Like many kids who grew up on family farms, Jessica Lundberg yearned to do anything but plant rice when she grew up. She imagined herself as a veterinarian, pilot or surgeon, and majored in biological sciences at California State University at Chico with the idea of going to med school.
But the pull of the paddies turned out to be too strong. A decade ago, Lundberg joined the third generation of Lundbergs to run the 71-year-old family business, managing the seed nursery that supplies proprietary rice varieties like Wehani, Black Japonica and California Arborio to the farm's 17,000 acres of organic and natural rice fields.
Lundberg has been recognized as a leader in sustainable agricultural practices and organic-food manufacturing in her own right. She was one of only seven U.S. rice growers to attend the 18th class of the USA Rice Federation's Rice Leadership Development Program last year, and is an alternate on the California Rice Research Board and on the advisory council for the Agriculture Department at Cal State Chico.
Lundberg didn't give up all her childhood dreams, though—she's studying for a private pilot's license and frequently swoops over the Sacramento Valley in the family's Cessna. She can recognize every bird, insect and plant on the family fields, and she claims she can discern a rice grain's variety from a football field away.
What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? One of the biggest challenges, shared by the agricultural industry in general, is sustainability, especially in the area of succession of business to the next generation. According to the California Farm Bureau: " Of the 2.13 million farms in the U.S., 30 percent may pass to a second generation but less than 10 percent will pass to a third." We are currently in our second year of providing internship opportunities for members of our fourth generation to ensure that we cultivate an appreciation of the business in the next generation.
What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? Fewer private label products and more products that allow direct associations for consumers with farmers and their food supply. I would also like to see agreement on labeling standards.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? For me as a grower, to be able to not only farm healthy food in a way that cares for the soil, but to also see the rice as it is brought in from the fields, dried, stored, milled, made into products and sent to stores for people to eat, and then make connections with those people in person or through e-mail and letters, is very rewarding.
If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? " Have a Rice Day," with a base of a custard rice pudding made with arborio rice (traditional), with cinnamon and cardamom (spicy and a little exotic), a swirl of burnt-sugar syrup (sweet yet complex) and chocolate-covered puffed-rice clusters (those who know me know I couldn't have a flavor without some influence of chocolate).