Pirayu Farm

Snap, crackle, pop? Nope, rice, cacao and coconut.

Replacing that familiar daybreak percussion are the dulcet sounds of One Degree Brown Rice Cacao Crisps, one of the new veganic cereals that are proving how rewarding breakfast can be when it’s missing so much: dyes, corn syrup and disclaimers, to name a few.

Under sweet layers of cacao from Bali and coconut palm sugar from Java, consumers are discovering the real prize: sprouted brown rice from Corrientes, Argentina. The search for this rare veganic grain took us across the equator and along miles of country roads that led us to farmer Gilmar Rigo Marques, standing at the door of the house he built, a warm and welcoming home.

A third generation rice farmer, Gilmar grew up across the border in Brazil in a region that shares the same subtropical climate as northern Corrientes. Unlike Argentina’s storied Pampas, the vast plains to the south, the land here is baked by the sun, and drenched by tempests in the sky stirred by jagged blades of lightning. It may not be a place for ranchers and gauchos, but it is ideal for the cultivation of pure brown rice.

The wet climate makes it easier for farmers to grow rice organically. “Our first step is to flood the land in a controlled way,” Gilmar explained to us. “In this way we drown everything that can damage the rice.” As the tide of controlled flooding rises, weeds founder. “Without competition with weeds, there is never any need for a farmer to use chemicals and other dangerous substances on the fields. And when the soil is optimal, a farmer can grow rice without animal fertilizer. Our fields have these ideal characteristics and conditions.”

Gilmar has long had a deep respect for nature, as well as a humbling perspective on man’s role in the natural environment. His ecological consciousness was awakened when he joined friends and neighbors of his hometown to fight a paper factory that was polluting the local air and water. Later, in Argentina, he became the first of his family to farm organically.

“In growing this rice, we have a strong belief that what we are doing is right,” he says. “It’s very important to believe in what you grow, believe that you are producing a good product.

“When you live in harmony with nature, you will live a healthy life.”

The art of living well is something that Gilmar has definitely mastered. His wife, two sons and daughter surround and support him in his daily organic adventure. The eldest son, 12-year-old Gilmar, is keenly interested in the work of the farm and never misses a chance to help his father in the fields. The family calls him Xumba, meaning playful. And his dad calls him “my partner.”

“For us, living in this beautiful place that hasn’t been exploited by man is a blessing,” the proud father told us. “Here, you are close to nature. Respecting the land and all of nature is a part of life for everyone so fortunate to live here.”

It’s a thought that stayed with us as our rented van ambled through the Argentinean countryside, and finally back to where our journey began, Buenos Aires, the city of fair winds. As our flight climbed high into the northern hemisphere, we vowed to return here someday; and to celebrate the warmth of the people, the joy of the life they live, and the purity of the food they grow, every cacao-sweetened morning.

— Charlie Dodge