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Sunday, Feb 25, 2018
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Little farm in the big city

INTERBAY - The narrow street dotted with pricey modern houses does not give a hint that it dead-ends at a 5-acre parcel that is home to much more than your average couple. Acreage behind the inconspicuous 83-year-old structure at 6101 S. Second St. is home to cattle, hogs, horses, hundreds of chickens, millions of honeybees and more. "We're grandfathered and green-belted in," said Marion "Dee" Lambert, 63, who moved to the property 37 years ago, long before it was annexed into the city of Tampa. "It was unpopulated; there was no neighbors." Those living near the acreage two miles north of MacDill Air Force Base apparently have no issues with the urban farm. "If somebody has a problem with a rooster crowing and they call the city, we never hear about it," Lambert said, as a series of low-flying jet fighters roared toward the base.
One neighbor takes advantage of Lambert's ample land by using it as a driving range, retrieving the golf balls only after he has fired hundreds over the fence. "No one expects a farm to be down here," said Bill Rogers, 64, a semi-retired contractor and Tampa native who met Lambert two years ago while remodeling the house next door. Rogers visits twice daily to feed homing pigeons he keeps on Lambert's property, and assists with a multitude of chores, from helping deliver a calf to inoculating piglets. "There's people living less than a mile from here that don't know this exists," he said. Two doors away is a $2.5 million home, one of several on the short street. Farm life is much less extravagant. For example, Lambert's house is not air-conditioned. He burns wood for heat. Chicken manure virtually eliminates the need for commercial fertilizer, and Lambert gives his milk customers free U-pick privileges in his vegetable garden. Any pesky opossum trapped on the land is treated to a special three-week diet before the ugly critter itself becomes dinner. Owners of the six local restaurants that save scraps and day-old bread for Lambert never see their entrees reduced to slop, devoured by the farmer's five hogs, 250 hens and 130 pullets. Aside from being South Tampa's only commercial operation listed in the "Hillsborough Grown Agricultural Directory," the farm off Interbay Avenue, three blocks east of MacDill Avenue, is unique in many ways. Honey produced by Lambert's 130 colonies of bees is sold at a self-serve stand just outside his front gate. Customers select a jar and deposit the payment in a slot. But the bulk of the production by the estimated 30,000 to 80,000 bees per hive is packaged in 55-gallon drums and trucked to a processor in Belleview, near Ocala. On a porch beyond Lambert's front gate, refrigerated cases hold flats of eggs from free-range chickens and gallon jars of raw milk from Lilly, Ida and Dixie, the farm's dairy cows. The same honor system applies to those commodities: $7 per gallon of milk, $4 for a dozen large eggs and $3 for small. Farmhand Rick Carmichael, 34, who lives on the property, said milk from the cows is micro-screened and immediately bottled and chilled without disturbing its natural enzymes and nutrients. "All that good stuff is neutralized when milk is pasteurized and homogenized," adds Rogers. A Confederate battle flag adorns one wall of the milking barn. Lambert made national news in June 2008 when he and other local Sons of Confederate Veterans raised a massive Confederate flag on a tiny triangle of land Lambert owns along Interstate 75, just south of Interstate 4. Lambert left his native Pensacola after abandoning plans to earn a master's degree in psychology from the University of West Florida. "I had done all my course work, all I had to do was turn in a paper," he said. "It didn't make no sense; I was fed up. I wanted to find something real in life. I loaded my dog in my '53 Ford pickup truck and came down here," he said. Working as a laborer digging footers for the MacDill Air Force Base hospital, he later became a welder in Tampa's shipyards, he said. Here he spotted Nancy, who was driving a '55 Ford pickup almost identical to his own, and later became his wife. After several years on the farm, she studied nursing and is today, Lambert said, "a highfalutin' critical-care nurse" at Tampa's St. Joseph's Hospital. Lambert said the honor system he uses to retail his products has never failed him. "The kind of people that come and get milk and eggs and honey are lawyers, doctors, sort of the higher echelon, if you will. Some send their nannies down," said Lambert. "I mean, who wants to pay $7 for a gallon of milk or $4 for a dozen eggs? That's atrocious," compared to supermarket prices, unless, he said, you consider the quality.

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Little farm in the big city