| by Alexandra Plancarte | photos by Kristen Penoyer |
One Texas Christian University graduate living in Florida is looking to change the way chefs and farmers’ markets buy rice. The only rice farmer in Florida is 29-year-old Scott Meyer, who graduated from TCU in 2010 with a degree in environmental science before going on to earn his master's degree in aquaculture from the University of Miami. Meyer owns and operates Congaree and Penn Farm and Mills, a rice farm located on the north side of Jacksonville, Florida. His wife, Lindsay, also a TCU graduate, designs all the graphics for the business.
“People who are buying the rice from us are getting a better product,” Meyer said. “And people seem to be enjoying it.”
Meyer started planting 4 acres of rice paddies in 2014. Now, the farm is 7 acres and currently producing between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds of Jupiter rice. Originally, Meyer was planning to use the rice for sake. He researched a variety of rice that had similar characteristics to Calrose rice, used to make sake in California.
“People like it [Jupiter rice] and it grew well,” Meyer said. “So we focused on growing that variety.”
Meyer and his employees work on the farm six to seven days a week, doing everything from planting the rice to harvesting grains to milling the rice. The farm differentiates itself by milling rice to order for chefs and farmers’ markets. Once the rice is dried, the rice is stored into a husk year round until it is milled for an order.
Congaree and Penn also sells middlins - the broken pieces of rice that are generated during the milling process.
“Now a lot of chefs are reinterpreting the middlins into risotto so they can use local grain rather than importing the Arborio rice from Italy,” Meyer said.
The rice is sold online at a number of farmers’ markets and restaurants in Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, and in some grocery stores in Jacksonville.
But rice isn’t the only crop on the farm. Meyer is nurturing more than 1,500 Mayhaw trees - a native fruit-bearing tree popular in Louisiana and known for its tart jelly. Similar to the rice, the tree is very tolerant to the wet soil, Meyer said.
“We grew them when I was a kid,” he said. “We’d make jelly from the fruit, which is really good.”
Along with Mayhaw trees and Muscadine grapes, the farm cultivates beehives. The main reason for the bees is to have a good pollination rate for the Mayhaw tree orchard. The farm currently has 14 beehives, and Meyer said he hopes to have 20 beehives before winter and 50 hives by early 2017 with plans to make honey.
Meyer is cultivating just 40 acres with the rice, Mayhaws, Muscadines and bees. The rest is hay production for local horse farms. Taking care of the Mayhaw trees isn’t easy, but Meyer said he enjoys putting in the work and learning from those who are passionate about the Mayhaws.
“It’s a big challenge,” Meyer said. “It’s exciting to be involved in such a young industry. It’s in the early stages, only about 30 to 35 years of people trying to cultivate these trees.”
Congaree and Penn plans to expand its nursery program to supply its own Mayhaw trees. Olive trees will be planted in the orchard in the near future.
The middlins, grits, fish fry, rice and farm-pressed juice can be purchased online. Horned Frogs love the Purple Rice Grits, which add a bright purple color to any dish.