Dr. Richard Schulze Sr. had predatory rather than culinary goals in mind when he planted Carolina Gold rice in the mid-1980s.
The Savannah eye surgeon was looking to attract ducks to his Turnbridge Plantation in Hardeeville, SC, about 30 miles northeast of Hilton Head, for hunting, according to the Savannah Morning News.
The birds didn’t much cotton to the long-grain rice, but chefs and rice connoisseurs shortly began to take notice.
Today, Carolina Gold rice is essentially the basis for the U.S. rice industry, no mean feat considering that virtually no one had grown rice in the South Carolina Lowcountry in the previous 60 years before Schulze’s efforts.
Initially, Schulze started by planting regular rice on his plantation. He then decided to switch to Carolina Gold, known as the Cadillac of rice for its taste and quality. The lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia was known for its high-quality Carolina Gold rice prior to 1900, particularly before the War Between the States.
“Well, I figured if we’re going to do rice, why not get the original stuff,” he told the Morning News.
Schulze requested Carolina Gold from the USA Rice Council, and was redirected to a rice research scientist with the US Department of Agriculture in Texas.
He was able to secure 14 pounds of Carolina Gold seed, which he planted in 1986.
Schulze faced the additional obstacle of hulling the seed. Sending rice out of state for milling and then having it sent back was impractical.
He chose instead to have a 100-year-old rice mill in Ridgeland, SC, restored.
Rice was one of the crops that established the planter elite along the Georgia and South Carolina lowcountry, along with cotton and indigo, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As early as the 1690s, rice had began to be established as South Carolina’s leading export crop.
Rice farming was very labor intensive and planters often purchased slaves from particular regions of Africa such as today’s Senegal, Gambia and Angola, where knowledge of rice cultivation existed.
Carolina Gold was not only consumed locally, but also shipped to distant locales through ports in Charleston and Savannah.
Rice farming faded with the end of slavery, although many blacks stayed on plantations and worked the land after the Civil War as sharecroppers. Devastating storms in the early 20th century wreaked havoc with rice fields.
In addition, rice growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, which had firmer soil, cut into lowcountry rice growers’ business as they were able to use heavy machines that the wet, muddy soil in South Carolina and Georgia couldn’t support.
By the Great Depression, Carolina Gold was no longer being grown in South Carolina or Georgia, according to Glenn Roberts, president of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation.
That remained the case until Schulze’s efforts several decades later.
While Schulze declines to accept recognition for reviving the lowcountry’s rice industry, he said he’s proud of what’s been accomplished.
He told the Morning News he’d like to be remembered for his work with Carolina Gold rice.
“I wouldn’t mind being buried with a couple sprigs of rice,” he told the publication.