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Business Brief: Jacksonville Rice Farm A Nod To Region's Past

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John Burr
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Farm manager Scott Meyer stands near a rice paddy.

Jacksonville’s Congaree and Penn Farm has had huge success in its two years in business, mainly by selling rice to local restaurants.

In this week’s “Business Brief,” analyst John Burr tells WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo the crops cultivated there are a nod to the region’s past.

Burr visited the farm and mills on Jacksonville’s Northside and took a tour through the six rice paddies, which produce more than 20,000 pounds of rice at harvest time.

He says local chefs love it, and Congaree and Penn farm manager Scott Meyer explains why.

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Credit John Burr
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Farm manager Scott Meyer inspects a stalk of rice.

"The chefs are looking to get the best thing that they can get and put it on a plate so people can enjoy it,” he said, listing off clients including Taverna, Orsay, Moxie Kitchen and Black Sheep.

He said it’s not just the raw product they’re after, though. Chefs are particularly drawn to a milling technique the farm uses to purposely crack the rice’s grain to allow for more flavor to sink in, which he said is good for Italian-style risotto.

Rice may seem like an unlikely crop in Northeast Florida now, but Meyer says about 100 years ago, it was a huge crop in the region. Mechanized farms in Louisiana killed Florida competition for decades, but Congaree and Penn is bringing starchy back.  

In addition to rice, the farm is turning its attention to another traditional Southern crop, the mayhaw.

Farm partner Bob Burns said, “We feel that it’s got just a great potential cause it’s a new fruit in the marketplace that hasn’t been commercialized in the past, so as we grow more and more trees, we’ll create a market locally.”

Burr said the production isn’t expected to fully ramp up for up to three years. Mahaws can be used to make everything from jelly to barbeque sauce to cider.

And shoppers at several area farmers’ markets can already buy the farm’s rice. It’s available at the Riverside Arts Market, as well as markets in Nocatee and Fernandina Beach.

Listen to this story on Redux