Heart of Louisiana: Cajun rice farmer - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Heart of Louisiana: Cajun rice farmer

It was Kurt Unkel's great grandpa who started a family tradition of farming when he immigrated from Germany to the flat prairie of southwest Louisiana.

"My daddy and my uncle farmed here and now there's me and two of the brothers still farming here in the family," said Unkel.

Kurt Unkel's 150 acre farm is different from other Louisiana rice farms. Most of his fields are covered with wildflowers and weeds and grazing cattle.

15 years ago, Unkel made a tough decision, in fact some of his fellow farmers thought he was crazy. He wanted to go back to the old way of doing things with no pesticides and eventually no fertilizers.

"I mean it looks like a mess, but it all comes together. But the biggest thing is you got the earthworms. I mean you dig in the ground here you're going to find something moving, something crawling, something living, where before you could find nothing," he said.

Unkel says he hasn't used pesticides in years. He has more than enough good bugs to wipe out any harmful pests. He only plants rice on 30 acres, one-fifth of his land. He let's nature do the work and rotates cattle through different fields.

"The cows eat the grass and in 12-24 hours they've totally composted that, the manure goes back, the bacteria goes back in the ground and the cows are one of the biggest soil rebuildings that I have here," Unkel said.

The dung beetles control the cow piles.

"Within about 72 hours they can totally destroy a pile of manure," said Unkel.

This natural way of farming is boosting yields and lowering costs. Kurt says his farm is moving toward harmony with nature. His efforts got the attention of his Royal Highness, Britain's Prince Charles.

Unkel's Louisiana farm was part of a 2010 documentary by Prince Charles that promoted sustainable living around the world.

Of all the places, of all the farms. I mean he's really done a lot to promote nutrition and growth of just clean, healthy food on a clean, healthy farm."

The rice fields turn a rich golden color in the late Summer sun. The grain is then ready for harvest.

"The rice will be stripped off of the straw, and will go in the hopper."

Unkel's entire crop will be harvested in a day. It gives him enough grain to meet the demands of specialty stores and farmers markets from Texas to New Orleans, and to meet a growing online demand for his Cajun grain brown jasmine rice.

"Hopefully this place will go way beyond organic, way beyond sustainable and it'll be totally self sufficient. That's the harmony, everything is combined, it just all fits together like a giant puzzle."

And when all of those pieces are in the right place, Unkel says he's amazed at what nature will provide.

Cajun grain rice is sold at a couple of places in New Orleans - The Crescent City Farmers' Market, and it's also included in the weekly food boxes sold by the Hollygrove Market and Farm.

For more information, go to http://www.cajungrainrice.com/





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