“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

BABE #213: LINDSAY MEYER - Co-Owner, Congaree and Penn

BABE #213: LINDSAY MEYER - Co-Owner, Congaree and Penn

Lindsay is the creative director and co-owner at Congaree and Penn, a Jacksonville farm home to rice, orchards, you pick vines and fields, and thousands of honeybees and fancy chickens. Lindsay is in charge of steering all things branding, events and marketing, and alongside her husband Scott, she’s created a space where modest beginnings have garnered real success and genuine community ties. We’re big fans of the hard work Lindsay puts into the overall design and aesthetic of the farm’s brand, the importance she holds on agritourism and collaborations with local chefs, farmers, and artisans, and the TLC she gives to the nature, animals, and clients she works with on a daily basis.

The Basics:

Hometown: Anthony, New Mexico (a little farm town just outside of El Paso, Texas)
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: Texas Christian University
Degree: BFA, Graphic Design; B.A., Advertising and Public Relations
Very first job: Lifeguard, Wet N’ Wild water park
Hustle: Creative Director and Co-Owner, Congaree and Penn

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
The women in my family. My mom, for her strength and resilience. We lost my dad in 2012. My mom carried my siblings and me through the pain of losing our father. She could have collapsed and given up, dwelling on the loss of her husband, but my mom was, and still is, so resilient. My grandmother, for her optimism, her faith and her glamour. She’s such a light. I tend to lack faith in many ways. My doubts sometimes consume me, but my grandmother is a bright reminder of goodness and buoyancy and grace. Her sense of style (and her closet) are also admirable. She’s such a star. And my sister, for her everything. She’s six years younger than me, but I look up to her most of all. Her ease, her confidence, her charm, her genuine kindness, her sass when it’s just the two of us. People ask us if we’re twins, and though I know the sentiment is only based on appearance, I beam every time.

How do you spend your free time?
At the barn. On top of a horse. If I could ride and enjoy the presence of horses all day every day, that’s what I would do. I’m also mesmerized by my chickens. I could watch them cluck and hop and do their little bird things all day long.

Favorite fictional female character? Why?
So many. Right now I’m really into Ruth Langmore on Netflix’s “Ozark.” She’s real gritty.  

Go-to adult beverage?
A Dusty Boot from Black Sheep.  

If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
My sister. With dogs afoot.

What would you eat for your very last meal?
A lot of chips and salsa, red enchiladas made with chile grown in New Mexico, refried pinto beans and rice.  

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
I’m the co-owner and creative director of Congaree and Penn. Both of these roles come with many hats, most of which I’m thrilled to wear. I have the grand privilege of steering our brand, our vision, our little farm, in the direction I choose. Scott, my husband and co-owner, has a steering wheel, too, but mine is more insistent when it comes to creative direction, and whether or not we’ll build a barn one day. Ha! I also have a little side business called Old Kings Lane, where I paint southern-inspired stationery and wedding invitations.

What does your typical workday look like?
Most days begin with my alarm beeping before Chicken Joe crows (this isn’t saying much; he doesn’t begin crowing until 7:00 or so, but he doesn’t stop until dusk). The very first thing I do is feed all of our animals. The dogs, the cats, the chickens, the goats. Then, I make myself a cup of hot tea (I’ve done this since high school), open my MacBook, take note of emails and write down my to-dos. Handwritten lists are the foundation of my day. There’s nothing more satisfying than marking an X next to an accomplished task. From there, my day can go in many directions, but mostly it’s a lot of calendar checking, planning events, updating our website, designing everything (from packaging to letterheads), copywriting, sweeping, posting on social media (the bane of my existence), farm touring, answering guests’ questions about whether or not they’ll encounter and be eaten by an alligator or a snake at the farm (the answer is no, bro), cleaning chicken coops, feeding animals (again and again) and more sweeping. It’s a really glamorous farm life, right? (But, truly, I wouldn’t change much.)

What inspired Congaree and Penn?
I suppose it all began with my father-in-law’s penchant for sake. That, and a blank canvas of land that boasts rich clay soil. The goal was to grow something native that would thrive in northeast Florida in that hearty soil. That was rice. Most people don’t know this, but rice used to be a staple crop in Jacksonville. We decided to bring it back to produce sake, but Jacksonville chefs had other ideas. They wanted it in their kitchens, so we obliged, and and it seemed that sake production was best left to the Japanese market for now. It’s been a fast four years. We began in 2014, milling rice in a tiny shed in our backyard. Now we have a real warehouse, kitchen, cidery and event space (all within our steel quonset hut), acres of orchards, you-pick crops and a home for (not enough) animals. There are so many days when it feels like things aren’t going right, but sometimes I have to take a step back and look at all we’ve accomplished in a few short years. My vision for the farm has always been centered on good design and animals, and while we still have expanding to do in the animal realm, I think design has been a quiet leader of Congaree and Penn.

How much does design play into your everyday work with the farm?
Besides feeding the always-hungry beasts, my job centers mostly on graphic design, event planning and marketing. Little-Lindsay in college thought of her burgeoning graphic design career as it might be portrayed in a cliche chick-flick. She would work on the 100th floor in the big city, brush shoulders with Milton Glaser and Paula Scher (they’re the industry’s best) and design the next Coca-Cola logo, all while running around in Louboutins and matching red lipstick. Oh, sweet Lindsay. She would very quickly realize that was no life for a country mouse at heart. I’ve always loved good design. Whether it be graphic, interior, architectural, landscape, textile or fashion, good design is essential. It was inevitable I would fall into some category of design. Not so much in the realms of marketing and event planning, but they currently come with the territory. The opportunity to wrap all of these fields into one big job while “being a farmer”—it feels like my own 100th floor.

What are the main crops grown on the farm?
We grow Jupiter rice, mayhaw trees, olive trees and a variety of you-pick crops (like blackberries, muscadine grapes and figs). While we’re best recognized as a rice farm, it’s the tree orchards we’re aiming to spotlight in the future. We choose crops based on their compatibility with our land. Everyone thinks we should grow blueberries, but our soil lacks the acidity needed for successful blueberry growth. It’s truly all about working with the soil and climate you’re given. We emphasize agritourism and partnerships with chefs, other farmers and artisans. Growing relationships with our community has been integral.

How many restaurants and businesses source their ingredients from Congaree and Penn?
Locally, about 50. Nationally, over 200. We’re immensely grateful for our local partnerships. Jacksonville chefs and foodies have been our cheerleaders, our confidants, our inspiration. We’re lucky to have a supportive community. It’s also great fun to have close relationships with talented people who can turn something you grow into a culinary gem.   

How do you stay organized? Are there any specific tools you recommend?
I have a Bullet Journal. If you’re not familiar, I so recommend a good Googling. Also, my iCalendar. Wunderlist for shared digital lists. Airmail for email. Planoly for Instagram. Dubsado for event planning.

How have your past internships, education and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
The last job I had before the farm was for a small landscape architecture firm in South Florida. Their work ethic and dedication to growing their business was a great precursor to starting Congaree and Penn. If I’ve taken one thing away from all of my past work experiences and internships, it’s that I have an intense need to be my own boss. I’ve always possessed a bit of an entrepreneurial streak, and I think, for me, sitting under the thumb of someone else’s business was restrictive.  

How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Perhaps I’ve veered from the traditional male roles in the farming industry (I’m not driving a tractor, pruning a vineyard, harvesting fields or literally getting my hands dirty), but that’s only by choice. Where I thrive and shine is among animals and in the vast creative field (pun intended). I’m lucky to be a part of a business (albeit my own business) that acknowledges my voice, that values other women’s voices. As a whole, the farming industry is certainly gaining more female influence. I might not be mucking through a field to check on my crops, but plenty of women in the farming world are, and that’s amazing.

What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That I’m frolicking through a field dressed in overalls with a flock of chickens following at my heels. Not quite. A great lot of my day is spent behind a computer screen. Yes, I have quite a bit more outdoor time than most folks might, but it comes from the needs of all those animal mouths and the simple requirement to stretch my legs and breathe some fresh air. Wet ground is an everyday struggle. And weather in general. And hawks eating chickens. It’s the worst.

What’s your biggest strength in your role?
I’m organized. I’m a calendar watcher. I’m also a procrastinator. I know my delegation skills are weak. Congaree and Penn is still a baby business, and it’s so hard giving other people pieces of it, because what if they can’t do it like I can? What if they break it? I always have to remind myself that, Hey, maybe they can do it better than you can, crazy Lindsay.

Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
She’s not quite “in my field,” but she is in the business of celebrating food. Amy Robb of Edible Northeast Florida (and fellow Babe Who Hustles) is endlessly inspiring. Jenna Alexander —also a fellow Babe Who Hustles — is also remarkable. She’s an artist I so admire, both as a talent and as a businesswoman.   

What’s your philosophy on work-life balance? What helps you wind down and manage stress?
The work part of my work-life balance scale is a good bit heavier than the life bit. I’m not one to carry on about how booked my calendar is, or to take pride in my 80-hour work week. I’ll leave that to corporate America (or whatever). I am a supporter of frivolity and pursuing interests outside of what’s benefiting my bank account. For me, that’s horses (the very opposite of beneficial to one’s bank account). In my spare moments, you’ll find me at the barn. Riding keeps me focused, engaged with a 1,200 pound teammate and dedicated to something I’m endlessly passionate about. It’s therapy, it’s excercise, it’s a profound relationship with an animal. The other horse people aren’t so bad, either.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Find patience. I lack it, and I have the most trouble finding it, but I’ve learned that with it, you can turn down the noise, the stress and enjoy the moment. Also, always write thank-you letters. In your own penmanship. On beautiful stationery that means something to you.    

Connect with Lindsay:

Congraree and Penn | Old Kings Lane | Email

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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