The four-dollar tour of the Konriko Rice mill includes a short film on the history and culture of Acadiana and a guided stroll through our nation’s oldest rice mill still in operation. The cypress timber and galvanized steel facility opened in 1912, became a National Historic Landmark in 1981, and continues to process, package and sell rice the same way it has for over one hundred years. Yet I can’t help thinking how the tour script has changed with the times. My guide Wendy focused on the inherent sustainability of century old methods.
“Gravity is working for us all time.” Wendy unfolded the shadow box section of the mill that illustrates how raw rice is conveyed to the top floor and its bran is pearled off to become livestock feed. Pearled rice drops to the second floor to separate full grains from nubs. Nubs are used to make beer while full grains are polished for human consumption and conveyed to the first floor for packaging.
Wendy explained how the vertical organization creates a chimney effect that keeps the non-air-conditioned building habitable even in summer, how they reuse every byproduct so the six building complex generates only one dumpster of waste per week, even how the cats roaming the place provide organic pest control.
The Konriko tour also fed me grains of rice truth: no one is allergic to this gluten free wonder that comes in over 500 varieties. But the real question the tour posed was, can we survive if we loose the cheap energy that’s allowed us to construct a world without regard to gravity, sun, and wind? According to Wendy, if we return to the ways of our great-grandparents, apparently so.
However, shrinking production to the scale of Louisiana rice processing circa 1912 won’t be easy in a globalized economy where even small communities like New Iberia are subject to political and economic winds far away. When I asked Wendy the current price of rice, she replied, “It’s mediocre. Everyone’s waiting to see how the Cuba market is going to flush out. Cuba eats more rice than the entire statue of Louisiana can produce. If relations open and they stop buying from Asia, that will be good for us.”
How will we live tomorrow?