Last Saturday I woke up bright and early to visit Sunflower’s Roots & Shoots Re-Cycos group at the Boca Raton Community Garden. Winter is our growing season down here, and it was a beautiful morning to be outside in the South Florida sunshine.

Boca Community Garden


A beautiful day at the garden

Sunflower Roots & Shoots members meet the first Saturday of each month for an ongoing service project at Boca Raton Community Garden. Members plant and tend the club’s garden plots, and once the produce is ready, deliver it in person to the Boca Helping Hands soup kitchen. The project is typical for Roots & Shoots, a global organization for children, made up of clubs that focus on local service projects showing care and concern for the environment, animals and the human community. Jane Goodall, U.N. peace ambassador, founded the first Roots & Shoots group in Africa in 1991.

Cristina Kepels, Saint Andrew’s fifth grader; today was her first time at the garden: “My mom told me about it, and it sounded like fun.”

Cristina Kepels, a fifth grader at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca, waters tomatoes with organic fish fertilizer. Saturday was her first time at the garden.

Under the leadership of Ellen Stone, Sunflower’s Cultural and Environmental Consultant, and Betsy Pickup, Boca Raton Community Garden’s master gardener, Sunflower’s Roots & Shoots club has been involved with gardening community service projects for the past four years. The group began with plots at the Pearl City Community Garden, a neighborhood community garden in Boca Raton. When that garden was closed after last growing season, both Ellen and Betsy were instrumental in securing the club’s current plots at the Boca Raton Community Garden, which is a partnership between The Junior League of Boca Raton and the City of Boca Raton.

Ellen and Betsy

(l-r) Ellen and Betsy harvest cherry tomatoes

On the day I visited the garden, Roots & Shoots members were harvesting collards, tomatoes, peppers and herbs to deliver to Boca Helping Hands.


Collard and herb bed

Delicious donation: fresh produce destined for Boca Helping Hands

Delicious donation: fresh produce destined for Boca Helping Hands

As part of tending the garden, members had brought in a puree of pulverized orange rinds and water to use as a natural pesticide for fire ants. Master gardener Betsy explained the process as the kids applied the mixture around the garden boxes.

Sixth grader Harper Hawk and Cristina Kepels apply a puree of pulverized orange rinds and water to the beds to deter fire ants

Michael Malak, a senior at Boca High School, who is interested in agriculture as a career path, has been involved with community gardening through Sunflower Roots & Shoots for four years. “I’ve already reached my service hours for school,” he said, “but I enjoy being here. It’s outside, which is nice, and you learn a lot.”


According to Ellen, kids are learning more than just gardening skills. “Working together on a project like this helps facilitate talking,” she said. “We help each other out.”

She also said the kids enjoy working in nature, and appreciate the “full circle quality” of growing  food, then seeing the immediate impact by taking their donations to Boca Helping Hands.

Sunflower Roots & Shoots meets at Boca Community Garden on the first Saturday of each month, 9:00 – 11:30 am. Kids age 12 and older are invited to attend. Sunflower Roots & Shoots Re-Cycos (ages 10-16) hold weekly meetings at Sunflower Creative Arts, on Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Membership is free.

Our younger Roots & Shoots Shooting Stars group (ages 5 to 9), led by Meredith Konkel and Whitney Stange, also are tending their own Community Garden onsite at Sunflower. Produce from this garden will be donated to the C.R.O.S. Ministries’ Caring Kitchen and Nurture via Nature, Inc., an organization that supports children in need by purchasing nourishing food from local farmer’s markets to be donated to community based organizations making a difference in children’s lives. Shooting Stars meet every Wednesday at Sunflower Creative Arts, from 3:00 – 4:00 pm. Membership is free.

Sunflower Roots & Shoots Community Garden, onsite at Sunflower, is ready for planting by the 5- to 9-year-olds!

Sunflower Roots & Shoots Community Garden, onsite at Sunflower, is ready for planting by the 5- to 9-year-olds! Photo credit: Victoria Green

© Jaime Greenberg and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013

More posts by Jaime Greenberg.