Thanks to Lundberg Family Farms for sponsoring my visit to their farm. While this post is sponsored by them, all opinions are my own!
It’s no secret that I’m passionate about all things local, sustainable, and organic. I firmly believe that healthy, delicious food — preferably produced locally or organically and in a sustainable manner — should be available to everyone.
So, when the good folks at Lundberg Family Farms invited me and five other food bloggers to spend a day with them to experience a rice harvest first hand, you know I jumped at the chance!
Lundberg Family Farms began 1937, when Albert and Frances Lundberg — and their four sons, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan, and Homer — moved from Nebraska to California. Truly family-owned and operated, Lundberg Family Farms has dedicated themselves to producing the highest quality rice and rice products for over 75 years … all while respecting and sustaining the earth. Today, the third and fourth generation members of the Lundberg family still maintain their family heritage by using eco-friendly farming methods to produce wholesome, healthy rice products while striving to improve and protect the environment for generations to come.
Our trip began with a flight to Sacramento, then a 90-minute drive to our hotel in Chico, CA. Once here, we were treated to a special dinner at Red Tavern, a restaurant known for utilizing fresh, locally-grown, seasonal, and organic produce and meats. For this dinner, Red Tavern’s chef incorporated a number of Lundberg products into our meal, and the results were delicious … as was the local wine being poured!
But, the best part of this dinner? Being joined by Bryce Lundberg, a third-generation member of the family farm, his wife Jill, and their son Lars and his fiancé. Bryce told us many stories about growing up as a Lundberg and working on the farm — and all were hilarious. Trust me … he’s quite a character! Jill also plays a large part in the family business as she leads the Lundberg Family Council, which aims to support and encourage relationships among all generations of their family — whether they’re part of the family business or not.
From the minute we met the Lundberg’s, it was evident that family truly plays a large part in their family farm … so much so that when Bryce and Jill asked if we had any questions at the end of our truly lovely evening, I asked whether I could become a part of their family too!
After a lovely night of sleep, I awoke eager to get the farm … and after a short drive from our hotel to Richvale, a tiny town at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the Sacramento Valley (population 244!), we were there.
Our first activity once we arrived at the farm was a walking tour of Richvale, given to us by Lundberg Family Farms CEO, Grant Lundberg. Since the town of Richvale comprises only 12-square blocks, it was a fairly quick tour, but it was chock full of interesting information about the farms history.
Growing tired of the unpredictability the Dustbowl and the Great Depression brought to their Nebraska farm, The Lundberg’s made their way to California … but Albert quickly realized that the corn and wheat they were used to growing would not make it in hard, heavy-clay dirt the Sacramento Valley had to offer.
The one crop that could survive? Yep — you guessed it — rice!
Albert also realized that better soil management and farming techniques were needed in order to avoid the ravages the Dustbowl had brought on. He impressed this on his four sons, and his ecologic approach to farming continues today.
In addition to their focus on family, I think this is what struck me most about Lundberg Family Farms. The Lundberg’s farm about 5,000 acres themselves, and they also have contracts with 50 other farmers who grow their rice on another 15,000 acres — that’s huge! But even on this scale, about 70% percent is farmed organically, and the rest is “eco-farmed,” meaning it’s farmed with pesticides and fertilizers that are carefully chosen for minimal environmental damage … and all of the rice they grow is non-GMO.
If the Lundberg’s can make organic farming work on this scale, why can’t more farmers do it?
After our walking tour of Richvale, Grant left us in the capable hands of Eric Lundberg and Lance Benson, Lundberg’s grower services manager. Eric and Lance took us to the rice fields where we got to experience the rice harvest first hand.
I GOT TO RIDE IN A COMBINE AND HARVEST SUSHI RICE.
Bucket list checkmark obtained!
And my combine operator? Anders Lundberg, Bryce and Jill’s other son. I told you they truly put the “family” in “family farm.”
After our combine adventure, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch in the rice field (another bucket list checkmark obtained), and then Eric and Lance took us see the rice dryers, where rice is taken after the harvest to reduce its moisture content … and where most of us climbed to the top. But not me. Nope … I’m not afraid to admit that I got halfway up, felt the sway of the stairs, tucked my figurative tail between my legs, and headed back down. I’ll trust the other gals that the view was incredible!
Next on the agenda was a tour of the rest of Lundberg’s operations, given to us by Jessica Lundberg. We got to see the Lundberg offices (built to be green and take into account any need a worker might have … so jealous), the nursery (where Jessica, the company’s nursery manager, experiments with different rice strains), the mill, and their production facilities … we truly saw it all.
Speaking of production facilities, in addition to over twenty different varieties and blends of rice, Lundberg Family Farms also produces a variety of rice cakes, rice chips, packaged rice entrees and side dishes, snacks, and even brown rice syrup for baking … and trust me when I say that eating a freshly-made rice cake (make with only rice and water!) right off the production line is something you should be jealous of.
We ended our day in the Lundberg Family Farms test kitchen. C’mon, we’re food bloggers … we had to cook something! But we weren’t there just cook something … we went head to head in a rice cooking battle.
Our hosts divided us into teams of two and assigned each team a dish to create: an appetizer or entree made with meat, a vegetarian appetizer or entree, or dessert.
Yep, Joanie and I got dessert.
Now, we could have easily gone the rice pudding route. But, neither of us had ever made rice pudding (and — confession time — I don’t even like rice pudding).
Not ones to go down without a fight, Joanie told me about a shortbread recipe she had been making frequently so we decided to chop up some Lundberg organic “Sweet Dreams” chocolate-covered rice cakes (yes, they are a thing, and yes, they are amazing … you should go buy some ASAP), throw them into the shortbread dough, then turn said dough into miniature tart shells that we filled with a fruit compote sweetened with Lundberg organic brown rice syrup.
While our adorable tarts were baking, I made some candied nuts coated in the aforementioned brown rice syrup, then finely chopped some leftover “Sweet Dreams” rice cakes to make a “soil” on which our finished tarts would sit.
Yep, I made a soil … see. #chefswifelife
Anyway … to make a long story short, our culinary competition judges — Grant Lundberg, his wife, and Jessica Lundberg — loved our tarts and declared them the winner! Joanie and I will have our winning recipe featured on Food52 soon, and I cannot wait to share it with you!
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I think you know how I feel about Lundberg Family Farms. Their commitment to family and eco-friendly farming methods are two things that are near and dear to my heart as well so they now have a fan for life.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lundberg Family Farms. That being said, all opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. I only recommend products or services I personally use and believe you, the reader, will enjoy — and I will never endorse any product or service that I do not fully support.
Thank you to the entire Lundberg family, Ashley, their marketing coordinator, and Inez and Christine at Access PR for arranging such a fabulous trip!