Community garden: Quest to find a rice that can grow in Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE -- It's a big idea, starting with a little garden.

"When we first came here the first day, when they came back they were smiling. They were happy. They were sharing their experience here with the other seniors," said Milwaukee Christian Center Senior Adult Program Manager Amy Klatkiewicz.

The Milwaukee Christian Center, which provides an array of social services, started a community garden.

Since the majority of the elderly in its senior program are Hmong and Lao, they decided to do something different by planting a crop typically grown in Southeast Asia .

"I was looking at 200 varieties from all over the world and I selected the one that was most cold tolerant, which might be suitable for growth in Wisconsin," said Marquette Biological Science Associate Professor Michael Schleppi.

Schleppi found a rice seed that he believes will grow in Wisconsin.

As many of the Hmong and Lao seniors began growing rice as children in their native country, they were thrilled to add this new crop to their garden.

"It was like riding a bicycle. I gave them 400 seedlings and in 15 minutes they planted everything and they were done and like 'is there more?' I said 'no there is no more.' I thought it would take a long time to do this," said Schleppi.

Schleppi says although it's a fun crop to grow in the community garden, if Wisconsin farmers add this crop to their fields it could have a big impact on the economy.

After the hard work of the planting is done then comes the patience as the rice won't be fully grown until September.