Florida Matters
1:03 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Florida Matters Preview: A Boom in Backyard Ag

Laying hens at City Chicks
Laying hens at City Chicks
Credit Robin Sussingham

All over Florida, laws are changing to make it easier for suburban homeowners to do a little farming. It's becoming more and more common to have a neighbor who's growing his own organic vegetables, collecting eggs from his own chickens, or even raising bees for their honey.

We will take an in-depth look at the increasing popularity of backyard agriculture this week on Florida Matters on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 a.m. on WUSF 89.7 FM.

  Mary Ellen James of Pinellas County can attest to the popularity of the backyard poultry farmer. James sells chickens to suburbanites and says she can hardly keep the birds in stock. And when you think about how much we use eggs in our diet, it seems like it might make economic sense to have a chicken in the backyard, laying eggs for free.

James says her typical customer is "the family that cares about what their children are eating. They want something without chemicals." Saving money, however, is probably not a huge concern.

"No," James says with a laugh, "they probably have close to two dollars an egg  if they calculated all the feed and the housing and their labor."

Mary Campbell, extension director for Pinellas County, says the boom in backyard farming is especially striking in Pinellas, which is the most densely populated county in Florida, and which lost its farms and groves long ago.  But now, she says, "ag is back in Pinellas!" There didn't seem to be a need for an agriculture extension agent, she says, until just a few years ago when they noticed they were fielding call after call from people interested in growing chickens, starting community gardens and similar endeavors.

The impetus behind the trend, says Campbell, is not so much about cutting down on grocery costs. "I really see a greater interest in getting back to the land and getting back to natural foods," Campbell says. "It's not necessarily saving them a lot of money at this point, but they have bigger concerns about their health and their wellness, and also, it's a great family activity. It pulls the whole family together."

Dustin Prickett, in Lakeland, belongs to one of those families that's started growing vegetables, and getting the kids involved.

"We gave it a shot, and we were not expecting it to grow like it has," Prickett says of his vegetable garden.  "We've got cucumbers, tomatoes and the kale. And it's fun to come out here with the kids and show them what we're having.  They see it start from seed... and then we show them how it's grown, and then put it on  our table."

Prickett says its important to him that his kids know where food comes from. And four-year-old Bowman is becoming quite a proficient gardener, picking kale and pointing out squash flowers needing pollinating. "Our cucumbers are growing pretty good," he says.