Residents Flock Together to Gain Approval for Backyard Chickens
by Kirsten Harrington
First it was victory gardens, then composting and now backyard chickens. The latest do-it-yourself urban trend is sweeping the country, and Winter Garden is not going to be left behind. Joining the cities of Orlando and Maitland, Winter Garden recently approved a pilot program allowing a limited number of permits for residents to raise backyard chickens, following certain guidelines.
Fans of these feathery friends say the benefits include a steady supply of fresh, organic, non-GMO eggs, decreased backyard bugs since the chickens love to snack on grubs and fire ants, and they make good pets. Some believe free-range eggs are higher in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, and are better for baking.
For Winter Garden resident Jessica Stone, raising chickens will be a chance to show her three kids, ages 9, 7 and 2, where food comes from, and hopefully by next fall they’ll be making scrambled eggs and breakfast tortilla wraps with eggs from their own backyard. An added benefit is that the children got to be part of the process of changing the law.
Stone, affectionately known to some as “the chicken lady,” was instrumental in lobbying the city to change the law to allow backyard chickens. After visiting some fuzzy chicks at the Winter Garden Feed & Seed store, Stone’s daughter, Emily, wanted three for her seventh birthday — one for herself and one for each sibling. After some research, Stone explained to her children that it was against the rules, but perhaps they could get the city to change the rules.
Winter Garden resident Nicole Zamora learns how to care for backyard chickens at a class offered by the University of Florida Extension.
Stone started by having her kids make lists of the positive attributes of chickens.
“They like to slurp grass like spaghetti, they’re not color blind, and they make great pets,” were a few of their findings.
“This was the beginning of our chicken mission,” said Stone, who approached the city commission with her request, along with her 9-year-old daughter, Madelynn, who attended all of the meetings. “It’s been a neat process for my daughter. We got the rule changed, and she got to see that. I love Winter Garden. It was great to be involved.”
Stone set up a Facebook page called the Winter Garden Chicken Club to rally other residents who shared her vision, including neighbor Rebecca Zamora and Rebecca’s daughter, Nicole.
“She was on board before I was,” Zamora said about her daughter’s excitement. “At first I told her ‘You can keep yours across the street [at Jessica’s house].’”
However, as Zamora started to attend the commission meetings with her daughter, she caught on to the enthusiasm.
“I grew up on a farm in Costa Rica, so I had that farm experience,” she said. “I thought this would be a fun thing to do with my daughter.”
They recently attended a class offered by the University of Florida Extension about how to care for backyard chickens, one of the requirements set forth by the city of Winter Garden. The pair will be working on their coop this summer and hope by the fall they will have fresh eggs for holiday baking. The whole process of changing the law took about three months, and Zamora has met a few neighbors along the way.
“It’s been really fun,” she said. “I feel fortunate to live in such a progressive city.”💓
Vanilla Meringue Cookies
Vanilla meringue cookies are delicious treats, especially when made with fresh eggs.
Make sure to use fresh eggs for this recipe — the whites will whip up more easily.
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whip egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla in a mixing bowl until whites form stiff peaks. Slowly fold in sugar with a spatula. Drop mixture by teaspoon or pipe with pastry bag onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Top with a pinch of sprinkles if desired. Bake for 23-25 minutes until tops have a hint of brown. Makes 14-18.