TOWNSHIP Not often is dancing part of processing food, but
the traditional method of removing wild rice from its hulls involves
a fun little twist.
Participants at a demonstration of a wild-rice camp Saturday
strapped on moccasins to dance on the rice, much like
Native Americans in the Great Lakes region have done for centuries.
It was only one part of a process that provided a staple of
nutrition to tribes such as the Odawa and Potawatomi, while creating
a bonding and connecting experience.
Its a laborious process, but there was community
in it, said Barb Barton, who led the demonstration at Mud
Lake Farm in southeastern Ottawa County. We dont have
that a lot today. Its a wonderful bonding process for the
community and family.
Youd starve if you tried doing it by yourself,
Wild rice, or manoomin, as Native Americans called it, grows
in water and once was common in Michigan. Today, it is a rare grass
plant not related to rice from Asia that some enthusiasts
are trying to restore to inland lakes.
Unlike commercial U.S. hybrid wild rice grown in paddies, mostly
in California, true wild rice is still harvested via canoe in areas
with a large diversity of plants and animals. The rice plants even
Barton explained how harvesters use cedar sticks to bend the
plants over the canoe and shake loose seeds into the vessel. They
push the canoe with long tamarack poles.
Seed heads are parched in a basin over an open fire to dry them.
Someone stirs constantly in a rhythmic swish.
Then, the dancing begins.
At a genuine wild-rice camp, Native Americans would beat drums
and sing. Here, Barton played a CD of the music to give a little
beat for the twisting.
The resulting mix of hulls and wild rice which now has
a nutty, roasted flavor must be separated by winnowing. That
involves tossing it into the air so the wind blows away the chaff
or shaking it in a birch bark tray stitched with spruce roots to
separate the chaff from the seeds.
The length of the process explains why traditional processors
charge $15 a pound at tourist shops in the Upper Peninsula.
But buying the product might not be as satisfying as taking
part in the harvesting and processing.
Barton, who works at the Great Lakes Lifeways Institute, said
the process provides a direct link between people and food.
When I eat wild rice, I go right back to being on the
water, she said. When you experience the harvesting
and the labor of processing, youre more connected to the earth
and respectful and appreciative. If youre more respectful
and appreciative, you become a better steward of the earth.
The West Michigan chapter of Slow Food sponsored the demonstration.
What could be more natural food than this? asked
chapter President Veronica Phelps. Its there for the
Participant Anelo Lopez Jr., whose ancestors were Odawa, said
he attended to connect with other local food enthusiasts so he can
get ideas for helping to open a local food restaurant with Tim Fairman,
who also attended.
But he said he liked learning the history.
Its just good to see what they went through,
he said, speculating that his ancestors collected wild rice.
Slow Food is a worldwide organization promoting good,
clean, fair, local farms, slowing down and enjoying food,