The Cal-Cam Rice Growers Association and the Port of Lake Charles held their 22nd annual National Rice Month Rice Cook-Off Contest for area students from Calcasieu, Cameron and South Beauregard parishes. More than 20 students advanced to the final competition held at the port office, aiming to win bragging rights, prizes and cash.

The event is designed to promote the area's rice industry, which is comprised of nearly 30 farmers and mills, said Adam Habetz, Cal-Cam Rice Growers Association.

"September is National Rice Month. As rice producers, in conjunction with the month, we hold the cook-off for the area kids to promote rice, get them to cook more of it and have it around the house more," he said.

The Port of Lake Charles is a major contributing factor to the region's successful rice industry, Kane Webb, USA Rice Federation field services director, said. Rice from local mills like Supreme Rice and Farmers Rice as well as mills from Southeast Texas are shipped worldwide from the port.

In fact, a large supply was being loaded for Iraq during Wednesday's competition, Webb said.

"It's a huge aspect for the economy overall and the agricultural economy especially in Southwest Louisiana," he said.

In addition to jobs generated at farms, mills and the port, last year Louisiana's rice industry "contributed a gross farm value right at $280 million for the state," Webb said.

Sara Ellis, Bell City High School teacher, said her students participate annually in the competition. She said she views the event as a hands-on approach to teaching the impact of agriculture on a rural economy.

"Those kids pass every day rice fields on their way to school... This is how the majority of people around here are making their living. I just try to relate it back to them in that way to help them see the importance," she said.

All participants in the competition received a rice cooker from Farmers Rice Mill, a bag of recipes and cooking utensils and first- through third-place winners received a cash prize: Danon Jackson, Moss Bluff Middle School, first place, seafood risotto; Zachariah Bleichroth, Vinton High School, second place, green rice casserole; and Paige Laughlin, Starks High School, third place, cozy cocoa rice pudding; Makala Snyder, Johnson Bayou High School, "Heart Healthy," bayou stuffed bell peppers.

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