In late April, when Nova Scotia is still sloughing off its winter chill, Ian Curry and Niki Clark can be found inside their greenhouse, using tweezers to seed one of the year’s crops.
The small seeds are no bigger than a grain of rice — because they are grains of rice.
The Granville Beach, N.S., farmers have been growing rice in paddies on their property since 2014.
“It’s a beautiful crop, as you can see, and it’s fun to grow and it’s delightful to eat,” says Clark.
They first got the idea of trying to grow rice in Nova Scotia after learning about the issue of arsenic in rice and deciding to find an alternative to commercially produced rice.
The couple attended a seminar in Vermont on rice growing and realized the Japanese-American farmer hosting the seminar was at the same latitude as Nova Scotia. Hokkaido Island, a rice-growing region of Japan, is also at a similar latitude as Nova Scotia.
“So we thought, okay, how can we do this?” Curry says.
The pair planted their first crop of rice in 2014, and, through trial and error, have honed their skills to the point where they now produce 80 kilograms a year.
That’s much more than the amount they consume in a year, so they sell small quantities to friends. They have even sold some to a restaurant in the Valley.
“I’ve got a list as long as my arm of people wanting rice,” says Curry. “The people who bought it loved it and they want more. So I have no trouble selling my rice.”
This year, they are growing two types of rice, Akamuro Red, a Japanese variety, and Titanio Rose, an Italian variety.
After the seeds sprout in the greenhouse, the seedlings are hand-planted into a field a short distance from a pond. The field is then flooded, and the rice grows in the standing water for the entirety of the growing season. The field can absorb heavy rainfall but, thanks to the pond, can also weather droughts, so the crop is adaptable to the changing climate, Clark says.
In September, when the heads are full and drooping with the weight of the rice, the field will be drained so the plants can dry out before a combine sweeps over them and removes the rice from the stalks. Later, the rice will be dehusked using a special machine that removes the hard exterior to reveal the edible rice inside.
Right now, though, damselflies and dragonflies flit among the stalks and the occasional creaking and clicking of a frog can be heard.
The rice paddy has created its own ecosystem that draws in a variety of creatures that might not otherwise call Nikian Farm home.
“Everybody wants to live in the rice paddy — everybody,” says Curry. “I have more frogs and toads and snakes and turtles and piping plovers. Yesterday I was walking along and there was a little baby muskrat heading out.”
Curry and Clark grow a wide variety of crops that are regularly seen on small, mixed farms in Nova Scotia, including vegetables, fruits and herbs. But they also grow a few that may not be so common here, including peanuts, sorghum, artichokes, corn for polenta and hazelnuts for oil.
They are always striving toward self-sufficiency, and they’d like to see others embrace that ideal, too.
“I think we’re all vulnerable, more so perhaps than we realize because people are used to going to the grocery store and seeing just incredible variety on the shelves. But it is just-in-time variety,” says Clark.
“COVID was very illustrative in showing us just how things can fall apart quickly. So I think we all really have a responsibility to be more aware of where our food comes from, support our local farmers so they can take care of us better.”
The couple say they would love to see other farmers grow rice, too, and are willing to share their equipment to help them.
“Nova Scotians are famously conservative in farming. They get a program and they stick to it. They don’t look left or right. That’ll run you right into a brick wall.”
A spokesperson for the provincial Agriculture Department said the department is only aware of one farmer growing rice in Nova Scotia, and that farmer is in Annapolis County, where Clark and Curry live.