He trademarked the grain Cavena Nuda for Canadian naked oats ("avena" is Latin for oats, "nuda" means naked). Wisely, he threw in a catchy nickname: Rice of the Prairies. I stumbled upon a one-sentance mention of "rice of the prairies" on the trends page of The Old Farmer's Almanac and was intrigued. When Sigvaldason came to town recently for a health food show, I invited him to the Star test kitchen. He and his national sales director Marshall Galloway brought raw, cooked and frozen grains that we sampled hot and unadorned, pan-popped with Thai spices, and mixed into cold edaname-tomato and Greek-inspired salads. The frozen cooked grain, once rinsed, tasted almost as good as fresh. Rice of the Prairies is mildly nutty with a pleasing chew - a cross between wheatberries and brown rice. It is low glycemic, and gluten and GMO-free. Its protein and fibre levels blow white rice away, although it has more fat. "It's as Canadian as it gets" boasts Sigvaldason. "This is a no-brainer as far as good healthy, new food". Sigvaldason's family has been farming "anything and everything" at Wedge Farms near Arborg, Man. (about an hour north of Winnipeg) since 1903. He was searching for a particular "naked oat" seed for pig feed when he caught wind of a hulless and hairless variety called Gehl that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist Vern Burrows had developed but shelved. Burrows - a.k.a. Dr. Oats - registered dozens of oat varieties in a career that earned him an Order of Canada. Now retired, he's thrilled that Gehl is feeding people, and even visited Arborg for a first-hand look and taste. Sigvaldason, meanwhile, sold or rented out most of his land and switched his focus to marketing his wonder grain. He scored a spot last year on the CBC's Dragon's Den. To take his grain "from the field to the food industry," he asked the show's five rich "dragons" for $250,000 in exchange for a 20-per-cent stake in his company. "I've spent my whole life on the farm and seen plagues, pestilence, floods and droughts," says Sigvaldason, a father of two. "I figured, What can these guys do to me?" You've got 30 seconds to engage them and if you don't, they're on you like a pack of coyotes." Jim Treliving, Manitoba-born chairman of Boston Pizza International, offered $250,000 for 50-per-cent ownership, Sigvaldason accepted on air, but eventually struck a deal with an Arborg seed company that let him keep full ownership. Now he's busy pitching Rice of the Prairies to consumers and chefs. Several hundred stores, including 25 in Ontario, sell it for about $10 per 750-gram tub. Sigvaldason has been to food shows in Germany and the United States , visited China and Singapore, and shipped samples to Europe, Asia and Africa/ Agriculture Canada even put some on display this week at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in a display about oats and barley. Toronto chef and food trend tracker Dana McCauley blogged about Rice of the Prairies last year, but lost track of it because it was hard to find. "I do think it's an interesting product, but I worry that the name is just a bit too difficult for eople to get their heads around," she says. "Think of the simplicity of "rice" or "barley" or the simple poetry of Italian words like "pasta" and "risotto" and you'll see what I mean." Michael Olson, chef/professor at the Niagra Culinary Institute, discovered Rice of the Prairies when researching the Manitoba area where his Icelandic ancestors first settled. "I loved working with it-it has a grounded, earthy flavour profile," says Olson, who doled out samples to fellow chefs. "Cooks are always on the lookout for something cool and neat, and it doesn't have to be crazy, high-end stuff." Sigvaldason now owns the licensing rights to the seed. He hired a dozen Manitoba farmers to grow 3,000 acres of Rice of the Prairies this year, paying them a 50 per cent premium over the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange price for oats. "As a farmer, I always looked across the fence and saw the food companies making all the profits while the farmers just grow the base product," he explains. "I want to bring across as many people as I can." And he'd love to see Canada become a "rice"-exporting nation. "Some day I would hope this is grown all over the world. I don't need to be Bill Gates. I just think it would be really cool when we're old and grey and swapping stories at the coffeeshop to say "Look at it now.""
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