Rice writings bring acclaim twice to 15-year-old Cape girl

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Claire Bira knows rice.

Well, sort of. She knows how to write about it anyway.

The Cape Girardeau 15-year-old has never stepped foot on a rice paddy, but she's taken home first-place awards in the U.S. Rice Producers Association's multistate essay contest two years running.

Last year's entry in the annual contest, which is open to students in the rice-growing states of Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, California, Louisiana and Mississippi, came after Bira saw details printed in the Southeast Missourian.

She decided to enter, thinking there was a good chance she might win the $150 first-place prize if only a few students entered.

She was wrong about the number of entrants -- there were 115 total -- but right about winning. Along with the prize money last year, Bira's family also received rice -- a lot of it.

One 50-pound bag of white rice and a 20-pound bag of jasmine rice went toward a "Rice Day" that Bira helped create at St. Vincent de Paul School, where she was a student last year.

"That was really good," said Bira, who will be a 10th-grader at Notre Dame Regional High School next school year. "All of the kids got to sample different rice dishes."

The Biras just recently used up the remainder of the 2003 rice.

This year, Bira's essay was about the impact rice has on air, land, water and environment.

"I didn't think I'd win, because I'd won last year," she said. "But I've learned to take opportunities like this because you never know when you might win."

Bira hopes to put her prize money, which now totals $300, toward a trip to New Zealand.

Her essays have taught other members of her family some surprising lessons about rice as well.

"I didn't realize how much rice is grown in Southeast Missouri," said her mother, Ann Bira. "We learned a lot about how it helps the environment."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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