When it comes to artisan grown rice products, there’s a serious new player in town.
Meet the Wagner Farm Family
Earlier this year, I met father/son farmers, Mike and Lawrence Wagner at Hal & Mal’s, a popular local soul food and music joint in Jackson, Mississippi. Mike couldn’t wait to tell me about his rice farm operation in Sumner, Mississippi. On the surface, it’s an unremarkable tale: humble farmers, growing rice. Each year about 150,000 acres of rice are grown in Mississippi; Two Brooks Farm grows only 1500 of those acres. In rice production circles, most varieties of rice are similar: in taste, in farming method, in genetic make-up—mostly in unremarkable ways.
At our lunch, the senior Wagner explained, “What we do is unlike anywhere else around here.”
He went on to explain their differences in the context of his well traveled culinary perspective and extensive nutritional research of rice. In the midst of his explanation, he handed me a bag of their fragrant Mississippi grown basmati rice called Missimati. As I opened the bag, Wagner asked excitedly: “Smell that?”
Oh, I did.
The Mississippi Blue Rice Difference
In that moment, I got a whiff of what is quickly making Mississippi Blue Rice popular with chefs and home cooks alike. It’s more than just a farm-to-table product that’s available year round. It’s about an amazing buttery flavor and desirable texture that truly is exceptionally different.
As we wrapped up this first meeting, I pledged to come visit Two Brooks Farm as soon as possible to see all of these “ecologically friendly” farming practices of which the Wagners spoke so passionately—in person.
Two Brooks Farm Tour
Two weeks later, we were standing on the edge of a rice field in Sumner, Mississippi soaking up the sweltering heat of summer.
Mike Wagner promptly loaded us up in his (well air conditioned) truck for a farm tour that would turn out to be a bit different than many others we’ve taken. As we drove along the edge of the first field, there was an immediate visual difference in the layout and setup of the farm. Zero grade fields with water flowing slowly but steadily from one end of the farm to the other across beautiful fields of healthy rice. We frequently paused our driving tour to look at the wildlife moving about the farm. We saw rare duck species to multiple raccoons, all happily doing their part to perpetuate the food chain. A farm teaming with such an abundance of wildlife must mean this is a healthy place for them to prosper, I thought aloud as the tour continued.
Two Brooks Farm is located inside a bend in the Quiver River in Sunflower county, Mississippi – in the heart of the Mississippi River delta. As it happens, this is also where a rare variety of blue clay is deposited that distinguishes this farm’s soil from the rest of this region’s dirt. To hear Mike describe it, you’d think we were analyzing a rare terroir in a fine wine growing region of France. And in terms of rice, we were.
Wagner reached down as he was talking and pulled a soggy blue blob from the edge of one of his rice fields. Biting down on the dirt, he said, “Yeah, so this has a specific rich flavor to it.”
It makes sense. It’s long been known that even subtle differences in mineral composition and soil type produce different flavors in wine grapes. I’ve been around dirt my whole life, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown man intentionally place it in his mouth and bite down. But the fact that he did solidified the point in my mind: flavor matters. And flavor comes from the environment around the plants.
As we toured more fields, I could imagine that Wagner’s farming practices might be perceived as unorthodox by some other farmers in the area. But I also noted that his practices are coming higher than average yields and a healthier farm ecology. He’s nurturing an environment that lets nature do it’s thing, cleaning up the environment not just on his farm but for the surrounding area.
To call what the Wagner’s are doing “ecologically friendly” is an understatement, and a case study worth appreciating in person if you’re ever in the area. More importantly, it’s producing a rice you’ll want to enjoy.
The End Result: Mississippi Blue Rice Product Line
Mississippi Blue Rice has been milling rice and giving it away for years (to the tune of 114,205 servings of rice to date) – all in an effort to perfect their product and their process. Today, Mississippi Blue Rice grows, harvests and mills nine different products made from a variety of raw rice grains grown on their Two Brooks Farm, all offered in two pound resealable bags or in bulk 25 pound bags.
The packaging features clear windows on the bags, so you can view the product inside. There are brown kraft bags for the brown rice products and white bags for white rice products. Restaurants appreciate the narrow 25 pound foodservice case boxes that fit perfectly on a restaurant shelf, a reminder that this rice farmer is also a restaurant owner who knew first hand the space and storage considerations required to fit a restaurant’s needs. Wagner seems to always be improving the little things with his packaging and milling just like he’s doing with his farm stewardship and production.
Regardless of whether it’s the more premium Missimati Bayou Bouquet Fragrant Brown Mississippi Basmati Rice or the Delta Belle Long Grain White Rice, you’ll taste the difference and appreciate it in the kitchen as the ease and consistency of cooking dominates. Just take a whiff of Mississippi Blue Rice to get started on a different sort of rice journey.
But don’t take my word for it! Many local chefs have voiced praise for Mississippi Blue Rice.
“Y’all need to taste this rice. Good stuff.” – Vishwesh Bhatt, Chef at Snackbar in Oxford, MS
“Good stuff.” – Camron Razavi, Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Iris, Memphis, TN
“It really is the best I’ve had.” – Hayden Hall, Chef/Owner at Oxbow Restaurant in Clarksdale, MS
“Love, love, love it!” – Meredith Pittman, Chef at CAET in Jackson, MS
Try It For Yourself
With a gluten free eater in our family, I’ve found myself substituting the Original Missimati Middlins Brown Mississippi Basmati Rice Grits for bulgar wheat and the Original Missimati Middlins White Mississippi Basmati Rice Grits for traditional couscous in many of my Hello Fresh meal service recipes at home. Plus, the Mississippi Blue Rice website is loaded up with literally dozens and dozens of rice recipes created by owner Mike Wagner and inspired by his world travels in the study of rice production and rice-infused cuisine. Bonus – the recipes are all 100% gluten free!
For the Wagner Family and their dream of milling and distributing their rice, it’s game on. They’re bringing flavor to the rice arena, and it’s a winner.