How Anson Mills Saved Ancient Grains of Rice From Extinction — Rooted

How Anson Mills Saved Ancient Grains of Rice From Extinction — Rooted

– [Lucas] While countries
in Asia and Africa had been cultivating the
grain for thousands of years, the story of rice in the United States is a relatively short one. Rice became essential to the southern diet and Lowcountry cuisine,
which fused an amalgam of different cultures, including West African, Caribbean, and French. The Carolina Gold Rice thrived in the marshy lowlands of the Carolinas and quickly became a valuable cash crop for residents and plantation owners. But that wasn’t always the case. It nearly became extinct
in the last century. We’re lucky enough to be here
today with Glenn Roberts, the founder of Anson Mills
in Columbia, South Carolina. Glenn is an heirloom grain
expert and preservationist who founded his company with the purpose of getting back in touch
with the traditions of the southern kitchen, fueled by the memories
of the rice that he ate three meals per day,
every day, as a child. – What do we got here? – Some rice. Well, this is what we bring in every week and pull from the mill, and
we put it in the freezers. – How much rice goes in here? – A half-ton, between 800-1100 pounds depending on what’s going on. This is all being milled next week. You can keep a new crop
in the freezer for about six to eight months,
which gets us rice season to rice season if you start
in Texas, harvest early, harvesting late up here,
which is how we do it. But the rice will be good
stored frozen ten years. You can’t mill this
stuff the way we mill it if it’s not frozen
’cause it just ruins it. Every cooler in here,
and there’s 40-something, has something good in it. Look at this. – Oh wow. – Right? Who said corn’s
supposed to be yellow? This is John Hall corn, it’s a midlands corn
from the 19th century. It was lost here completely. A guy named Dr. David
Bradshaw found it in Ohio and brought it back. It was in an Amish community over there. And you can harvest it under snow which is why the Amish kept it. – Oh wow. – Kids could go out and pull
it in the middle of winter. – Is what is processed here
primarily Carolina Gold rice? – It’s the least-yielding rice we have, and the toughest one to manage. We sell more of that and mill more of that than anything else, is Carolina Gold rice. And it is the main market
rice of the Antebellum South, but it is not particular
to southern rice culture because we had more than a
hundred distinct varieties of rice in the ground for
provision and culinary pursuit as of 1803. So many of these things
became extinct after the Civil War in the South. So we had that break, which
you don’t see in New England or out West. – [Lucas] Yeah. – [Glenn] They picked up
here and took everything to the Pacific Northwest
after the Civil War. And so if you wanna see what
happened to southern culture after the Civil War, all the
same seed went out there. – How did that happen? How did, one year everyone’s
eating a certain kind of thing, twenty years down the line nobody’s eating it anymore. Was it just the horrors of
Civil War, Reconstruction, what was it that made that just disappear? – Reconstruction is the polite term, Jim Crow is the real term because it was a concerted effort to wipe out an entire section of culinary and
social heritage in the South. And it was methodical and it was efficient and it worked to the point where we didn’t even have rice here on the Sea Islands. When I first came, no one was
growing rice here, no one. That was 25, 30 years ago. – So what replaced it? So these were systematically
eliminated from diet, from the land, what replaced it? – Tall cereals. – Corn and wheat? – I mean, corn, wheat. Corn was 17 feet tall, 15 feet tall ’cause they needed the silage. – Wow. – Wheat was six feet tall
cause they needed the straw. – Okay. – The plants were selected over centuries and millennia for that straw. Straw harvest in Appalachia
would draw more people off the frontier to help you
harvest than the grain harvest. – Wow. – ‘Cause straw was the difference between dying of cold and exposure and not. That was your insulation and bedding. – [Lucas] Dr. Michael
Purugganan is a professor of biology and Dean of Science at New York University. He specializes in the
genetic identification of grains, specifically rice. Through genome sequencing,
he’s able to trace origins of rice strains whose geographical and biological backgrounds
were once a mystery. – Historically, Carolina
Gold has been what’s called a premium rice that’s used in the market. It’s a type of rice which
we call Tropical Japonica, so it’s something that
grows well in fairly hot, humid environments. It’s closest to rice
that’s found in Indonesia and the Philippines. Climate-wise, the Carolinas
are a really good area for growing rice. Rice originally evolved
or was domesticated in the Yangtze Valley in China, probably about 9,000 years ago. That gave rice – what
we call Japonica rice – and that subsequently spread to Asia, to East Asia especially. About maybe 4,500 years ago, Japonica rice seems to
have made it to India. That Japonica rice, which
was already domesticated, hybridized with whatever the Indians were doing at that time. And that hybrid then went
on to become the Indica rice that was the other major group of rice. A theory which I think is accepted, that the transatlantic slave
trade brought in information from West Africa in terms of the ability of West African slaves to grow rice. So, in West Africa they actually had a culture that grew rice. Those slaves that were
brought over from Africa were brought over not
only for their manpower but actually their knowledge
of how to grow rice. – And of these rices, how
many are gone forever? – How many are gone or
that should come back? At least 20 core important culinary rices. And we have, like I said about nine here, and barely in production
with some of them, but things like Tribute rice from China was grown here and shipped back to China, believe it or not. – Oh wow. – And that was in the 19th century. We had Camargue rice grown
here and shipped back to the Camargue. Great flavor, great nutrition became low secondary targets and
that changes everything. – So tell me then about where we are now and how you’re reclaiming that. How are you trying to get that back? – [Glenn] The very first thing you do is do not farm for yield. You farm for flavor and nutrition. And if you do that, you’re gonna look at biodensity per acre
instead of pounds per acre. But even before that, you
have to not monetize it. We were very lucky, we had a lot of people help us out early, they didn’t monetize their effort to us or we wouldn’t have made
it, and we promised them, both Native American and scientists, that we wouldn’t monetize
or appropriate their work. So we’ve been giving free
seed away for 18 years. – Wow, but how do you do that? How do you make that work? – Well I used to use a
Robin Hood philosophy, we robbed from chefs and
give to poor farmers. All were willing and understood that. But no one else did, so
it was an uphill battle. These days, our stuff
looks pretty reasonable compared to equivalents because everybody is moving into this tier. – [Lucas] Why is your rice better? How does it taste different
than a mass-produced or something that’s
grown purely for yield? – We plant, sometimes, 10 different things that’s understoried in a field, like daikon, deep root that’s
also a neem suppressor, and flax and then we’ll
run buckwheat as a short crop under that too. And we won’t harvest the low crops, we’ll just take the tall ones. That’s called polyculture, that’s how these things
were originally grown. That’s a different food
than if you just grow one thing in a field and harvest it. – And you’re able to taste that? – Oh yeah, yeah. It’s phenomenal. the
plants look different. Watch hands and stuff in here. Okay so in here is rice. So, it goes through the
huller, comes out here. This has to be hand-picked and then taken and put over there. This is where we put humans in the chain where no one else does. We do about 160 pounds a batch. A batch takes as the shortest run we have, a batch takes about 10 minutes, and we start at seven and
go straight through to six o’clock three days a week in here. Sometimes we work on Thursdays too and ship then. – About how many restaurants
do you provide for? – We have more than 5,000 worldwide. – Amazing. – Carolina Gold is one of the main founder lines of the
US breeding varieties. Many of the breeding varieties that are used in American agriculture have some portion of the Carolina Gold rice genome in it. What we have is a giant jigsaw puzzle, where we’ve got this
information now in small pieces and we try to put it together. So our DNA are made up of
essentially four letters, ATCG, these are the nucleotides
that make up the molecules. So sequencing really
is trying to read what that information is because in that piece of DNA, that genome is actually imprinted the evolution of that species. – [Lucas] Dr. David
Shields is the chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, an organization committed to preserving the food traditions of the region. He, along with
preservationists and historians like Glenn Roberts helped to bring Carolina Gold back from
the brink of extinction. In the 1980s it’s believed
that a single person, that’s one person, was
cultivating the rice. 50 years ago would I have been able to buy a bag of Carolina Gold rice? – No. Carolina Gold, which
was the dominant rice from the end of the American Revolution to World War I becomes
too expensive to produce. In the United States market,
cheap Honduran white rice undercuts its market tremendously. All biological entities,
whether you’re a paramecium, a garden slug, or a bird,
identify what’s edible in their environment
by chemical signatures, and good taste, therefore,
is the signature of what is edible and nutritious
and it’s these oldest rices that embody that flavor. And Carolina Gold was one of them. So, the rice has to
operate as an ideal palate for harmonizing flavors. – But in that case why wouldn’t I want this bland Honduran rice that’s just gonna be a blank slate? – The old, land-raised
grains are more nutritious. Why? Because they have
these extensive root systems which interact with microbes, which are essential for
processing nutriments, with fungi and with minerals. So you have to grow these old plants in an old way. – But it’s worth it? – Yeah the flavor is there,
the nutritional knowledge of entire cultures is embedded in them, and if you grow them in good tilth soil you get maximum benefit from them. – Bon appétit. – [Glenn] This dish, in
the field, was a stew pot and it turned into something
called the Hot and Hot Club, formed by rice planters
that got together to see how much bad rice or weedy
rice was in their rices by a chalice of rice. And you count the red grains in it. And this dish actually, and chicken bog, end up becoming the titular
political gathering dishes ’cause they’re meant to feed crowds. The earliest memories I have are my mom trying to teach me how to cook rice and not living up to her specifications for what a cook of rice can do. I’ve battled my entire
life to get to that, I’m not a natural chef. – I mean, is that what it
comes down to in the end? Just wanting some good food? – Yeah. – Wanting some good rice? – Well if you’re farming it, when you go out into the field, I think David’s mentioned this, that things change, and if you’re growing it, everything
changes immediately. – Rice is the major
food crop of the world. The story of crop
diversity is a story both of the crop and the humans that brought it around the world. We’re still not sure
where Carolina Gold rice comes from. And now, those of the
community who are interested in traditional rice
varieties are trying to find examples of these lost rices, and trying to see if we can regrow them and reintroduce them
back to American culture and to world culture as well.


  1. 10 lb of Carolina rice $69.90, 10 lb indian organic basmati rice 19.99!!!!!!!!!! Good Luck feeding a family rice 3 x a day at $69.90. Preserving rice for the rich and crap for the poor way to go and taking government money and research a long the way for free

  2. Glad to see polyculture planting is getting more popular. Gabe Brown really inspired me to allow the weeds and see everything in the garden as a close knit community and everything has a purpose to serve, even the pest.

  3. Right from the start I knew that his video would make me just be like this is how much food affects culture and where people live. My goofy ass would want to try all kinds of foods and learn where they are from and how they came about. Supply and demand of a good product that is rare will drive people to open up to try new things and change things.

  4. Soooo Because of Jim Crow & the Slave trade, I don't know anything about the history of my ancestors and we can't eat good rice anymore.

  5. Awesome, glad to see Lucas highlighting another wonderful company in the great state of SC. Anson Mills is a joy to work with and really do have incredible products.

  6. I found Anson Mills when I was looking for a wheat flour that wasn't harvested using glyphosate. Pricey, yes, but quality and wholesomeness is priceless.

  7. They brush over the ecological value of planting a poly culture and these symbiotic plants. I'd guess they benefit from nitrifying bacteria, reducing the amount of nitrogen based fertilizer by a lot. Keeping the biomass in the earth is really imortant if you want to sustain a fertile farmland

  8. A great documentary which pairs well with those speaking on the extreme benefits of ancient permiculture and forests. How they play a role in not only the health of our ecosystems, but our self/selves. We suffer a great deal when our ecosystem and naturally biodiverse lands are thrown into dissaray by the influx of chemicals and bad farming practices.
    Thanks for this spotlight Eater! 🌾🖒

  9. Awesome episode! Modern industrial agriculture is literally destroying our planet with excessive use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. It's great to see good people doing it for all the right reasons.

  10. Watching this made me think of the argument for genetically modifying rice to have certain vitamins in it to potentially help people in third world countries with deficiencies. we may be able to get around this whole problem by having market around growing certain kind of rices that already had these kind of nutrients in them but have been kept off the market due to cheap imports which are also bad for the environment. possibly more than one solution both environmental, world health and possibly economics depending on who you have grow the rice could be established by going back to a more natural way of allowing rice to grow. this was a great video.

  11. what an incredible business story, "we ugh, didnt monetize" "we serve 5000 restaurants now". absolute unit. That's the way to think folks

  12. Been loving Anson Mills flour for years. It just makes insanely good home made bread. Gonna have to try out their rice at some point now.

  13. This was great, it makes me so sad what has happened around the globe to polyculture. The same thing happened to rice in korea, they had like 100 varieties of rice, and then the japanese enforced monoculture on their rice production killing most of those varieties. Such a culinary and cultural loss

  14. You need to re-train your cameraman. What is going on with the shaking camera view?! This was such a good interview and it's being ruined by your cameraman! I'm getting motion sick! Use a gimbal or tripod for goodness sake if you can hold that camera steady.

  15. Lucas back with rice as subject really compelled me to watch & keep waiting eagerly for the next video. Cool subject!

  16. This is historically in accurate in regards to this Rice. However it did NOT come from West Africa it came through Madagscar via Southeast Asian immigrants that mixed with Bantu speakers on the island.

    The West Africans domesticated Oryza Glabberima indigenous to the region. Extremely distinct.

    What happened what the early rice cultivating Africans enslaved brought Red Rices that broke when removing chaff and was a provision rice. It's extinct for the most part in the U.S. but former enslaved Americans who migrated to Tobago still grow it. It's related to African Rice's found in maroon gardens in Suriname.

    The Carolina gold rice came with slavers and traders that were in Madagascar that was put in the hands of skilled West Africans once back in the Carolinas.

    Or it came to the Carolinas via Barbados which 1. Had the largest proportion of enslaved Malagasy and 2. Was the foundation of South Carolina society and colonization.

    Ignoring the aspects of Malagasy contributions in the African cultures in the U.S. is wrong, especially because Malagasy descendants aware of their Malagasy roots still exist here and are all but forgotten other than in our families.

  17. This article on Korean rice seems so remarkably similar to this video, maybe Lucas can take a trip to Korea?

  18. Rice is very important to Vietnamese food no doubt, an as a die hard New Yorker, I am embarrassed to say that Vietnamese food in New York has nothing on the Vietnamese food in Houston. Perhaps it's the warmer climate in Houston that has drawn more Vietnamese immigrants to the fourth largest city of the U.S., which helps ensure a steady flow of great Vietnamese food among other stellar offerings of Asian cuisine as well. So come eat a few Vietnamese dishes with me. My apologies in advance to my Vietnamese friends for butchering the pronunciation of the restaurant names.

  19. FYI guys Lucas is not back. This was filmed before he left. For those who do not know he is now with LA TIMES newspaper the newly revised food section.

    Keep up with Lucas via either his Instagram staletwizzler or Twitter account.

  20. Not to get on a soap box..but who else finds it funny that "they" want to use transgenic mutations to solve the ills of monoculture farming when these problems have already been worked out over centuries and centuries of hybridization and not narrowing everything down to 3, 2 or even 1 variety in the case if bananas. Who would of thunk it 💁

  21. Who cares? Rice is Toxic for humans. I applaud Anson Mills for saving the variety but All grains are TOXIC to Humans. Humans are Obligate Carnivores.

  22. Deliberate decimation of a culture via Jim Crow laws, reconstruction, and food subjugation. Thanks Yankees!

  23. Every time you selectively breed a plant for something, like larger or sweeter ears of corn, you run the risk of losing something else, often completely unrelated to the trait you're looking for. In some cases this can mean the plants lose resistance to disease, tolerance for harsh conditions, or even nutrition, etc. This has been done over and over many times to many of our modern strains of plants, which is why it's so incredibly important to keep the old strains alive.

    With genetic engineering, it could be possible to take the disease resistance (for example) of a robust ancient rice and apply it to a modern rice which most people would consider tastier. Frankly I'd like to try eating some of those ancient foods.

  24. Just had a thought. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of sampling plant material from ancient mattresses to see about recovering ancient species either through preserved seeds or DNA.

  25. 6:41 I never thought of rice that way, as an actual food. I've ironically eaten it every day, and never gave it a second thought. It's a real eye-opening. I always imagined it as a hearty staple, or fuel, and never thought of it having its own flavor or nutrition, and always possessing a need to be completely supported and dominated by other, stronger flavors in meats and foods. Rice was always just rice to me.

  26. I'm certain he misspoke but Reconstruction was the term given to the set of federal programs and policies that sought to enable and improve the socioeconomic, sociopolitical lot of the newly freed slaves and freed communities. Reconstruction-era policies included universal public education and voting rights and repatriation for Confederate soldiers. Jim Crow was a reactionary response to Reconstruction and included inequal sharecropping programs, chain-gangs, and voting restrictions. These are not the same thing.

  27. "Rice was brought to India 4,500 years ago and hybridized with whatever the Indians were doing over there to produce indica". What a stupid statement, is this guy really a scientist, did anyone check his degree?

    If the Indians already had rice to hybridize with, don't you mean "japonica was brought to India 4,500 years ago" rather than "rice was brought to India 4,500 years ago"? How the hell could they hybridize japonica unless they already had a rice to hybridize with?

    We know that they were growing rice in India long before japonica arrived because we have actual rice kernels from the Indus Valley Civilization that predate japonica. So "whatever they were doing" was "growing rice". A more correct statement would be that when japonica arrived in India 4,500 years ago, Indians hybridized it with local varieties of rice that they had previously been growing, and the resulting hybrid had desirable traits so it became the dominant form of rice in India, and that is the origin of indica.

  28. Ugh.
    There isn't anything wrong with trying to preserve this strain of rice but there is a ton wrong with this video. It attempts to celebrate the rice's heyday while ignoring the Holocaust like conditions the slaves that grew it died under. Please Google "slave mortality in Carolina rice fields", particularly the "Everyday Death" entry for more. If you want to cite history include ALL the history not just a whitewashed version.

  29. Considering how much it costs to make they should try selling online as a specialty shop. People could buy them for parties & special dinners. Just to say hey this is an old world rice of such & such. It could come with an information packet as well.
    People would pay a real premium just for the experience. Especially if you sold sets that come with a variety of different rice. Or meal kits designed to bring out the best flavors of the rice.
    Seriously people would pay a lot more if it's a special one of a kind type experience.

  30. Rice came to North America via Africa. Rice came to Cuba via Spain. Southern planters went to Africa to get rice and rice farmers whom they thanked for their intellectual property and knowledge of rice culture by enslaving them.

  31. I wonder if we could dedicate more land to these lower-yield, more delicious and nutritious grains if we dedicated less land to growing feed for livestock. I'd be happy to eat less meat if it meant my food ended up being tastier and healthier on the whole.

  32. Geez! Get a professional cinematographer/film crew wtf the camera is so jerky. Do yourself a favor and buy a camera stand sheesh

  33. The thing that strikes me is how fortunate we are to be well enough fed that we can worry about things like flavor and culture rather than simply trying not to starve to death. I imagine that people from past centuries would be astonished that there would ever be a time that abundance was viewed as being less important than variety. Glad we can now focus on those ancient grains — but glad that the abundance of less exciting grains makes that possible.

  34. I'm glad to see them working to preserve these grains. With so much happening now in the rice industry, and the low quality of proteins and nutrients no longer found in rice and wheats in america(and China introduced plastic rice of all things), we need this ingenuity to preserve the quality.

  35. I hope that sometime you can meet with Hawaiians and do a show about native taro (kalo). Issues here in the islands are similar to your rice feature.

  36. WTF? Why do you think Monsanto worked so hard to come up with GMO rice and contaminate the existing wild and domesticated strains. Are you crazy in the head? Now Bayer is going to have to start over what Monsanto had almost completed. Shame on you! Lol

  37. People will complain that this rice is expensive. The video explains why. This is how rice should be. I live in SE Asia and rice is everything.

  38. Is your rice "polished", does it have its bran layers? I ask this because it looks so white. The bran layers give exceptional flavor.

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