The rice you eat, we love to show where, by whom and how it's grown.
December 19, 2020: your box or rice may still have come with the name 'farming reference'. For crop year 2021 all boxes will be labeled with 'farm direct' instead.
This page is sort of a time document and by time we will share more stories and insights.
Every image and all footage is made by us.
Lab tests are published here as well.
how this works
All our products is labeled with a number and a combination of letters.
To illustrate, farm direct number 16PHR.
PHR stands for the growing site, here the Phrao cooperative while 16 refers to crop year 2016 and 2017.
This cooperative is where it all started for us. Our heirloom black rice grows here.
Phrao, a valley surrounded by the mountains of Si Lanna National Park, is one of Chiang Mai's rural districts, about 60 miles north of the main city.
The cooperative is a group of 6-7 smallholder families and tends to multiple plots of land, totaling around 60 acres.
Rice is grown during the Monsoon season only with paddy rice yields around 100-120 tonnes (today we take about half). Decisions on who will grow which variety are made within the group.
Rotation crop choices are made independently while some farmers own a small orchard.
Over the years we have been doing several tests. And so far the results have been consistent.
The rice is non GMO and arsenic free. No chemicals were found and anthocyanin content turns out several times higher than at another rice growing site 40 miles away.
Results can be found under the respective farming reference.
heirloom black rice growth stages in Phrao
Rice seeds are soaked in water for 2 days.
This makes a seed root and shoot.
Once (densely) planted in the nursery (1" high garden beds), the main shoot continues to grow while about 4-5 leaves emerge.
On day 20 seedlings are transplanted, about .. plants per
Paddy water levels are kept 2" high (for another 3 weeks). This minimizes weed growth.
Secondary shoots come out and many leaves follow. Mature plants grow about 2 ft high. Meanwhile on microbiology level the reproductive stage kicks in.
About 5-6 weeks after transplanting the first grains show up. It takes another 5 weeks for the grains to get firm, with a moisture content around 20%
harvest year 2020 / crop year 2021
availability: February 2021 - January 2022
For 2021 we source 58 tonnes of paddy heirloom black rice for the cooperative in Phrao.
Update August 20: Last Sunday we took part in transplanting a section of seedlings. First impressions from this day below. Over the next two months we will visit Phrao several times and jot down our experiences.
First time we visited Por Ta's black rice fields, another farmer within the cooperative.
Phrao's captivating landscape, wherever you go, you'll get mountains, temples and rice fields. Oct 7. 2020
Khun Boonlert and Dao inspecting Por Ta's black rice fields.
Khun Boonlert's fields aren't far away, about one mile.
Mature grains with the perfect moisture content, ready for harvest.
This year we also source heirloom black rice from Por Ta.
Back at khun Boonlert's fields. Same day, Oct 7, 2020.
Flowering stage on day 52, halfway grain maturation.
Same field, same plants, but slightly younger grains grown on secondary shoots.
Flowering stage on day 40, young, immature black rice grains. Sept 25, 2020
Dao in conversation with khun Boonlert's sister-in-law, in front of his house.
Vegetative (tillering) stage on day 25. Dao weeding among rice plants with multiple secondary shoots.
What matters at this stage is to see healthy shades of green. Sept 12, 2020
transplanting rice plant seedlings on khun Boonlert's plot with por Ta and other members of the cooperative. Aug 16, 2020
auntie Lam Duam is the funny one.
Dao on the job
Bundling seedlings prior to transplanting, 4 young seedlings per bundle.
Farming hurts, your bones, your stomach, it all hurts. I can tell.
Young seedling, just pulled out from the nursery. 1 main shoot and 4-5 leaves.
Then prior to transplanting, 4 seedlings are bundled.
harvest year 2019 / crop year 2020
availability: February 2020 - January 2021
In 2019 we sourced about 40 tonnes of paddy black rice from khun Boonlert and his two sons. Grateful we had the chance to be around this family one on one. For a first we gained practical insight - until then what we knew we mostly got out of scientific papers and some rather short visits the previous years. And we witnessed what the daily issues of a farmer are.
The wet Monsoon season is a blessing for the future of SE Asia. Since we moved to Chiang Mai we've seen rainfaill increasing in the region year by year and Khun Boonlert made the same observations. Sounds odd but local heavier rainfalls turn out an effect of global warming.
During summer the Tibetan plateau is getting way hotter than before and more heated air rises. As a result stronger winds with more moist air (this is what the Monsoon is all about) are drawn to this plateau and blow over the Golf of Thailand to Chiang Mai and every corner in Northern Thailand.
Therefore, water shortage in Phrao is has never been and will not be an issue and after the 'less water' approach the year before, this idea has been totally dropped. Both the nursery and for the first few weeks after transplanting fields remain filled with water. Lucky Thailand.
In September 2020 Maejo University tested the rice in the lab and once more no chemicals were found.
Phrao's surroundings never let down. Young transplanted black rice seedlings.
August 27, 2019
Dao and khun Boonlert at the nursery. 18 days old seedling, which were transplanted 3 days later.
Young transplanted seedlings.
Early on, a few shoots and leaves. In order to kill weed on the paddies, water levels are maintained up to 2". Weed is left untouched and functions as organic matter.
Tillering (vegetative) stage.
After day 20, no more water is actively added to the paddies.
Lush green leaves, that is what you want to see. If tip and sides color yellow-whitish, chlorotic, that's a sign of nutrient deficiency.
Flowering stage. Young grains.
October, 18, 2019.
Mature heirloom black rice grains.
October, 29, 2019.
harvest year 2018 / crop year 2019
availability: February 2019 - January 2020
In 2018 visits to Phrao became more relaxed. It had all to do with the fact that the previous years we had kept our word. We bought all the rice we had agreed upon and we paid on time. And even more the farmers realized that we had no intention to interfere with their part of the job.
Besides khun Ton, we got closer to another smallholder in the group, khun Boonlert. A patient farmer, a man of not too many words, an observer who comes to his own conclusions. khun Boonlert would quickly become our most reliable point of contact in the Phrao community.
For crop year 2019 we sourced about 28 tonnes of paddy heirloom black rice.
Drying rice in the sun. Khun Boonlert in the foreground.
Phrao, November 2018
Dao and khun Boonlert inspecting rice grains.
We were impressed to witness such a healthy, bio-diverse ecosystem.
There were birds and ladybugs everywhere! That's what you get with no chemicals around.
November 9. 2018
The same fields as on the photo below, 3 months later, grains are ready for harvest.
The wet Monsoon season is coming to a close.
Yields were about 1.7 tonnes of husked heirloom black rice per acre.
Young black rice plants on khun Boonlert's larger plot, 4 days after transplantation. August 4, 2018.
An experiment, a different technique with less water was used. Seedlings were transplanted on a dry field while water was added after 7 days. Transplants about 4 days old.
harvest year 2016-17 / crop year 2017-18
availability: February 2017 - December 2018
Heirloom black rice (above) and riceberry (below).
Not easy to differentiate, but the former is a bit rounder, whereas riceberry is slightly slimmer and taller.
Halfway 2016 lung Detch, our miller introduced us to khun Ton and the Phrao cooperative.
At the time we were over the moon! We had never been in Phrao, and rest assured, its beauty is stunning, arguably one of the five most appealing locations in Thailand. And the rice over there, that was a flavor we had never tasted before. Little did we know it is the micro climate, higher altitude and a specific soil acidity that sets Phrao apart as a rice growing region.
Khun Ton, a rice farmer from father to son, had been growing organic for about 10 years, his rotation crop being soybean. He maintains a small mango orchard while growing a variety of greens as well. Khun Ton's land totals 10 acres and his produce he sells and exchanges at the local market.
Besides our order, the cooperative's (brown and sticky) rice is mostly eaten by the local community, some is served at a Chiang Mai Buddhist center, while a small portion is sold on the domestic market.
For crop year 2017 we sampled and bought a batch of about 2 tonnes of (milled) heirloom black rice and riceberry. The year after we ordered 6 tonnes of milled heirloom black rice and 2 tonnes of riceberry.
Mature heirloom black rice grains on the left, riceberry on the top.
In appearance difficult to distinguish. riceberry is slightly rounder.
Phrao is a small community, they all know each other. During our first timid visits, everyone passes by, says hello. We are being checked out.
khun Ton's black rice seeds, nicely stored for next year. December 2016, Phrao.
Our second visit to Phrao, on November 8, 2016. Since this was our first photo, it's sort of iconic for us.
Dao in the front, in the middle khun Ton, and the man in black, that's lung Detch, our miller.
Rice about to be harvested.
Our miller, and sort of a pillar in our organization.
By inspecting a rice grain, he knows its exact moisture content.
harvest year 2016-17
Short 360° mobile phone video. Phrao, September 2017.
A district surrounded by the mountains of Si Lanna National Park. Due to its geography a micro climate about 1-2 degrees colder and more precipitation. Mostly rural, no factories.
Our Heirloom Highland Black Glutinous Rice at the time grown by a Lisu tribe in Mae Hong Son province, neighboring Chiang Mai province.
A community with a handful of families, living conditions basic. A pristine environment (only reachable by 4WD), the air crisp, while water runs off from the mountains. We only visited them twice and it didn't feel right yet to take pictures.
In 2016 we bought a small portion, about 50lbs, to sample and analyze in the lab.
In 2017 we were able to get our hands on 1000lbs of milled sticky rice, but ever since a collaboration turned out highly unpredictable. Yields for this variety are low, weather conditions matter and the family may randomly choose to grow non-glutinous rice for personal use. If the local community needs brown, brown rice it will be even if a decent profit can be made growing another variety. We have to respect that. Unfortunately, today we don't work with them anymore.