Rice Rice, Baby

Odds are your sushi staple originated in Sacramento.

The farmlands around Sacramento are famous for their produce, dairy and rice. Yes, rice. A half-million acres (four-times the size of Lake Tahoe) tended by 2,500 farmers, according to a story that ran recently in Sactown Magazine.

“Not only does nearly every bite of sushi rice in the United States come from California, but almost all of it—97 percent, to be exact—comes from the Sacramento Valley.”

One of those producers, family-run Montna Farms in Yuba City, has been growing rice for nearly 50 years, also becoming one of the few American rice growers skilled enough to produce the Japanese rice favored by the world’s top sushi chefs, including those at Nobu.

But rice is a tropical plant, right? So how the heck did it get to sunny and dry California?

“Rice was first successfully planted just up the road from the Montna ranch in Biggs back in 1908, and by 1920 about 162,000 acres were in production in the Sacramento Valley. Rice, however, wasn’t the main focus of the Montnas’ operation at the time (in contrast, they now have about 5,000 acres in rice). The family also ran a general store, cafe and gas station at the ranch, which they dubbed Dingville. The town got its name from the hobos of the Depression. Nicknamed ‘dings,’ they lived in a makeshift camp nearby and came over looking for work.

“Over time, rice grew to be enough of their annual crop—the family also grew peaches, grapes, apricots and plums—for Dutch to build a top-of-the-line rice dryer in 1950. As fate would have it, this dryer, now an antique, is one of the secrets to the quality of the family’s Japanese-style rice.”

Read more about rice’s journey to become an unexpected, yet successful California commodity here.

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