Minnesota: In September, Ardy McCradie and her sons joined dozens of Ojibwe tribal members on the White Earth Reservation in the annual tradition of harvesting wild rice. This year offered a bumper crop: McCradie's sons alone took in 1,028 pounds of wild rice in three boatloads
“I’ve never seen anything like Monday in my whole life,” she said. “Everyone was coming in with boatloads (of wild rice). I’m sure glad I was here.”
The brothers were back at it Tuesday morning. They expected to bring in another three boats full of green wild rice.
Ardy stopped ricing about 30 years ago, when she would collect wild rice with her sister. Fifty to 60 pounds of rice back then was a good take. “If somebody came in with a full boat, you were so proud of them,” she said.
Mike Swan from the White Earth Reservation said the Ojibwa Indians settled in the area because of the wild rice. They've been harvesting it since.
“Originally, our tribe was on the East Coast,” he said. “Because we were told to go to a place where food grows on water, that’s where wild rice is. So, we migrated here. This year is a good year, but it’s late like any agricultural crop. It’s late because of the cool summer we’ve had.” The typical rice season runs from mid-August to the end of September.
The season started on Tamarac Wildlife National Refuge, with multiple lakes that offer the perfect conditions for wild rice. When the refuge was established in 1938, part of it was on the White Earth Reservation. Tribal members have priority privileges on their portion of the refuge.
Ricing is only good in water about four feet deep. The water needs to be clear, and there can’t be boat traffic on the lake for the rice to grow. Each year the tribal biologist determines how many boats can be put on the water to harvest.
“They then have a lottery in White Earth," said Lowell Deede, Tamarac's wildlife biologist. "For lakes that have more than five boats — for example Rice Lake had 35 boats out there — members that are drawn for ricing then select a lake chairman.”
The chairman determines which beds are ready for harvest, because ricing a bed too early could ruin the crop.
This year has been a good year. Early in the harvest, the White Earth Reservation had already met its quota of rice purchased — 80,000 pounds. It's sold to employees and elders, donated to powwows, and shared with the schools and tribal programs. Individual ricers use the profits to supplement their incomes.
There is also an order form on the the White Earth Web site where people can order wild rice.
Swan said ricing is declining because there are not enough young ricers. The average age of harvesters is 45-50. However, a wild rice camp is teaching young people to rice to keep the tradition alive.
During the ricing process, there are two people, one paddling and one sitting in the canoe to tap the rice into the canoe.
In four hours an experienced ricer will harvest about 400-500 pounds of rice. An inexperienced one will get 150-200 pounds.
After the people are done harvesting the rice, the remainder is eaten by waterfowl.
About six people process the rice once it comes in off the lake. The water is taken off the rice, the hulls are thrashed off, dust and sticks are removed, and finally only the finished product -- the seeds -- remain.
Properly processed rice should cook up in 20 minutes.
If the rice isn’t processed correctly, it will be mush.
Processed correctly, rice can last up to 20 years.