CENTRAL FLORIDA YARD FARMS

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It’s a cool Saturday afternoon and, like clockwork, Gary Ehrlich tends the lush garden that thrives in his Lake Ivanhoe front yard.  Nearly every weekend he’s picking peas and tomatoes, pulling leeks and turnips, weeding or turning the soil.  You can’t miss the towering tomato plants, thriving greens or mature citrus trees that paint a surprising picture smack in between his neighbors’ manicured front lawns.

Joggers and drivers stop to admire his bounty. When Gary and his wife of 40 years, Joanne, first planted the garden four years ago, neighbors weren’t sure what to think of the front-yard phenomenon.

“Since then, it’s been fairly well accepted,” says Ehrlich, a design and construction project manager who lives a vegan lifestyle. “I have great sun here, so why put down grass when you can have a garden?”

At about 3,000 square feet, Ehrlich’s garden overflows with dozens of herbs and veggies including red potatoes, onions, rutabagas, eggplant, kohlrabi, spinach, parsley, basil, kale and asparagus. Blueberry bushes line the curb, and avocados flourish.  Ehrlich grinds his favorite peppers—habaneros, Datil, Caribbean red and Thai peppers—to make hot sauce.

Each year Ehrlich works at rotating crops, “and I try to be fairly organic.” The rewards are many, he says. Joanne goes straight to the garden for dinner, and last year the couple reaped 60 pounds of sweet potatoes and 35 pounds of beans. One of the greatest benefits, he says, is this: “When I garden, I don’t think about anything else—it’s great relaxation.”

Winter Park Native Grows Organic Community

In 2007, the Oxford American Dictionary selected “locavore” as its Word of the Year and John Rife, working on his master’s degree in digital media, produced a film documentary about the term. When his daughter, Keltin, was born two years later, the Winter Park native chose to become a locavore for the sake of his family. Then he took the concept one step further and planted a garden.

“I became very concerned about where our food came from,” says Rife, who works with his father in commercial real estate development and who is known for establishing the Winter Park Harvest Festival to support healthful local produce. “It was a good opportunity to put my money where my ethos is.”

Rife’s organic garden in a lot next to his home is a picturesque plot teeming with carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, watermelon, collards, onions, bok choy and more. During the garden’s first season in spring 2010, Rife planted seedlings to grow the most commonly purchased vegetables and fruits.  Since then, he has increased the garden’s size and grown crops from seed. But he’s quick to point out that anyone can start a garden. “You don’t have to have 40 acres—you can have 200 square feet or a grow box to be a part of what’s happening.”

After reading about “yard sharing,” Rife invited budding gardeners to join him on weekends for “work and learn” sessions involving topics such as earthworm composting and the best time to harvest. The sessions will start up again this spring. For details, contact Rife at j[email protected]

Small Chicken Brood an ‘Eggs’ellent Venture

Larry Lott can tell you that the chickens come before the eggs. After a recent investment in five Rhode Island Reds and one White Leghorn chicken, the eggs have followed, and they’re worth clucking over.

“The yolks are yellower, and they have a lot more flavor,” says Lott, who grew up in Williston and spent his youth around extended family’s farm critters. Lott, who runs a tire business with his brother, Roger, is enjoying egg farming on a small scale. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ It takes 10 minutes of my time every day and that’s about it.”

During daily visits to his makeshift chicken coops, Lott collects eggs, replenishes water and sets out feed and fresh straw for nests. The chickens have space inside a 6-foot-high fence to roam, preen and peck. In exchange, his birds produce about two-and-a-half dozen eggs each week, enough to feed Larry and his wife plus his adult daughter, Kendra (Edible Orlando publisher), and her family. “It’s easier than I thought,” Lott says. “Now I’m planning a garden.”

Winter Park Backyard a Study in Green Living

Winter Park holistic chiropractor Dominic D’Anna first learned about gardening from his father and grandfather, who emigrated from Italy. Today, the backyard of the home he shares with his wife, Allison, and infant son, Nicholas, is an edible organic paradise that feeds the family well.

More than 100 banana, papaya and grapefruit trees flourish, and D’Anna grows plenty of herbs, fruits and vegetables including pineapples, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, beans, romaine and red-leaf lettuces and plantains. Lemongrass, onions and marigolds serve as natural pesticides in strategic spots among four large raised-bed gardens. The D’Annas blend green smoothies daily with kale, parsley, celery, blueberries and other ingredients that benefit Nicholas through Allison’s breast milk.

“Everybody says how alert he is—I think it’s because of the green smoothies,” says Allison, who’s planning to make baby food from their produce when Nicholas is old enough to eat it.

Time spent caring for the garden is well worth the benefit to his family, Dominic D’Anna says. “It’s about keeping your body in balance. Provide what the body needs to flourish, and it will.”

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