Cultivating Your Curiosity

Friday, December 15, 2017
By: Jessica Willingham, copywriter and AgVocate

“You know, I’m often shocked when folks come to my farm and ask ‘do you grow brown rice or white rice?’”


Matthew Sligar stroked his fiery-orange beard and furrowed his brow, waiting for a response. The group of content creators — photographers, writers, farmers, and bloggers — shifted uncomfortably in the muddy soil surrounding Sligar’s rice fields in Gridley, California. We snuck confused looks and subtle shrugs. As AgVocates brought together by Bayer, we are all involved in agriculture. Some of us are growers and producers, while others are communicators for food brands and businesses. We all know chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows, but when it comes to the difference between brown and white rice? We were at a loss.


Matthew Sligar, explains what happens on his rice fields post-harvest
Matthew Sligar, explains what happens on his rice fields post-harvest.

We moved on to equipment and harvest schedules, yields and podcasting. We took selfies in Sligar's combine. By the end of our two-hour visit, we crawled into the car completely exhausted and full of new information. But as we buckled our seatbelts and waved goodbye, someone finally asked: why is rice grown in water? And, wait...brown rice and white rice aren’t two different plants?!


We were too embarrassed to admit we didn’t know and too shy to ask why. For all of our degrees in agriculture, years in the field and experiences with food, fiber, and fuel, we forgot the most important component of being a good agriculturalist and AgVocate: humble curiosity.


Being an agriculturalist starts with cultivating your curiosity. What can we learn today? How can we do better? What would happen if…? It’s not what we already know that will feed the world — it’s what we have yet to discover, learn, and explore.


Brian Scott asks Justin Carney about his walnut operation just outside of Sacramento, CA Jim Culbertson examines the branch of a pear tree at David J. Elliot and Sons, Stillwater Orchards

Left: Brian Scott asks Justin Carney about his walnut operation just outside of Sacramento, CA. Right: Jim Culbertson examines the branch of a pear tree at David J. Elliot and Sons, Stillwater Orchards.

From that moment on, our goal for the trip changed. It wasn’t about taking the best pictures, capturing the best audio, or nailing the best interviews. It was simply to ask more questions. We hand-picked walnuts from an orchard and visited a fruit farm in operation since the 1800s. We ate our way through the state’s iconic farm-to-table movement, and drank wine at a vineyard in the Sacramento River Delta. Far removed from the wheat and cattle-dotted landscape of my native Oklahoma, I learned so much: kiwis grow on vines, Merlot is a type of a tiny grape, and the difference between brown and white rice is in the post-harvest milling process. Both products are from the same plant.



Matthew Sligar’s father holds up a rice plant to show the group.

We followed up with Sligar to learn what we didn't know, and he was happy to explain. "Rice loves water, brah! The marsh-like environment is its natural habitat." Rice thrives in aquatic environments. Flooded field water acts as a seal for fertilizer to bond to the soil and plant, a thermal blanket for healthy seeding, and an efficient way to suppress weeds.


Who knew?


For more ag adventures, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram at @jesswcreative.


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