Posted by: dscaffidi | October 21, 2013

Finishing Our Wild Rice

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Conserve School is committed to engaging students in learning about the history and ecology of the land we live on. We appreciate the resources we have here in the Northwoods and strive to inspire this gratitude in others. By engaging in experiential, interdisciplinary learning, such as harvesting and processing wild rice, we hope to transform students’ lives. The wild rice harvesting and tool-making activities that students and staff took part in during the month of September were a wonderful transformational learning experience. But we couldn’t stop there! All that rice we harvested needed to be processed, and CS7 parents and family members showed up just in time to help out with this community effort.

The welcoming fire ring of the outdoor commons area served as our parching post. Parching is an important step in curing rice, converting the starchy seed into a more solid form that is resistant to molding. Parching also loosens the enclosing husk, making separation possible. To prevent the rice from burning, it must remain in constant motion over the fire. The coals produced a pleasant smoky aroma that filled the air and saturated our hair and clothing. It was easy to fall into a meditative state while watching over the fire, getting lost in the even whooshing sound of the rice as it was tossed around the pan.

Once the rice was parched, it was time to dance on it in order to separate the kernels from the chaff. Our neighbor Roger LaBine, a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a wild rice expert, was back on campus to lead us as we tried our hands (or, more accurately, our feet) at this traditional Ojibwe method. After learning the proper twisting motion (which, once mastered, also becomes quite meditative), parents and students slipped into pairs of homemade moccasins and hopped into the cloth-lined hole in the ground into which the parched rice had been poured. Dancing on the rice is a quick and fun way to separate rice and husk. Next, with birch bark trays made by Conserve School staff members, parents and students tossed the rice into the air, winnowing away the light husk, and leaving behind “the food that grows on water.” It took one moon and countless hours of work to reach the final step of our wild ricing adventure: eating it! Bon appetit!

~ Donelle Scaffidi, Graduate Fellow

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