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What’s a Youth Farm without chickens?

Mark Parker



Volunteers work in the St. Petersburg Youth Farm's gardens. New structures and chickens could soon be on the way. Photo by Mark Parker

Despite St. Petersburg’s urbanization and lack of agricultural zoning, city officials are moving an initiative forward that allows the St. Petersburg Youth Farm to keep chickens and sell eggs.

Carla Bristol, collaboration manager, will now update a site plan that adds chicken coops and several new structures to increase the farm’s output and community impact. Those include a much-needed restroom, a processing center, a water feature, a portable classroom and a wash station.

Bristol previously told the Catalyst that the farm’s teen employees must walk to the nearby Enoch Davis Recreation Center to clean up before events.

City council members, administrators and attorneys all offered support for the Youth Farm’s mission and ordinance exceptions that, as Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz noted, would create “official City of St. Petersburg chickens.” The discussion took place Thursday during a decidedly lighthearted Public Services & Infrastructure Committee meeting.

“The program has been very, very successful,” said Mike Jefferis, leisure services administrator. “We’re excited about this next chapter. We’re blazing new ground, a new path.”

The City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Education Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete partnered on the farm’s pilot program in 2019. As Jefferis and several other officials attested during the meeting – and like the over 2,000 plants that Bristol and her youth grow – the initiative flourished.

The Youth Farm recently transitioned to the parks and recreation department’s purview, although it is not considered parkland. Mayor Ken Welch has sought to bolster support for the facility, and Bristol is now a city employee.

Typically underserved teens in a part of St. Petersburg known for its limited access to nutritious food now cultivate vegetables, fruits and tilapia. They will soon add chickens and fresh eggs to the list.

“We’re on a site list to visit for Pinellas County Schools,” Bristol relayed. “So, having some sort of farm animal – in this case, chickens – is important. It’s just part of the DNA of doing agriculture work.”

However, the Youth Farm sits in a residentially zoned area of South St. Petersburg. City officials have already provided exceptions for structures and activities not found in other community gardens.

In addition, an ordinance prohibits the release of fowl on city property. There are also strict guidelines for coop size, noise restrictions and a 10-fowl limit. While stakeholders plan to start small, Bristol eventually wants 36.

Assistant City Attorney Michael Dema said officials could amend the language to allow exceptions for “duly approved site plans.”

“I think it’s a really good tool in the absence of agricultural zoning,” he added.

A previously approved site plan shows new structures, but not the chicken coops. Screengrab.

While the ordinance was meant to prevent conflicts and disruptions in residential areas, Jefferis noted the Youth Farm abuts a school and the recreation center. He added that the administration would require Bristol to place the coops as far away from the facility’s neighbors as possible.

He said the people who live across the street have also advocated for the initiative and offered their full support for Bristol and whatever she thinks is best for the facility, its youth, and the community. Cultivating young people into leaders while cultivating food is part of her mission.

Bristol noted the farm is a welcoming place that provides seedlings, food, recipes and cooking and gardening classes.

“Once we put the Youth Farm in, we actually saw redevelopment around the farm,” Jefferis said. “It really has been an economic engine as well, which has just been fantastic for the area.

“I think her (Bristol’s) engagement with the community and her approach is what has taken the Youth Farm so far.”

Bristol told council members that she would divert spent grain from the city’s preponderance of breweries into chicken feed, which would reduce waste and continue strengthening business relationships. She said raising the fowl will also bolster composting and fertilization efforts onsite.

In addition, Bristol pledged to treat the chickens humanely and keep them safe from raccoons and coyotes. She will now create an updated site plan while the city’s legal team amends the ordinance language.

The site plan’s special exceptions and the code amendment must then gain the development review commission and city council’s approval, respectively.

“For me, this is bigger than the chickens,” said Committee Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders. “It’s not the growth of the plants – it’s the growth of the youth in our community that has really stood out in this process.”

Carla Bristol (back right) frequently says she cultivates leaders while cultivating food. Screengrab.

For more information on the St. Petersburg Youth Farm, visit the website here.



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    Shirley Hayes

    February 13, 2023at7:42 pm

    This is a win, win. So sorry that Mrs. Winnie foster is not here to learn about this wonderful venture. She spoke about this concept often. We need the gardens in other neighborhoods to provide fresh fruits and veggies. People will donate.

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