(WVUE) - Louisiana is the nation's third-largest producer of rice, but the state makes a claim to having America's oldest operating rice mill. And you can find products from that mill in food stores in every state in the country.
The belts that turn the wheels and pulleys in this rice mill are made out of leather. That's how this machinery worked when it was installed a century ago by P.A. Conrad of New Iberia.
"There were rice mills before us, but they have all ceased to exist. He built this thing in 1912," said Mike Davis.
Davis, a former teacher and farmer, bought the rice mill from the Conrad family in 1975. Since then, he's been milling mostly brown rice
"We have these elevators that literally elevate the rice to the third floor, and then we drop it down from one machine to the next by gravity, and then we bring it back up. We figured one day that the rice travels a couple of miles before it gets out of here."
In this machine, the rice hulls are shaken loose and separated from the grains of brown rice. The 100-year-old process creates a product that is now growing in popularity
"We are really lucky that there is a move in the country where natural foods are very much on the inside. And that's what we're geared towards," Davis said.
The products are gluten free and certified non-GMO – that's no genetically modified organisms. And Davis is expanding his Konriko brand beyond his popular wild pecan brown rice.
"This is where we make the crackers. We make our whole grain crackers," Davis said.
There are rice snacks, sauces and marinades and seasonings. The mill can package a thousand cases of chipotle seasoning in a day.
"She's filling them up…check weighing to make sure they're the right weight…and then seaming it," Davis said.
And something else that's sold here - tours of the rice mill. Davis says he got the idea from the Jack Daniel's distillery in Tennessee.
"So we built a tourist reception center which gets almost 50,000 people a year. We were able to get on the National Register," Davis said.
It's only a short distance to the mill from the rice fields of Southwest Louisiana.
"Every grain of rice that runs through Conrad rice mill is from the state of Louisiana. Every grain," Davis said.
As Davis approaches his 70th birthday, he's planning no retirement for himself or his old rice mill.
"And people kept saying, 'So what are you going to do? When are you going to retire?' And my answer is when the local funeral home comes here and the gurney and carries me out, i'm retired. Because this is fun," he said.
And it's a bit of Louisiana history that's still creating products that are found on supermarket shelves across the country.
The Conrad rice mill is located along the railroad tracks in downtown New Iberia, and it's open for tours Monday through Saturday.