You’ve probably seen their names at farmers markets and on menus all over town…Down To Earth Farm, GYO Greens, Berry Good Farms, and Congaree & Penn. These and other farms in our area are the ones actually growing the ingredients that go into in some of our favorite dishes in town. Knowing where your food comes from is becoming increasingly important and supporting local farmers is just as crucial. The recent Tour de Farm event sponsored by Edible Northeast Florida and Slow Food First Coast provided a perfect opportunity for folks to learn more about some of our local farms and to get a taste of some of the wonderful things they produce. So we figured, we would head out and explore some of the farms right in our own backyard. Last week, we told you about our first two stops – Berry Good Farms and Down To Earth Jax.
After exploring Down To Earth Farms, we headed to Armstrong Farm, the home of Eat Your Yard Jax. This family-run farm and nursery is tucked into the woods off of Moncrief Road on Jacksonville’s west side. After a walk down a dirt road, we reached our destination and were amazed at the set up. The property is home to several greenhouses, which house the farm’s aquaponics systems as well as their beautiful cacti and succulents. The main goal of Eat Your Yard Jax is to promote the idea that one’s yard should be more than just decoration. They grow a whole array of edible landscape and garden plants through sustainable methods like vermiculture, aquaponics, composting, and rainwater and waste wood reclamation. This philosophy was evident as we toured the property. Everywhere we looked, there was some sort of edible plant growing – not just in greenhouses and planters, but all around us, tucked into every available nook and cranny, including an old pair of work boots. We will definitely be stopping by the Eat Your Yard Jax booth for a lesson in sustainable and edible landscaping next time we’re at the Riverside Arts Market. You can also find them at the Beaches Green Market.
What struck us the most about Eat Your Yard Jax was the strong sense of community and family among the people there. There were folks gathered around a stage, listening to talks about raw foods and acupuncture. There were people hanging out together, enjoying each other’s company. And there, of course, were hungry Tour de Farm attendees lingering near the outdoor kitchen, where Chef Rosaria Anderson was hard at work concocting some seriously fresh and healthy eats. The smells coming from the grill and the handmade wood-fire oven were beyond enticing and truly proved that “this chick” really can cook – pretty much anywhere.
After the walk back down the dirt road, we got in the car and started towards one of Jacksonville’s most popular farms as of late – Congaree and Penn. In recent months, Congaree and Penn has gained quite a bit of notoriety, in large part because they are Jacksonville’s only rice farm. It seems that people are really interested in learning more about Scott Meyer and his unique farm situated on the Northside. The 160-acre farm on Old King’s Road is home to several rice paddies, which produce a variety of rice products including brown and white rice, rice grits, rice flour, and their ever-popular middlins (cracked rice).
In addition to rice, Congaree and Penn also grows muscadine grapes as well as mayhaw seedlings, which they plan to use in their production of hard apple cider starting in 2016. In the meantime, their rice is in high demand and can be found at markets and in restaurants all over town, including Black Sheep and Orsay. Chefs from both restaurants were there during the Tour de Farm, busy cooking up some delicious dishes using Congaree and Penn rice.
During our visit to the farm, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the dirt path leading towards the back of the property. The farm itself is not only interesting to explore, but absolutely beautiful as well. We enjoyed our walk, taking in all the views – a lush wooded area along one side of the property, a pond, and plenty of open fields, not to mention rows upon rows of muscadines. As we got further away from the front of the property, we also got a great view of the cidery building, which will be put into use once the hard cider production begins. The building has a very modern industrial design, which makes it that much more striking against the open green landscape of the farm.
After reaching the bee hives along the side of the dirt path, we decided to head back towards the cidery building, which was packed with people enjoying some farm-to-table dining, watching rice milling demonstrations, and purchasing goods from some of the farm’s artisan partners. Based on the crowds that had formed and the lively party-like atmosphere, it is pretty clear that Congaree and Penn are the new “cool kids” in town when it comes to farming. It is definitely worth a trip out to the farm, not only just to hang out with the cool kids, but to check out the farm’s unique farming methods and beautiful views. If you can’t make it out to the farm, keep an eye out for Congaree and Penn at local markets, including the Riverside Arts Market and Jaxsons Night Market. And keep an eye out for our final Tour de Farm article next week, when we will wrap up our thoughts on our visit to these amazing local farms.
For this review we welcome a member of our own JRR family: Rhonda Kovar is a former call center manager turned stay-at-home mom. She grew up in the heart of North Carolina and moved to Florida after getting hitched in 2002. She is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and a lover of all things crafty, musical, or edible. Rhonda loves finding new and delicious ways to turn her two tiny picky eaters into future foodies. You can follow her on Instagram.