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Your Shot: Rice, From the Paddy to Your Plate

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Rice is one of Thailand’s most important crops, and the Southeast Asian country is one of the world’s largest rice exporters.

If you’re not a rice farmer, chances are you give little thought to how the grains accompanying your curry, gumbo, or stir fry ended up on your plate. But humans have been growing rice for thousands of years on mountaintops, hillsides, and plains across the globe. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that there’s no scientific consensus on where the crop was first domesticated, with competing claims coming from India, China, and Southeast Asia.

Wherever it came from, rice is one of the planet’s most important staple foods, along with corn and wheat. Billions of people eat rice at least once a day, either as whole grains or as noodles, formed into dumplings, or as the basis for buns or sweets—not to mention in liquid form, in  spirits like sake.

In industrialized countries and on large-scale farms, most rice production today is highly mechanized—in the United States, for example, seeds are often sown from airplanes. But much of the rice consumed worldwide is still cultivated by hand: sprouted in seed beds, then transplanted, seedling by seedling, into flooded fields known as paddies. Eventually, the fields are drained and the soil allowed to dry as the stalks continue to grow.

At harvest time, farmers cut the stalks and then begin the next labor-intensive steps: threshing, to separate the grains from the grass; winnowing, to separate the grain from the inedible chaff; and then drying it for storage. And then there’s processing, which determines whether the end product will be brown—when only the hull of the rice is removed—or nearly translucent, when the outer layers of bran and germ are removed, as well.

When we chose rice farming as this week’s gallery topic, we found an embarrassment of riches in the Your Shot community archives. Here are just a few of our favorites.