Useful Yards: Sustainability in a Backyard
By Meredith Jean Morris
As you cruise along the curves of Lake Elbert Drive in Winter Haven, the homes you pass seem like those in any typical residential area. The homes have front doors facing the lake, circular driveways and well-kept front yards. Presumably, these homes also have the usual backyard, with perhaps room for a family dog or cat to roam freely. However, Scott Naugler and Samantha Longster’s backyard is anything but typical.
The couple, who have been together for 19 years, moved into their home on Lake Elbert Drive in 2013, after spending several years looking for a home on 10 acres of land to accommodate their dream of farming. They fell in love with the lakefront home, and scaled down their vision to the lot’s single acre.
“When we moved in, the backyard had pristine St. Augustine grass,” Longster says.
While many homeowners work tirelessly for lush grass, the couple removed the grass to make way for their backyard farm.
Naugler and Longster have a passion for eating healthy, and envisioned farming as a way to eat fresh, as well. Thus, began the S & S Microfarm in their backyard.
“We saw this as our practice farm,” says Longster, who is the vice president of business development for a vacation home company in Davenport. “Scott is a chef, and at the time, I was doing Iron Mans.”
Naugler, who operates a food truck in the Lake Nona/Orlando area, found that it was best for Longster’s training health to cook for her.
The goal of the farm is sustainability. Occasionally, items must be purchased from local stores to round out meals, but for the most part, all food items come from the backyard farm.
“We grow everything ourselves and the animals are free range,” Naugler says. “There are no pesticides and no fertilizers used, except for what we get naturally from the animals.”
Stepping into the fenced-in backyard from the house’s back door, one first notices the use of space. Nearly all space is utilized in some way for the garden. Large, reinforced concrete planters overflow with many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Two lush moringa trees cast shade with their nutrient-dense leaves and branches. Three young turkeys wander among the planters.
“They were with the rest of the animals, but the chickens were picking on them,” Naugler says of the turkeys, gesturing to a gate past the planters, where 31 chickens, 10 rabbits, one guinea fowl and two goats live free range.
With the exception of the goats, both Nigerian Dwarf goats, all the animals are intended for food.
“Since they may be food, we don’t name them,” Longster says. “But, the goats are Cupcake and Rowdy, and they are dairy goats and not to eat.”
A fence protects the plants from the animals’ nibbling on what’s growing.
Such a barnyard menagerie may seem surprising within Winter Haven’s city limits, but Naugler says their farm abides by the three rules regarding farm animals: They are not for profit, the animals aren’t at large, and there are no complaints from neighbors.
In fact, the neighbors are quite supportive of the farm.
Jay and Melissa Onheiser live next door and often trade meat and produce with Longster and Naugler.
“We love it,” Jay Onheiser says. “The fresh food tastes better, first of all. A lot of people are under the impression you can’t do this in the city, but the only time you have a problem is if the neighbors don’t like it. I think everyone should do it.”
In fact, the Onheisers do have their own farm – just not in their backyard. They have farm land in Kentucky, where they raise pigs, cows and grow produce.
The produce Longster and Naugler grow varies by season, but at any given time, they have upwards of 30 different fruits and vegetables available for their table.
“In the beginning, it was pretty time consuming,” Longster says. “Now that we’ve got it all going, it isn’t as much work.”
They both work full time, but enjoy spending time working on the farm in the evenings.
“I’ll come out, grab a beer and putz around,” Naugler says. “We’ll invite people over and tell them we have something cooking. It’s a passion to share this with other people. We love to give stuff away.”
Friends and neighbors often go home with a dozen farm-fresh, cage-free eggs, or a basket filled with a variety of vegetables and herbs, he says.
“It’s a great way to get to know a lot of people,” Naugler says. “Some neighbors come over when their grandkids are visiting to see the animals.”
During the past four years, Longster says they have learned a lot about farming.
“It’s been a learning curve. First of all, you have to fertilize,” she says of lessons they’ve learned. “Also, don’t get a rooster, just hens. The females are quieter. With chickens, the breed matters, too. You want eggers. For the produce, grow for the weather and the area.”
For anyone interested in creating their own backyard microfarm, Longster suggested seeking out advice from someone who has experience.
“When we got started, we didn’t envision the size we have now,” she says. “It’s really a labor of love. I’ll have a little space, and ask myself, ‘What can I grow here?’ This is the best way to come home from work.”