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Maine Rice Project
Past and present farming experience:
The Maine Rice Project is based in Fairfield, Maine. It was founded in 2015 by Ben Rooney. The Maine Rice Project’s primary goal is to get more people in Maine growing and eating local, sustainably grown rice and other grains. We believe that integrated polyculture grains farming can increase profitability of small farms in Maine, while supporting the surrounding ecosystems and waterways.
The Maine Rice Project at Wild Folk Farm is the only commercial rice operation in Maine, and one of the largest in the Northeast. While Wild Folk has worked well as an initial location to pioneer rice growing in Maine and validate this as a genuine opportunity, the site is constrained by several factors that make it difficult to continue doing the research needed to optimize this polyculture paddy technology. One of the important takeaways from our experience at Wild Folk has been the realization that an effective paddy system is fundamentally site-specific, meaning that system design must take into account characteristics of the site where it is to be located. Designing a good rice paddy begins with selecting a good site.
Maine-grown rice is already commercial viable. We have seen a rapid rise in the demand for our rice, both from food and seed customers, in the last two years. The 2017 harvest was our largest yet, at 3000 pounds. Most of accounts, at restaurants, co-ops, and from individual sales, are requesting year-long supplies of rice, however demand has been so strong that by the end of 2017 we will be out of rice. Demand has significantly outpaced supply at this point, and the market is calling for increased production.
Why grow rice in Maine? Simply put, Maine has considerable wetland and clay-rich acreage, much of it on farmland that is quite fertile, but unusable for most forms of agriculture. Rice is a crop that grows well in these conditions, and thus could substantially increase the economic productivity of these farmlands. Many people think that Maine’s climate is too cold for rice growing. This is simply not the case. Rice has been grown for hundreds of years in Northern Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, and throughout eastern Europe in climates much the same, if not colder than Maine’s.
Counties being considered:
- Androscoggin County
- Cumberland County
- Hancock County
- Kennebec County
- Knox County
- Lincoln County
- Penobscot County
- Sagadahoc County
- Waldo County
Types of enterprises considered:
Total Acres Desired:
- Doesn't matter
- Short-Term Lease
- Long Term Lease
- Lease with Option to Buy
- Work to Own (Gradual Transfer of Responsibility & Farm Assests)
- Joint Venture with eventual sale
I am interested in farms with Conservation Easements:
Here is a summary of the vision for my farming future and/or business plan:
The Maine Rice Project recently received a grant to expand our rice growing operation. We are looking for help finding new sites to expand to.
For the past five years we have grown rice at Wild Folk Farm in Benton. During that time we have shown that rice can be grown in Maine, and that there is a market for it. We have expanded from one small experimental rice paddy, to 2/3 of an acre in rice paddy cultivation, producing 3,000 pounds of rice annually. We have learned a lot, and at this point demand for our rice is surpassing what we can supply at our farm.
This summer we are searching the state for new locations on which to build a bigger, better rice paddy system. We are looking to partner with existing farms interested in incorporating rice paddies into their farm operations and/or leasing land to grow rice. The rice paddy system we are planning to build will be in the range of 1-4 acres, and site work is expected to begin spring of 2019.
We will design and build paddy systems (fully funded by MRP) based on individual site characteristics, working with farm owners to ensure designs integrate well into their current operations. One of the advantages of growing rice in Maine is that rice paddies work best in poorly drained, clay rich soil, of which we have an abundance, and which do not typically suit growing vegetables and other crops.
A good rice paddy site will need to have the following basic characteristics:
1) Clay Soil
2) Uphill pond with good capacity, or place to dig one
3) slight slope for water management
4) Zone 4b or warmer
If you have land that fits these characteristics and are interested in growing rice, please be in touch!!
For more information visit: wildfolkfarm.com
Ben Rooney and Asher Woodworth
Maine Rice Project