The picture of health
DADE CITY - In his noticeable Russian accent, Leon Elt admitted healthy eating — for years — wasn't something he worried about. "I didn't care," he said. "For many years, I didn't care." It's an interesting juxtaposition from the life he now lives. Settled on 32 acres of land in the northeastern reaches of Pasco County, Elt and his family have adopted a fresh way of thinking — and eating.Alexandra Lake Farm has been certified for the second consecutive year by Animal Welfare Approved for the way it raises its flock of Katahdin sheep for meat. According to the group's website, certification is based on how a farm's animals are raised. They must be humanely cultivated, live outside in a pasture or range, which must be on a family farm. "It's the right way to do things," Elt said. For Elt, who lives on the farm with his wife, Nataly, and two daughters, Dasha, 16, and Sonya, 13, raising sheep in this manner just makes sense. "Why should we raise animals in a humane way?" Elt asked rhetorically. "I think that's obvious. If you eat it, it gives you everything it has, so at least you can be respectful. Also, even the great kings of history were very careful not to (anger) a dying man. A dying man's curse is something to worry about." That goes for animals, too. Elt, 40, sees no reason to eat an animal that has lived its entire life confined, miserable and pumped full of antibiotics. "For me, that's like eating from garbage," he said. Meanwhile, being certified by a third party, an organization that doesn't charge, so it doesn't rely upon its members to finance its operations and therefore can't have its recognitions bought, is a clear sign things are being done the right way, he said. Joining the farming ranks in Florida was partially happenstance. The Elts were avid bicycle riders and became enamored with the possibility of riding outdoors during the winter without having to layer up; something that was a must in New York. After vacationing in Dade City, they made it their home in 2006. His wife began pursuing her accounting degree at Saint Leo University. Meanwhile, friends bought property in the area with intentions of starting a bed and breakfast. That never happened. Instead, they asked whether the Elts were willing to move out of their Dade City apartment to the rural setting. They took over the land and leased more property to grow the farm it is today. The decision was easy. According to Elt, the cookie-cutter complex they lived in allowed smells and sounds from other units to waft throughout. Adding to the smell of everyone's meals was the noise from upstairs, which was a daycare. In 2007, the family began raising sheep, selecting the Katahdin, which are originally from Maine, because of their ability to adapt to Florida's climate. Before a trip to the butcher earlier this week, Elt estimated he had about 60 sheep on the farm. Elt has perfected a system of moving the sheep every three days or so to different portions of the farm, giving used plots of land about two months to recover and regrow plants. It also keeps the sheep from being infested with worms, which can happen when animals constantly graze on portions of land with fresh manure. That method has saved dollars, eliminating the need to seed his pastures, as well as making worm medications unnecessary. According to Elt, the move to the farm was initially "weird" because there were very few neighbors, but the adjustment for his kids has been helped along by technology. His daughters are able to keep in contact with their friends in New York by phone and computer. Elt also has found that there is a major work ethic born from farm living. With a wave of his right hand, Leon Elt pointed to a large patch of vegetation beyond the screened-in porch behind his house. His aim was directed to lemongrass, a Moringa Tree, sweet potatoes, peppers, rosemary and what once was mint. Farming has given the family freedom. They aren't subject to the market's rise and fall, which in turn affects the price of food. They even get their eggs from chickens on their farm. "If truckers go on strike (we'll be fine)," said Elt, who moved from Russia to New York in 1995. "Every important function should be supported by several different elements, ideally. Like, all your income shouldn't come from one place, all your food shouldn't come from one place." As for the name of the farm, it comes from the tiny lake out back. It was nameless when they arrived on the swath of land. So, they went with a family name. "The lake didn't have a name, so we named it after my grandmother. I don't know why," he said, joking. "It's a nice name." Animal Welfare Approved, founded in 2006, is a separate division of Animal Welfare Institute that certifies family farms. The organization attempts to grow consumer interest in how farm animals are raised, where their food comes from as well as how that food is produced. Animal Welfare Approved has a goal of improving farm animal welfare. The organization is located in Alexandria, Va. For information on Alexandra Lake Farm, call (352) 583-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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