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Fair trade rice makes long journey to U.S.


When you purchase a package of Eighth Wonder rice, it's been places.



"Rice is first planted in concentrated seed beds in December; it's transplanted in January and February. Depending on variety and elevation, it's harvested after five to seven months.



Old women who are the 'seed keepers' pick out the best panicles first," Mary Hensley said of Cordillera rice farms that typically measure from about 1 to 21/2 acres.



The bundled panicle sheaves are carried to an open area for drying, then they're put up in wooden granaries on stilts.



Through RICE, Henley's company gets farmers to each "pledge" a certain number of 25-kilogram sacks. The farm gate price for their rice is around 50 Philippine pesos per kilogram, about $1.13, compared to 12 pesos for a kilogram of subsidized Thailand rice.



The farmers hand-thresh the rice and carry the sacks to the nearest municipality. From there the grain goes by truck to the "final line station," one each in three provinces, Hensley said.



The grain is inspected and moisture tested, and then hulled and conditioned by a machine engineered at the Philippine Rice Research Institute.



Next the grain gets trucked to that Institute for fumigation in CO2 bags, eventually ending up at a freight forwarder in Manila who allows RICE to palletize the sacks for container shipping.



A broker receives the rice at the Port of Tacoma, then the sacks get trucked to Ulm, Mont. There, Hensley runs the grain over a screen mill, the final step of product cleaning and quality control.



Lastly, the packaging in 1-pound consumer packs is done by a shelter workshop for developmentally disabled adults in Conrad, Mont.



-- Rene Featherstone



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