BROOKSVILLE — For 9-year-old Aleta Johnson, nothing lifts her spirits or calms her attention deficit disorder better than spending some time at Elizabeth Casner's Pure of Heart Farm, north of Weeki Wachee.
There, Aleta can learn about raising and caring for goats, pick up pointers on how to show the animals and spend special "baby time" with the new kids. She enjoys the baby time the most.
"Loving on the babies is one of my most favorite times because I get to hold them, pet them and watch them go to sleep on me in my arms," Aleta wrote recently. "This instills trust and a feeling of security in the babies and helps them develop trust in … their caretakers."
Aleta's testimony about her love of Casner's goat farm and family-oriented agricultural training facility was one of more than a dozen expressions of support to the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission this week, where Casner was seeking permission to continue her mission to promote farming, animal care and other agri-tourism uses on the 3.5-acre tract she owns at Hurricane Drive and Retreat Road.
By appointment, she brings people onto the site and teaches them every aspect of farming — particularly rearing goats, ranging from how to remove their horns and feed them to letting families watch the goats give birth.
Planning commission members ultimately voted 5-0 to approve the special exception use permit that will let Casner use the site for her training center and her menagerie of goats, birds and other animals.
Letters in the formal file outline the kinds of programs she has offered and the training she has done in teaching people how to use goat milk to make soap and cheese. There are also homesteading classes, crafts, organic gardening and maintenance of the aviary. A beekeeping facility is also in the plans.
Casner also expressed pride in fact that YouTube videos at her site have generated more than 1.3 million hits. Among them, her goats on trampolines.
While her agricultural residential zoning allows only one grazing animal per acre, Casner argued that her goats are not grazing animals because they eat greenery from trees rather than from the ground.
Ron Pianta, the county's assistant administrator for growth and development, said granting the special exception use permit would amount to an informal ruling allowing the goats.
Neighbor Justin Crews voiced concern about unlimited numbers of animals on the site, and also questioned how Casner intends to get rid of the animal waste. He didn't have an issue with the other activities, he said.
Ultimately, the planning commission limited Casner to 18 adult goats, which are defined as more than 2 years old, and 50 birds in her aviary. Commissioners imposed a requirement that she follow all other rules applicable to her type of agricultural operation.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.