By Emily Simpson | Contributor
When thinking of Florida agriculture, what comes to mind? Citrus, various greens, maybe some livestock or nut trees. How about rice? When Googling Florida crops, rice is definitely not the first listing, but believe it or not, rice was a staple crop in the South Atlantic and Gulf states during the time of settlement. The folks at Congaree and Penn, Scott Meyer and Amy O’Hoyt, felt that it was time to bring the colonial crops back to Jacksonville, and you will not believe the craft concoctions that come from their farm. Whether it be rice, sake, or a hard cider, these farmers know how to warm our stomachs.
Scott and Amy are the right kind of dreamers. Their friendship began during college and has withstood the test of time and wild business concepts. Amy shares, “At one point we were convinced we were going to completely own the smoked fish market.” We are all glad that they gave up that idea and instead decided to focus on crops that become libations.
The Scoop On The Rice
The story started on a piece of land that belongs to Scott’s family. Just under a year ago, a fragment of the land was converted into Japanese-style rice paddies. These farmers focus on what is called, “stacked agriculture.” This model utilizes every possible output that is possible given the specific crop. “You can do a lot on a little bit of land, and that is what we are figuring out,” Amy said. The equation that creates rice is completely unorthodox and lends itself beautifully to the stacked agriculture model. Soil + paddies + crawfish + ducks = rice. Simply outlandish, right? The two question marks fall specifically behind the crawfish and ducks. Crawfish, which happen to be an invasive shellfish, aerate the soil. Ducks, which happen to be an adorable addition, muddy the water with their swimming.
The current rice crop that is produced by Congaree and Penn is milled into byproducts such as flour, middlings and grits, and can be found on the table at 29 South in Fernandina, Moxie at the Town Center, and Black Sheep in Riverside. They are currently experimenting with Sake recipes that will prove the versatility of a paddy. What is to be said about the future of the ducks? Jacksonville chefs will finally have their hands on a reliable source for duck eggs. Who doesn’t love a good poached duck egg or grilled mallard?
The Mayhaw Of Our Eye
Many do not know about the magic of the Mayhaw berry. This antioxidant-rich fruit is a Florida native and loves the moisture of the south. What makes the mayhaw even more delicious is its qualities that lend it to being a hard cider. Congaree and Penn recently finished planting over 6,000 mayhaw trees. This orchard will be pumping out the first real local hard cider that Jacksonville has seen. The byproduct of stacked agriculture in terms of an orchard happens to be cider pigs. Yes, this farm will have a herd of pigs that will tend to the orchard and eat the cider mash. Not to mention, the local chefs will have some rare cuts of these swine after each season.
Congaree and Penn is on the up and up. They have plans to open a distillery onsite and have the farm be a destination for bike rides and picnics. They only add to their repertoire over time, and they care for local, southern crop. Amy assures, “this is only the beginning, really.” So let’s cheers to rice and sake, mayhaw berries and cider, and the choice cuts of the animals that make it happen. Libations and risotto for all.