Urban Farmers Want Changes to Jacksonville City Code | Environment

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Urban Farmers Want Changes to Jacksonville City Code

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In Amanda and Mark Searle's backyard, the chickens do a lot of the work. 

The hens eat most of the insects that venture onto the property and along with the three goats, they keep the grass trimmed and thriving. 

The animals also provide food for the couple.   The chickens lay about eight eggs each day.  The goats produce milk, which Amanda Searle also uses to make cheese. 

The Searles are one of a number of families in the Springfield area of Jacksonville that have created their own urban oasis by running a small farm literally in their own backyard. 

"More and more people are just concerned with rising food costs [and] what's in their food, " explained Amanda Searle.  "The eggs and the milk that you get are way more nutritious than anything you get from an Agra-business or something from the grocery store.  So, it has to do with health and nutrition too." 

The family estimates that their grocery bill has been reduced by two thirds in the year since they got the livestock and they say their carbon footprint has gone down even more dramatically. 

"We have the resources right here in Northeast Florida to produce whatever we want.  We've got plenty of sunshine, plenty of water and we've got great soil here," said Mark Searle.  "So, why shouldn't we just eat fresh food, not pay for it and not have to worry about all the hydrocarbons that are wasted producing food and trucking it across the country." 

But the urban farming movement is not all sunshine.  The City of Jacksonville cited the Searles this year for violating city code by keeping farm animals on their property. 

In response, the couple and many of their neighbors are hosting an Urban Ag Forum tonight to educate the community on urban farming and to begin the process of getting city zoning ordinances changed to allow the practice. 

"Urban Ag is so important.  It really is," said neighbor and urban farmer, Kevin Songer.  "Urban Ag--being able to grow your own food and being able to grow your own animals--is true freedom and that's what we need.  That's what we stand for in America.  We've always had that right and we hope to make sure that that right continues."

The Searles said they have talked to several city council members in Jacksonville about amending the city codes and many of them are receptive. 

Amanda Searle and Kevin Songer are working to draft a new ordinance to present to the city that would permit homeowners to keep small animals.  They hope to have it passed sometime next year.

Until then, the Searles and many other families are keeping their chickens, albeit quietly. 

Jacksonville Urban Ag Forum

  • Tonight
  • 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
  • JEA Conference Center, 970 N. Main Street
  • Open to the public
  • Free of charge

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