Eighth Wonder was a socially responsible company that imported high quality heirloom rice from the famed terraces of the Cordillera, Philippines, into the North American specialty food market from 2005-2018. Mary Hensley, founder of Eighth Wonder, was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s in the rice terrace area of the Philippines. Thirty years later, she returned to the remote village where she had lived with an idea for a business partnership with farmers. This time, Mary didn’t come with only good intentions; she came with a business plan. She envisioned a partnership that would spur economic development as well as help preserve the natural environment and cultural identity of the indigenous people.
Based on the principles of fair trade, Eighth Wonder sourced its rice directly from the Rice Terraces Farmers Cooperative (RTFC), which had its main processing facility in Banaue, Ifugao. Over 300 heirloom rice varieties have been identified in this region of the Cordillera. After collecting and testing nearly 100 varieties submitted by farmers, Eighth Wonder chose four varieties of staple rice and three varieties of sticky/dessert rice for its product line. Each variety had its own unique flavor, texture and aroma characteristics.
From an initial shipment of 300 pounds in 2006, the project shipped a total of approximately 420,000 pounds of rice. Eighth Wonder ceased importing in 2018, just as the heirloom rice of the Cordillera was gaining visibility in the market. Six rice varieties have been selected for inclusion into the prestigious Slow Food Foundation’s Ark of Taste, an international registry of cultural products with exceptional cultural and culinary qualities. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in partnership with the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA), has taken over the management of heirloom rice and are in the process of characterizing and documenting the rice for geographical indication protection.