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Journey in homesteading starts with chickens
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories to focus on homesteading being done by local residents in Highlands County. Learn how several people have found a simple, self-sufficient, off-grid style of living.

AVON PARK — While gardening may be the first basic step to homesteading, chickens are generally the easiest animal to start with when plotting out this journey to produce food.

Chickens are easy to raise, produce eggs and meat, and help out in the garden. They keep the garden free of insects and weeds, plus they till the soil with their legs. Let’s not forget how their manure can benefit the soil as well.

Ryan and Brandie Jenkins, who are both in their 30’s and live outside of Avon Park, were bitten by the homesteading bug. With the ever-rising cost of food in the grocery stores, the Jenkins discovered that they could cut their expenses by growing their own in a garden at their home. In the past couple of years, they decided to expand their homestead to raise chickens for eggs. With two children, this family of four found a way to make ends meet.

Ryan, a firefighter in Hardee County, grew up in a rural farm area in Frostproof and had experience with raising turkeys, rabbits and steers in Future Farmers of America. His parents provided him with their first two laying hens but since then he has expanded his flock by purchasing his own chicks. He discovered that they needed to purchase several chicks since some do not survive at the beginning.

“I have also learned that there are certain breeds that are good egg layers,” Ryan said. “We tried to get pullets that lay 200 or more eggs a year.”

He mentioned that they now have several varieties such as Ameraucana, Black Australorp, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red and Bantam Silkie just to name a few. Egg shell colors vary with the different breeds. They also have one rooster. The birds are semi-free range – meaning they are fenced in part of the time and let out to roam the other part.

Ryan grew up hunting and has an appreciation for animals. “Animals are there for a purpose,” he said.

While Ryan focuses on the food production of the birds, his wife is attached to the animals on a more personal basis for companionship. She grew up in Alaucha enjoying activities outdoors such as camping, mudding and four-wheeling but has no real farming experience.

“We compromised,” Brandie said. “I get chickens to love; he gets layers. We refer to them as our girls.”

As Brandie pointed to the hens in the fenced in yard, she said, “That’s Oliver, that’s Lucifer, that’s Sprinkles, there’s Nugget and the one squatting is Pearl.” She picked up the Black Australorp hen named Pearl and affectionately coddled it in her arms while their son Anderson, 3, petted the bird.

Their 6-year-old daughter, Reese Mae, also enjoys being around the chickens. “I like holding them. They sometimes scratch me when they want to jump down,” she said.

Brandie’s nephew, Korbyn Fullwood, 7, of Avon Park, comes to visit the chickens since some of them had to be removed from his home due to code enforcement issues. His favorite bird is Oliver.

Brandie, who works at the front desk at Millennium Physicians Group, stated that their children love eating the fresh eggs more so than the store-bought ones. “The kids can tell the difference and most of the time won’t eat store bought eggs.”

“I like my eggs scrambled with ketchup,” Anderson chimed in.

Raising chickens has also taught the Jenkins children a lot of responsibility. In addition to collecting the eggs, the kids help with the chores of feeding and watering the birds as well as changing the hay in the coop.

“I change out the hay,” Reese quickly chimed in. She also shared how the chickens clean themselves. “They clean themselves with the dirt.”

Ryan places the dirty hay in a compost pile next to the chicken coop that will be later used in the garden. He explained that they kept their start-up costs low by converting an old dog pen into a chicken coop and just added the wire around it.

In talking about the cost of raising chickens for eggs vs. buying them in the store, Ryan said he spends about $5 to $10 per bird per month in buying pellets, chicken scratch, mealworms and oyster shells. He also allows them to roam the grounds for food, which helps with expenses. “The more the birds are out, the less feed they eat.” Although at night, the birds are locked in the pen to prevent predators such as coyotes, hawks and dogs from attacking them.

The Jenkins mostly raise the chickens for their own personal eggs but they do share them with family, neighbors and friends when there is a surplus.

Nationwide, the average price of a dozen eggs jumped from $1.79 in December 2021 to $4.25 in December 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Center. Prices fluctuate depending on the area.

According to Ryan, the prices soared last November when the bird flu caused several egg producing chickens to die. He noticed that once the prices started to increase on eggs, that people even in his own area started to raise chickens. “I now know 20-30 people raising chickens.”

Makena Luce, store associate with Tractor Supply in Sebring, confirmed that they are seeing a growth in people shopping for chicken products. “Although our chicks don’t come in until spring, we have had an increase in people buying feeders, food, treats, coops and wiring,” she said.

Leslie Hernandez with Glisson Animal Supply in Sebring stated she has not noticed a change in purchases but their chick supply won’t be here until spring as well.

Once the Jenkins family got bitten by the homesteading bug, they got their fix by raising a few chickens and a garden, but that was not enough for their addiction. Ryan said they are now looking at a bigger farm area so they can raise even more animals. They already have a brooder chicken sitting on some eggs to hatch their own chicks.

“Chickens are the gateway drug to homesteading,” Ryan said.

Ukraine aid support softens in the US: AP-NORC Poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — Support among the American public for providing Ukraine weaponry and direct economic assistance has softened as the Russian invasion nears a grim one-year milestone, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Forty-eight percent say they favor the U.S. providing weapons to Ukraine, with 29% opposed and 22% saying they’re neither in favor nor opposed. In May 2022, less than three months into the war, 60% of U.S. adults said they were in favor of sending Ukraine weapons.

Americans are about evenly divided on sending government funds directly to Ukraine, with 37% in favor and 38% opposed, with 23% saying neither. The signs of diminished support for Ukraine come as President Joe Biden is set to travel to Poland next week to mark the first anniversary of the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.

“I am sympathetic for Ukraine’s situation and I feel badly for them, but I feel like we need to first take care of priorities here at home,” said Joe Hernandez, 44, of Rocklin, California.

Hernandez, a Republican, added that it’s difficult to support generous U.S. spending on military and economic assistance to Ukraine when many American communities don’t have the resources to deal with the ramifications of migrants crossing into the U.S. at the southern border, a rise in drug overdoses caused by fentanyl and other lab-produced synthetic opioids, and a homelessness crisis in his state.

Biden has repeatedly stated that the United States will help Ukraine “as long as it takes” to repel the Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 of last year.

Privately, administration officials have warned Ukrainian officials that there is a limit to the patience of a narrowly divided Congress — and American public — for the costs of a war with no clear end. Congress approved about $113 billion in economic, humanitarian and military spending in 2022.

The poll shows 19% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in Biden’s ability to handle the situation in Ukraine, while 37% say they have only some confidence and 43% have hardly any.

Views of Biden’s handling of the war divide largely along partisan lines. Among Democrats, 40% say they have a great deal of confidence in Biden to handle the situation, 50% have some confidence and 9% have hardly any. Among Republicans, a large majority (76%) say they have hardly any confidence. Those numbers are largely unchanged since last May.

Janice Fortado, 78, of Ipswich, Massachusetts, said Biden deserves credit for his handling of the war. She agreed with Biden’s hesitance early in the war about sending advanced and offensive weaponry out of concern that it would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to expand the war beyond Ukraine and spur a larger global conflict.

But as the war has dragged on — and Ukrainian forces have held up against a more formidable Russian military — some of that resistance has melted away. Biden has approved sending light multiple rocket launchers known as HIMARS, Patriot missile systems, Bradley fighting vehicles, Abrams tanks, and more. Biden, however, continues to balk at Ukraine’s request for fighter jets.

“As my opinion evolved, I came to wish we had offered more to Ukraine sooner,” said Fortado, a Democrat, who added that she hopes the U.S. and allies change their mind on the fighter jets. “We seem to have done a drip, drip, drip. I understand why it is they were hesitant, but we are now beyond that point.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., before winning the speakership, vowed that Republicans wouldn’t write a “blank check” for Ukraine once they were in charge. And some of the most right-leaning Republicans lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky over his support of a $1.7 trillion spending bill passed in December that included about $47 billion for Ukraine.

Alex Hoxeng, 37, of Midland, Texas, said he expected Republicans to take a tougher line on Ukraine spending.

“I think Biden isn’t worried enough about inflation,” said Hoxeng, a Republican. “We should just stay out of it. Ukraine is halfway around the world and we have our own problems.”

A majority of Americans, 63%, still favor imposing economic sanctions on Russia, the poll shows, though that too has decreased from the 71% who said that in May 2022.

And 59% say limiting damage to the U.S. economy is more important than effectively sanctioning Russia, even if that means sanctions are less effective. Almost a year ago, in March 2022, the situation was reversed: 55% said it was a bigger priority to sanction Russia effectively, even if it meant damage to the U.S. economy.

Shandi Carter, 51, of Big Spring, Texas, said she’s become frustrated with the global ramifications the war has had on consumers, including volatile gas prices and increasing food costs. Carter, who tends to vote Republican, said she’s been displeased with Biden’s handling of the crisis but doesn’t think Donald Trump would have done any better had he won the 2020 election.

”I just wish it was over. I wish it had never started,” Carter said. “It didn’t matter if there was a Democrat or Republican there. Putin was going to do what he wanted to do.”

Overall, the poll shows that about a quarter of Americans, 26%, now say the U.S. should have a major role in the situation, down from as high as 40% in March 2022. Still, 49% say the U.S. should have a minor role, and just 24% say it should have no role.

Since last March, the percentage of Democrats saying the U.S. should have a major role has dipped slightly from 48% to 40%, while among Republicans it has dropped from 35% to 17%.

Democrats also remain more likely than Republicans to favor imposing economic sanctions on Russia (75% to 60%), accepting refugees from Ukraine (73% to 42%), providing weapons to Ukraine (63% to 39%) and sending government funds to Ukraine (59% to 21%). Support has softened at least slightly among both Democrats and Republicans since last May.

Tom Sadauskas, 68, a political independent from northern Virginia, said he doesn’t believe an end to the war is near. That makes him worried about the direction of American support for a conflict that he believes could have reverberations far beyond Ukraine if Putin is successful.

”I worry that as a country we get easily distracted,” said Sadauskas, who approves of Biden’s handling of the war thus far. “It’s easy to say, ‘It’s a faraway country. That it really doesn’t matter.’ But if Ukraine goes, what is our attitude going to be when Putin decides to move on and threaten one of our smaller neighboring NATO countries?”

The poll of 1,068 adults was conducted Jan. 26-30 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Defendant wants to hire PTSD author

SEBRING — Joseph Ables, the U.S. Marine veteran who shot and killed a Highlands County Sheriff’s deputy, wants to hire a fellow Vietnam veteran as a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) consultant.

Ables’ lawyer, Bjorn Brunvand, wants City of New York anthropology professor Dr. Glenn Peterson to aid him in his defense of Ables, who faces execution if found guilty.

Brunvand is scheduled to ask the court for money to hire Peterson during a Friday pretrial hearing.

Peterson’s book, “War and the Arc of Human Experience,” discusses his life-long battle with a condition nearly all battle veterans experience.

“We do not yet have a way of making the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder go away,” Peterson, who flew 70 missions in Vietnam, writes. “We can treat the symptoms, but all of these treatments seem to be just temporary.”

Though some appellate courts have recognized PTSD as a basis of insanity, unconsciousness and self-defense, “the courts have not always found the presentation of PTSD testimony to be relevant,” a National Library of Medicine study found.

Ables, who served in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, has claimed in court documents that the Veterans Administration determined him to be 100 percent disabled by PTSD and other effects. The 74-year-old also sought self-defense immunity via Stand Your Ground, the Florida law that says people can use deadly force when their lives are threatened. During that hearing, Ables claimed that PTSD caused him to mistake Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry for a black-clad North Vietnamese officer.

“During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong wore black and would often wear black or dark clothing to impersonate their enemies,” his motion states.

In June 2018, Gentry and his partner were called to a Placid Lakes neighborhood after Ables shot a neighbor’s cat with a pellet rifle. The neighbor told Gentry the shot that killed her cat came from a house about two lots away. As Gentry approached Ables’ house, his partner heard shots coming from Ables’ screened front porch. Deputies found Gentry laying on the ground inside the enclosure.

Ables faces the death penalty if he’s convicted.

There were other complaints about Ables in the months before he shot Gentry. Ables allegedly maced another neighbor as he walked his dog and fired arrows into other neighbors’ yards.

Gerald Snell: A positive community-minded force for Avon Park

AVON PARK — As chairman of the Avon Park Community Redevelopment Agency Board and as an active citizen, Gerald Snell remains focused on efforts to improve and grow the City of Charm.

Snell was born and raised in Avon Park. He attended South Florida State College, then known as South Florida Community College. He lived in Lakeland and Winter Haven before relocating to Avon Park in 1987.

He had worked as a probation officer for the Department of Juvenile Justice for a program called Bay Area Youth Services managing case files for Highlands and Hardee counties.

Then he worked as a scheduler/route manager for Highlands, Hardee and Okeechobee counties for Comsis Corp. which provided community transportation for those who needed to go doctors offices or required other medically related transportation needs.

The position gave him the opportunity to meet a lot of people, at the county and state level, who were involved in transportation for the disadvantaged. The company he worked for provided transportation as far north as Gainesville and as far south as Miami.

A church friend, Shirley Johnson, encouraged Snell to get involved with the CRA and initially he was an alternate member on the Southside Advisory Board.

“I swiftly worked my way into a regular position because I really enjoy what redevelopment does,” Snell said.

When Johnson resigned as board chair, Snell became chairman of the Southside CRA Advisory Board and then chairman of the autonomous CRA Board.

The City had three CRA advisory boards — Southside, Main Street and Airport — for each of the three CRA designated areas of the City.

When the three boards were merged, Snell noted that some citizens had concerns when the CRA became an autonomous board, but by law the funds from the three CRA districts cannot be comingled.

“We have been able to move forward. I have been very happy to have an autonomous board,” he said. “I would say we have some movers and shakers with the board that we have now, people who really want to move forward and see the City move forward in a positive way.”

The basic goal is to see Avon Park grow and see businesses brought into Avon Park, Snell.

“Once we get a CRA director/CRA manager that will be helpful to get us in the right direction to get businesses to come to Avon Park,” he said.

The Southside CRA district was relatively small when he was an alternate board member, Snell noted. He attended a Florida Redevelopment Association conference that had a session on “expanding your boundaries.” He brought the idea back and the City was able to expand the CRA district to include many businesses on the U.S. 27 corridor.

“I consider that one of my major accomplishments,” Snell said.

When they had a major streetscaping project years ago, when they did lighting and redid the corridor of Hal McRae Boulevard and Delaney Avenue, surveillance cameras were installed in the area, which helped curb crime, he said. But, there is still more work to do to revitalize our neighborhood.

Mayor Garrett Anderson said, “I was first confronted with Gerald Snell on Election Day in 2012. I say confronted because Gerald is a larger than life character that simply cannot be overlooked.

“As a 23 year old, green to politics and green to life young man, I couldn’t help but wonder who this energetic person was that seemed to be involved throughout our community. I have always been impressed by Gerald’s ability to help those around him and his never ending drive to push the City of Charm forward. I am blessed to have seen this man in action and honored to call him a friend,” Anderson said.