There is a children’s book written in the 1970s titled “One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale.” The story is set in India, where a greedy raja takes nearly all of the subsistence growers’ rice for safekeeping should famine come. When it does, he hoards the rice for himself.

A wise village girl named Rani convinces him to give her just a single grain of rice on the first day of the new moon, doubling the amount daily until a full moon appears in the sky. After thinking out loud on the page that one grain of rice could hardly amount to much, the raja grants Rani’s request.

One grain becomes 2 then 4 then 8 then 16, and so on until it tops out at 536,870,912 on the 30th day. The math lesson in play means that Rani gets a billion grains of rice in the end. A little long division translates that number to 29,000 pounds of rice. The average Asian eats about 300 pounds of rice annually (in the United States we’re closer to 26 pounds a year), so Rani’s supplication saves her village from starvation. The life lesson in play is that a single grain of rice can indeed multiply to feed the collective even in harsh conditions.

That’s the mindset farmers Ben Rooney and David Gulak of Wild Folk Farm had when they planted a single experimental paddy of cold weather rice in traditionally agriculturally inhospitable clay soil in Benton back in 2013. The enterprise has since grown at a pretty good clip.

I was part of the work party last May that transplanted seedlings into eight paddies, each named after a planet. It’s back-breaking work. You fasten a flat of 3-inch-high juvenile plants that germinated in the farm’s rudimentary aquaponic greenhouse around your waist with a bungee cord. Then you wade barefoot (if you’re brave; I wore boots) through ankle-deep, oozing muck; bend over the flat as it digs into your hip; gently coax a seedling from its cozy crib; and nestle its spindling roots into its watery big-boy bed in a neat row. Each plant sits about 6 inches from its nearest sibling. You take a giant step backwards and do it over again, and again, and again. Optimally, it takes four people working two hours to transplant seedlings into a single 5,000-square-foot paddy.

Rooney takes it from there. Because rice is a water-intensive crop, the paddies are flooded and drained using a closed irrigation system fed by a pond. The paddies are also planted with azolla, a companion plant for rice that both prevents weeds and helps fix the nitrogen into the clay soil. Khaki Campbell ducks waddle and swim, eating the azolla and fertilizing the clay soil. The ducks are harvested for their meat before they can eat the growing grains of rice. Nets draped over the paddies when the plants are heavy with rice prevents a premature harvest by bobolinks, black birds native to Maine whose Latin name loosely translates into “rice devourer.”


I returned to Wild Folk Farm last weekend to help harvest what Rooney says will amount to 3,500 pounds of cold-climate heirloom rices with names like Akamuro, Arpa Shal, Cse He Jao, Duborskian and Hayayuki.

I worked the paddy where the Akamura rice grew. Akamura is an open-pollinated, short-grained variety that Rooney knows grows well here so he saves 10 percent of it for seed, a portion of which he’ll germinate to plant next year’s crop and a portion of which he’ll sell to Fedco Seeds so other farmers in Maine or similar cold climates can give rice a go.

I used a curved sickle to cut off bunches of tillers, laying these 3-foot-tall stalks laden with rice to cure slightly in the now dried paddy. In a call-and-response cycle, the six of us working to clear the paddy sang a song that Rooney composed. “Cut ’em down. Among autumn leaves. Where the ducks swam. These are rice paddies. On cool clay earth. Tread lightly. We sing together. Soon we’ll feast.”

The cured rice then gets sorted into fist-sized bundles and is gently slapped into a foot-powered thresher to remove the rice from the stalks. The rice, still in its husks, falls into a bucket below the thresher, and the stalks get repurposed, perhaps as crop cover material or a medium for a local potter to decorate his clay wares. (Rooney said they tried out a borrowed mechanical harvester last year, but they like the low-tech approach in part so they can show schoolchildren how rice is processed.)

The rice sits in a high tunnel on tarps to dry for a few days. We took bucketsful of the dried stuff and ran it in a 19th-century hand-cranked wooden winnower Rooney found in an antique shop in western Massachusetts to separate the rice from the chaff. The rice moves down the work row set up on the bank between the paddies to the bicycle-powered husker, where workers pedal their way to edible rice that the farm will begin selling on its website for about $7 per pound in five-pound bags in late November. And so goes the math of rice production.

Served atop roasted squash, the rice salad is sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Roasted Winter Squash with Cold Climate Rice Salad


Kabocha squash is a dark green, stocky cousin of the pumpkin with a flavor and texture that evokes a sweet potato. You may have enjoyed it in Japanese restaurants as tempura, or as an addition to Asian hot pots and soups. Go with locally grown rice like Akamuro from Wild Folk Farm in Benton, if you can, but any short-grained golden rice will work.

Serves 4 as a main dish

1 small kabocha or butternut squash

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste


1/2 cup warm water or sake

6 tablespoons white miso paste

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 cups cooked short grain rice, cooled


½ cup chopped scallion

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the unpeeled squash into 1-inch wedges. Toss the wedges with the oil, salt and pepper and lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast until soft, about 20 minutes.

While the squash cooks, combine the water or sake, miso, sugar, mirin and rice vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Add the cooked rice, scallion and bell pepper. Stir to combine.

Arrange the roasted squash around the edges of a large platter. Fill the middle of the platter with the rice salad. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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