Ten blocks away from the St. Johns River is the mini-farm of three folks who produce both high quality protein and a variety of veggies. Jimmy Orth, son Eli, and Genora Crain-Orth have turned every square inch of their Forbes Street property into a petite food production paradise. There is even a roof garden at the entrance to their bungalow.
“I see no point in grass,” confesses Crain-Orth, who is the flame-haired force behind River City Chicks, the organization that pushed for –and got—a permanent backyard hen ordinance in Duval County. She is quick to make the distinction between backyard hens and commercial chicken houses. “We have farm fresh eggs almost daily. My chickens have room,” she says while gesturing toward the fairy tale coop in her backyard. “Their beaks aren’t clipped because they have to fight each other for space. They are not pumped up with antibiotics because they are in such close confinement that a disease could come through and wipe out the flock.”
“Chickens aren’t that hard to raise and they are actually friends with benefits, providing eggs, garden manure and great objects for Show and Tell. Soon they will be starring at the RAM Market’s Chicken Poop Bingo, which is played like regular bingo until cards are filled and then a chicken is let loose to walk around on a larger scoreboard. The number the chicken poops on is the Bingo winner.”
The Orth food gardens, like most summer gardens in Florida, are currently sparse, but the lush fall crops will be planted in raised beds and a variety of pots. Perennial herbs are planted throughout the garden and some have found homes in the neighbor’s yard, with the neighbor’s permission. The family dogs, Gracie and Keyton, chew on the neighboring lemon grass which seems to improve both doggie dispositions and breath.
There is a gravel driveway connecting the front yard and the back yard. Crain-Orth points out the driveway with pride, for it allows rain water to permeate the property and not run off into city sewers. Water is also collected in rain barrels. Conserving water is a high priority in the Orth household which is not surprising since Jimmy Orth is Executive Director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper. Around the edges of the lot are fruit trees, beauty berry bushes and a variety of signs, one of which encourages folks to “Break New Ground.” In the urban farming arena, the Orths have certainly followed that suggestion.