From the oryza glabberima of West Africa to the oryza sativia Eastern Asia, humans across worlds and lifetimes are bound the story of rice.
In Episode 4, we listen to Jasmine Lee’s discussion with Robin Koda of Koda Farms, and meet BJ Dennis, a chef, caterer and scholar of the African Diaspora from South Carolina.
“We love rice…it's part of our heritage, our legacy. And besides that, it's just damn good rice.”
Jasmine Lee sat down with Robin Koda of Koda Farms to discuss the family and farm’s history. We learn why it’s located in Modesto, the Central Valley of California, and not further north in the rice growing region of the Sacramento Delta. (Spoiler alter….: racism).
Inspired by an heirloom variety of rice with a beautiful name called, Kokuho Rose Jasmine, who comes from a lineage of rice merchants in Hong Kong, wondered whether it was possible to think about expressions of the land; ie, terroir, without thinking of about the history and politics of land use in the United States. If Kokuho Rose heirloom rice is an expression of the land it was grown on, it is also an expression of the trauma and perseverance with the family who worked that land.
Keisaburo Koda, the “Rice King” of California, established Koda Farms in 1928…
Sam Nakahira who brought us the extraordinary story on George Shima in Whetstone Volume 4, continued her immersion into historical comic that dive into the Japanese American Food Pioneers of California . Check out the rest of the story:
And here’s Sam’s story about George Shima, The Potato King, from Whetstone Volume 4. Shima was another Japanese immigrant who achieved massive success in agriculture in the face of racism.
“Rice is important because rice kind of unifies us across diaspora and rice made this city rich…”
When Chef BJ Dennis moved to St. Thomas in 2004, he encountered black folks from around the West Indies. Upon learning he was from the Lowcountry, they preceded to share stories and insight about the Gullah Geechee, a distinctive culture of the descendants of West Africa’s rice coast. The experience changed the trajectory of BJ’s career, catalyzing his calling as a chef and scholar of the culture. In our conversation with BJ, he discusses the story of rice in South Carolina, how catering has always been an essential part of the legacy and liberation of African American cooks, and how isolation helped preserve the Gullah Geechee culture.