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Wild Rice

Grade Level

3 - 5

Purpose

Students explore the life cycle of wild rice, compare the steps of the traditional Native wild rice harvest with a cultivated wild rice harvest, and create their own wild rice bowls.

Estimated Time

50 minutes

Materials Needed

Engage:

  • Wild Rice Bowl Recipe
  • Electric frying pan
  • Plastic cooking spoon
  • 2-cup measuring cup
  • Water pitcher
  • Measuring spoons 
  • Paper cups or small plates
  • 1/2 cup wild rice, cultivated or hand-harvested; If wild rice is not grown or available for purchase in your area, it can be ordered from the following suppliers:
  • Vegetable oil (i.e., canola, sesame)
  • Salt
  • Water

Activity 1: Introduction to Wild Rice

Activity 2: Growing and Harvesting Wild Rice

Activity 3: Wild Rice Bowls

  • Wild Rice Bowl Recipes, 1 per student
  • 5-6 mix-ins (blueberries, dried or fresh; craisins; sour cherries; ground cherries; maple syrup; sunflower seeds; pumpkin seeds)
  • Serving bowls, 1 per mix-in ingredient
  • Labels for each mix-in ingredient bowl
  • Serving spoons, 1-2 per mix-in bowl
  • Forks or spoons, 1 per student
  • Paper bowls, 1 per student
Vocabulary

hull: the protective outer covering of a fruit or seed

lake-harvested: grown wild in a river or lake

manoomin: the Ojibway word for wild rice; the exact translation of the word is "good berry" (also written manoomin or mahnomen)

paddy-grown: grown in a flooded field of a farm

seed head: the collection of seeds at the top of a grain plant

stalk: the slender attachment or support of a leaf, flower, or fruit

Background Agricultural Connections

Wild rice, or mahnoomin, has been growing in the Great Lakes area as long as historical records show. The natural area for its growth includes most of modern-day Northeast Minnesota, Northwest Wisconsin, and portions of Ontario. The Dakota and Ojibwe people have been harvesting wild rice from lakes and rivers for many centuries, and it remains an important traditional food source. In the 20th century, wild rice has also become a farm crop. Much of what we find in stores is grown in California, but Minnesota wild rice—both lake-harvested and paddy grown—is wide spread in its home state.

Engage
  1. On a table in the front of the room, introduce the wild rice recipe and begin cooking in the following manner:
    1. Measure out 1/2 cup of wild rice
    2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in skillet
    3. Sautè wild rice for 1 minute
    4. Measure and add 2 cups water (4 to 1 proportion)
    5. Turn down heat and simmer
    6. Add 1/2 tsp salt
  2. Move on to Activity 1 while keeping an eye on cooking, checking every 10 minutes.
  3. When the water is gone, seeds should be soft and opened up. This should take 25-30 minutes.
  4. Add more water if rice is dry or sticking together.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Introduction to Wild Rice

  1. Share with students that wild rice has been popular near the Great Lakes region for hundreds and maybe thousands of years.
  2. Display Wild Rice Images and point out that wild rice needs water. It grows in lakes, rivers, and flooded farm fields.
  3. Clarify that wild rice is not a kind of rice, but its own plant. The Ojibwe call it manoomin in their language. When the Europeans came to the area, they called it wild rice because it reminded them of white rice.
  4. Use the Storymap to observe and describe the steps of a wild rice plant's life cycle. Ask the students to draw and describe these steps of the life cycle in their science notebook:
    • Wild rice is an annual plant that grows from seed each year. It begins to grow in lakes and streams (or a flooded paddy on a cultivated wild rice farm) in the spring after the ice has melted.
    • The wild rice plant grows to the surface of the water by mid-June. Most wild rice grows best in shallow water, about 1-3 feet deep. The wild rice plants lay flat on the water surface on huge, leafy mats.
    • In July, the wild rice grows vertically and can eventually stand up to 6-8 feet out of the water. The plants contain flowers called spikelets that are pollinated and seeds begin to form. The seeds are the rice kernels that we are cooking and you'll get to taste.
    • In late August and September, the seeds (also called kernels) harden and are ready to fall off the plant. If the seeds are not harvested, they will fall into the water and possibly grow into wild rice plants next spring. Wild rice plants in different lakes and rivers, different areas of the same lake or river, and even different seeds on the same plant ripen at different times. This allows the same wild rice plants to be harvested several times in the same year.
  5. Use the Think, Pair, Share technique to have the students review their drawings and descriptions of the wild rice life cycle. Guide the students to identify the common elements of life cycles—birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Activity 2: Growing and Harvesting Wild Rice

  1. Explain to the students that wild rice grows in two different ways:
    • Cultivated Wild Rice or Paddy Rice: Farmers plant wild rice in fields that they flood.
    • Hand-harvested or Native Wild Rice: Wild rice grows on its own in rivers and lakes.
  2. Share with the students that hand-harvested wild rice is harvested following a process developed by Native Americans a long time ago. Wild rice, also known as manoomin, good berry, or good seed, is a critical staple food for many Indigenous tribes near the Great Lakes. It is also hugely significant spriritually, culturally, historically, symbolically, politically, and economically.
  3. Tell the students that there are five traditional steps of the wild rice harvest:
    1. Knocking
    2. Drying
    3. Parching
    4. Jigging
    5. Winnowing
  4. Ask the students to write the five steps on five different pages (one step on each page) in their science notebook.
  5. Show one or more of the videos illustrating traditional hand harvesting of wild rice. Have the students add illustrations and descriptions for each of the five traditional steps of the wild rice harvest in their science notebook.
  6. Allow time for the students to share and discuss their descriptions of the five steps. Guide them to include the following important elements:
    1. Knocking: One person uses a long pole to push the canoe through the water and thick reeds of the wild rice plant. A second person sits in the canoe and holds two long sticks called "knockers." One stick is used to gently bend the reeds or stalks. The second stick taps the ripe seeds into the canoe. Not all of the rice falls into the canoe. Some fall into the water and will grow into plants next year.
    2. Drying: After the wild rice is harvested, it is spread onto big tarps and left to dry in the sun. As the rice dries, it is turned so it can dry evenly. 
    3. Parching: The rice is parched in a metal pot over a fire and stirred with a flat paddle. This helps to dry the rice and loosens the hulls.
    4. Jigging: There are still pieces of chaff (plant stems and other parts) stuck to the seeds. A person wearing new moccasins dances lightly on the seeds to break away the chaff without breaking the wild rice.
    5. Winnowing: The rice is put into large baskets and tossed in the air. The chaff blows away and the rice seeds fall back into the trays.
  7. Provide each student with a Wild Rice Venn Diagram. Explain to the students that hand-harvested wild rice and cultivated wild rice are grown and harvested using different methods.
  8. Show the AgWeek Wild Rice Harvest video and ask the students to compare the similarities and differences between the two methods on their Venn diagrams.
  9. Have the students share their Venn diagrams with the class and lead a discussion about the similarities and differences. Guide the students to include the following:
    • Similarities:
      • Wild rice is harvested when the seed is ready to fall off the plant.
      • The chaff is removed.
      • The seed is dried.
    • Differences:
      • Hand-harvested wild rice is harvested from lakes or rivers. Cultivated wild rice is harvested from paddies that are drained of water several weeks before harvest so machinery can move through the fields and not get stuck in the mud.
      • Hand-harvested wild rice is harvested using canoes and knockers. Cultivated wild rice is harvested using combines.
      • Hand-harvested wild rice is parched in metal pots over a fire. Cultivated wild rice is parched using large machines.

Activity 3: Wild Rice Bowls

Teacher Note: Have the students wash their hands prior to beginning this activity. In preparation for this activity, write the mix-in options on the white board.

  1. When the wild rice from the Engage section of the lesson is finished cooking, allow it to cool.
  2. Show the students the mix-in ingredient options. Explain that the ingredients have grown in the same places where wild rice has grown for hundreds of years, and people have mixed them in wild rice to make different dishes.
  3. Line up the labeled mix-in bowls on a table.
  4. Provide each student with a Wild Rice Bowl Recipe. Explain to the students that they will come up to the table when invited and add ingredients to their wild rice. They can add just one, or as many as they choose.
  5. While you dish out the wild rice into paper bowls, ask the students to write down the ingredients they will choose from the list on the white board. They can write their choices on the back of the recipe.
  6. Invite the students to come to the table in groups to add their mix-ins. (If they choose maple syrup, have an adult help put one drop on the wild rice.)
  7. When all have served themselves, ask everyone to taste their wild rice bowl. Remind the students to taste respectfully. Encourage them take one taste at first and finish if they choose.
Evaluate

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Wild rice has grown in the wild in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario for as long as people can remember.
  • It takes time and energy to harvest wild rice both by hand and machine.
  • You can cook most wild rice in 20-25 minutes.

Author

Uli Koester

Organization

Midwest Food Connection

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