Snow Goose Farms not only sustains its rice growing operations for generations of the Denn family, but sustains the enviroment for generations of wildlife on the northern edge of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.
Waiting while a combine is repaired so they can begin rice harvest, from left, Mark Denn, Sandy Denn and Wally Denn, enjoy a conversation under a clear, Sacramento Valley sky.
Rice is not only a staple diet for millions, perhaps billions of people around the world, it serves as a staple crop for growers in California’s Sacramento Valley like Wally and Sandy Denn, owners of Snow Goose Farms in Willows.
Rice is all the Denn family does. They are not diversified as many other growers are in California.
“I don’t know any other means of making a living,” said Wally.
“I decided that when my folks had sheep and rice that I definitely liked the rice better than the sheep,” Sandy said. “Sheep are like goldfish; every so often they simply like to turn belly up and die.”
Rice harvest for the Denn family came a bit later than their neighboring rice growers. By mid-October much of California’s rice crop was already cut and stored in silos for drying and milling. The Denn family’s 750 acres of medium-grain rice was harvested in late October, just ahead of an autumn storm that seemed to surprise forecasters and farmers alike.
Harvest for the Denns is a family affair. In California rice country that not only includes kin, but neighbors, who chip in to help get the crop off the fields and into the silos, hopefully before the weather turns sour. On this particular sunny Sacramento Valley day, a few neighbors joined Wally and Sandy, including their sons Mark Denn and Perry Bronner, to harvest this year’s crop.
“Unlike a lot of operations, where people are competing against each other, farmers come and actually help each other out,” Mark said. “The community really does band together to help.”
Mark and Perry rent 160 acres of rice fields from their parents. Their rice crop is kept separate from their parent’s rice, including where it is shipped. While Sandy and Wally store and dry their own rice and sell it through a broker, Mark and Perry’s rice is handled by American Commodity Corporation, which has silos a few miles from where their rice is grown.