Harvesting wild rice is a great experience. Join us for a rundown on where to go, what you'll need, and how to harvest.
More people today are looking for foods that are healthy and local. They're also looking for ways that they can gather their own foods, so that they know where their food is coming from. Harvesting wild rice fits the bill on all accounts.
Here, experienced wild rice harvester John Olson takes us through the steps on where to go, what you'll need and how to harvest wild rice.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) websites have a ton of information on wild rice and its harvest. Making use of the information in these two websites is essential to a successful outing.
The season usually starts in early to mid-September and runs for three or four weeks on a given body of water. A number of lakes are "date regulated", meaning that you cannot harvest rice until the date is opened and announced. You can find that information at the lake's bulletin board or online.
You'll need a wild rice harvesting license, which you can get anywhere DNR licenses are sold. You'll also need a non-motorized boat, like a canoe, no longer than 17 feet and no wider than 38 inches, and a flotation life vest for every person in the boat.
Beyong that you'll need a partner and just two or three pieces of equipment. The first is a pushpole or canoe paddle to maneuver your boat through the rice beds. The second, and most iconic tool you'll require are a pair of rice sticks. The rice sticks identify you as a ricer, and are made specifically for gathering rice. The Manoomin website indicates that,
Every harvester owned a pair of ricing sticks, also called knockers. The sticks measured about three feet in length. Lightweight wood was necessary for making the knockers so the ricer's arms would not tire, and the plant would not be damaged. A very smooth and light stick, hardly noticeable in the hand, was desired.
The technique for harvesting is basically one of timing. The timing of the poler must be in synch with the timing of the "knocker". Slow and steady wins the race, as they say, although there really is no race. Take your time and be gentle as you glide effortlessly through the rice beds.
Olson strongly recommends taking your rice to a professional processor soon after harvesting. "You'll pay a little something for this service, but it's worth it!" he says. "You don't want to botch the job and waste your rice."
He provides a DNR telephone number to call to find out more about professional processors.
Harvesting wild rice is a great reason to get out and enjoy the outdoors and the natural resources found in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, and get a natural, healthy food in the process.