Rice Sustainability Message Makes a Big Splash at STEM Festival

USA Science and Engineering Festival 2018   click here to view video report
Apr 10, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC -- Last weekend, Mars Food joined 3,000 exhibitors here at the USA Science and Engineering Festival to highlight careers they offer in STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics) and to showcase their commitment to ag science and sustainability.  The company’s rice unit, Uncle Ben’s and Seeds of Change, were front and center.

Arkansas farmer Jim Whitaker manned the rice section of the large booth, engaging festival attendees of all ages to explain the basics of how rice is grown, and then getting into rice sustainability practices, water use, and more.  He used a small model of a rice check to demonstrate Alternative Wetting and Drying (AWD) techniques that he employs on his farm.  Unsurprisingly, the kids loved the big red button which, when pressed, made water shoot up out of the model, “irrigating” the field.

“We’re here helping to promote rice - showing people what we’re doing to spotlight water conservation, greenhouse gas reduction, and technology, and trying to inspire kids to consider a future in agriculture,” said Whitaker.

They may have come for the big red button and the splash zone, but they stayed for the information about rice farming.  Whitaker explained that rice is grown in the U.S. (a fact that surprised many booth visitors) and that rice fields are a home to waterfowl and wildlife year round.  Thousands of young people left the booth having learned that most of the rice they eat every day is grown in the U.S. using sustainable methods.

Whitaker recently received USA Rice’s first ever Sustainability Award and is a prime example of the U.S. rice industry’s growing role in the conservation and sustainability sphere.  His participation at the festival helped expose a new generation to the U.S. rice industry’s commitment to sustainability and introduced a largely urban coastal crowd to where their food comes from.

Farm-to-fork was another big theme at the Mars exhibit.  Caroline Sherman, vice president of corporate affairs at Mars Food North America, showed students and adults the difference between rice in various stages of milling displayed in bell jars.

A major goal of the Mars exhibit at the festival was to show young people agriculture’s important place in STEM fields.  “Mars is promoting careers in STEM and all the diverse opportunities that are available to kids across the country,” said Sherman.  “Mars has a variety of different careers that we offer in STEM, and plant science and sustainability are very much a part of that.”

The festival, sponsored by Mars, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Honda, and Chevron, among many others, gave the 350,000 visitors the chance to explore interactive exhibits on agriculture, aerospace, robotics, medical technology, and much more.  Other exhibitors participating in the Health and Medicine Pavilion of the expo included the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Health.