These are the guardians of Central Florida's trees, chickens and even a historic mansion brimming with antiques. They are the gate-keepers of the Sunshine State's natural world.
A literature-loving nature guru, Kittsley is a City of Orlando Urban Forester who oversees the health of 100,000 of the city's publicly owned trees and helps locals with their foliage issues—like creaking, bee and strange growths.
How'd you become a professional tree hugger?
"I studied forestry at Paul Smith's College and after a stint in the army and a literature degree from SUNY Plattsburgh I walked downtown and got a job with a tree company. I've been doing it ever since."
A Faulkner fanatic defending foliage?
"I now have a masters degree in plant biology from UCF and am a board-certified master arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. There are only 300 to 400 of us."
Why does Orlando have its own tree protecting army?
"For nearly 100 years now, Orlando has had a very keen interest in its tree canopies. In 1917, the city offered to plant each residence a tree for $1 a piece. Today it looks at return on investment: Recent city/UCF/UF studies concluded we gain $1.87 in real tree-related benefits for every $1 spent on tree care."
Where might visitors go to get a leafy lift?
"Lake David is a residential neighborhood with a lake ringed by live oaks that were planted 70 to 80 years ago. The mature trees have a lot of character and create a real sense of neighborhood as they provide a shady tunnel for an endless parade of joggers and mothers with strollers and people walking dogs. At Leu Gardens, there's a line of enormous 80- to 90-year-old camphor trees."
Elyse D. Gerstenecker
As estate coordinator for Bok Tower Garden's historic Mediterranean-style Pinewood Estate (55 miles from Orlando), Gerstenecker catalogs the objects inside and delves into the mansion's past to learn how the three families that have inhabited it lived.
What does Pinewood Estate have to do with Bok Tower Gardens?
"Edward W. Bok opened the gardens in 1929 to preserve the scenic spot in his exclusive Mountain Lake Estates neighborhood. He added a 'singing' carillon tower because he remembered those from his native Netherlands, and, in 1932, C. Austin Buck built "El Retiro," now Pinewood, as a winter home in the same community."
And what might we find on one of your tours?
"Much of the furniture was sold with the house, so we have a large number of antiques—originals from the 1930s, like books and glassware. Some pieces were antique at the time, dating as far back as 17th century Europe. Others were commissioned and contemporary, such as seating that was originally covered with aqua leather, going with that Art Deco Miami aesthetic."
What highlights shouldn't visitors miss?
"Definitely the Frog Fountain. Havana, Cuba, had it in storage for its own eventual use, but the original owner was able to buy it, take it from the warehouse and have it placed in front of his home."
What other destinations show visitors Central Florida's historical side?
"Right here, in Lake Wales, Chalet Suzanne is a restaurant and inn that's been operating since the 1930s and was a soup cannery."
Volkert has quickly become Orlando's chicken czar. This eco-entrepreneur never has time to ask "Which came first?" as he produces cage-free chicken and duck eggs from fluffy flocks for about six dozen of Orlando's restaurants, food shops and farmers' markets.
You're based in Ocoee, a rural hideaway just outside of Orlando. What do you do up there?
"The numbers change all the time, but right now we have 3,000 chickens, plus ducks, heritage breed Bourbon Red turkeys, goats, cows, guinea hens and guard donkeys that fight offthe coyotes."
You really take this locavore thing to heart.
"Oh yes. Our poultry roam the farm and we use no herbicides or pesticides. Our feed is a natural, vegetarian mix of grains and vitamins that is ground up for us in New Smyrna. Our cartons are made out of old Orlando Sentinel newspapers."
Where might readers get a taste of your farm-fresh eggs?
"They can buy them at farmers' markets all over town or in loads of restaurants like Antonio's, the Chef 's Table, Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, K Restaurant, Prato and Luma."
Any other locavore products you recommend?
"I like Farm Jerky's beef jerky. It's made from grass-fed meat and comes in flavors like spicy teriyaki. Sunchowder's Emporia makes jams and condiments here in town. A company called Our Biscotti has delicious Italian-style cookies. You can find these and other products at stores like Eat More Produce, a sort of permanent farmers' market in Winter Park."