HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES — An unusual gift led one Bonifay resident to the hobby of raising a typical barnyard animal right in her back yard in the middle of town.

HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES — An unusual gift led one Bonifay resident to the hobby of raising a typical barnyard animal right in her back yard in the middle of town.

Jessica Strickland wasn’t expecting the four baby chicks she received from her mother for Easter last year.

“I thought they were so cute, I had to get more,” said Strickland.

Strickland was a quick study on how to raise her chirpy new pets. She researched online how to build a chicken coop that would be a comfortable place for her chicks to live and strong enough to protect them from neighborhood dogs.

Strickland’s chickens thrived and grew to a healthy size in the months that followed. By then, she was dabbling in the realm of urban farming, the practice of cultivating food from sources in a more urban setting not out in the country.

Although Holmes and Washington are two very rural counties, residents still find ways to enjoy farm fresh sustenance inside the city limits.

“What we really see a lot of is raised bed gardening,” Julie Pigott Dillard, County Extension Director at University of Florida IFAS Extension in Washington County. “People are doing this so they can provide a healthier alternative for their families.”

Dillard said raised bed gardening is popular because of the controlled conditions. Growers can easily choose the right mix of nutrients and soil for growing what’s in season.

“You want to make sure you’re growing the right vegetables at the right time,” said Dillard.

Growing vegetables in small amounts is easy to do with a little creativity and smaller containers.

Dillard said all types of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and other small vegetables grow nicely in small tubs or even five-gallon buckets. If space is a concern, some plants may be trained to grow vertically up a fence, trellis or other structure.

Urban farming entails deriving food from both plant and animal sources.

Dillard said some people forgo owning an entire herd of cattle or swine and sometimes choose to raise one or a few animals on smaller plots of land. For instance, pigs are raised until they reach 250 to 300 pounds before they are killed and taken to be processed by a custom packing house.

Dillard said good laying hens like Strickland’s will produce eggs for around 260 days out of the year for about two years. After the fertile years have passed, some choose to keep the chickens as pets, sell them or have them processed for food.

Strickland learned a lot about chickens in her online reading. She now makes sure her two roosters and six hens get a healthy supply of chicken feed and clean water each day. She also said her chickens are a little spoiled when it comes to table scraps.

“They love lettuce and cucumbers and bread. They’ll start clucking when you bring bread around,” said Strickland.

Strickland’s chickens pay their rent on a clean and safe place to live by producing about half a dozen eggs per day that Strickland uses for cooking or gives away to neighbors.

For anyone thinking of trying out their own urban garden, Dillard said it’s best to start small and simple.

“Starting seeds is a very tedious process, so I’d recommend buying plants ready to grow,” said Dillard.

Many don’t need the convenience of store-bought plants. Dillard said cultivating a small garden on a patio or back yard can be a rewarding experience.

“It’s great to have your own source of fresh vegetables, and it’s a fun thing the family can do together,” said Dillard.