Spotlight on Lotus Foods Rice Company: 'More Crop Per Drop'

This Northern California-based heirloom rice company promotes environmental responsibility and social justice
Lotus Foods
Lotus Foods

At last month’s Winter Fancy Food Show, I took time to explore the innovative ways specialty food producers are practicing environmental sustainability and implementing fair trade practices within their corporate frameworks. The first inspiring story I came across was that of San Francisco-based Lotus Foods.

“Our great, audacious goal is to change how rice is grown on the planet….because we have to.”

These words were spoken by Ken Lee, co-founder of Lotus Foods, as he accepted the Citizen Award from the Specialty Food Association at their Fifth Annual Leadership Award ceremony in 2017. For the past 10 years, Lee and his wife and partner Caryl Levine have been broadening the purpose of their company from their initial goal – preserving the biodiversity of rice and introducing delicious traditional rice varietals to American tables – to helping farmers grow organic rice more sustainably by using fewer seeds, 50% less water and no agrichemicals. The surprising outcome of their revolutionary methods? Utilizing less water actually increased rice yields, doubling or even tripling them, hence the name of the practice: More Crop Per Drop™.

Why focus on rice? Rice is the staple food source of more than 3.5 billion people – half of the world’s population – and more than 2 billion depend on rice for their livelihood. As Lee has pointed out, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a living as a small-scale farmer, and Lotus wanted to find ways of benefitting the vast number of independent rice producers they purchase from. In addition, Lotus recognized that traditional rice production is a large contributing factor to global warming: flooded rice paddies emit a massive quantity of methane into the atmosphere.

To make headway on both fronts, Lotus began promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which uses far less water and fewer seeds to produce more rice (you can read about the specifics of this fascinating system here). Lotus develops supply chains with farmers using SRI, then invests in market incentives for these pioneering farmers to obtain organic and fair trade certifications, thereby further adding to their incomes.

To put things in perspective: so far, Lotus’s revolutionary practices have resulted in over 500 million gallons of water being saved year over year, and over 5,000 households achieving certified organic status.

If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is. Many thanks to Lotus Foods for inspiring and motivating other food producers to take active steps towards social justice and environmental accountability.

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You can follow Raymond Hook’s cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.