Growing together: Boca Raton residents snapping up plots at new organic garden – South Florida Sun Sentinel

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
The city of Boca Raton, the Junior League of Boca Raton and Brightline recently collaborated to create a new organic community garden.
The garden’s former site in downtown Boca Raton, across from the public library, had to be relocated because Brightline is building a new station there. The new location at Meadows Park, 1300 NW Eighth St., is close to Boca Raton Middle School, which creates opportunities for students to participate more than ever before.
The official grand opening ceremony took place in October. Since then, the Junior League has been cultivating the garden plots and they have been made available to lease.
The garden was built on 1.4 acres that was donated by the city. Brightline donated $300,000 to finance the construction costs. Right now, the Junior League of Boca has installed 97 plots, many of which have already been leased to residents. For residents and nonresidents, prices range from $45 to $110 for an organic plot for use.
Jamie Sauer, who became president of the Junior League this year, is a big proponent of the project.
“For 10 years, we had a community garden near the Boca Raton Library,” she said. “The original garden was created with the help of Mayor Susan Whelchel and the Junior League. We knew that it was probably going to be temporary and that someday we would need to move.”
Community gardens are cropping up nationwide, in response to growing interest in producing local food. A new University of Florida study shows that social bonds among gardeners help sustain community gardens, which is one of the goals for the Junior League’s efforts.
Now that the garden has become occupied, Sauer has already seen a broad range of people working the plots.
“I met a woman who is retired. She saw the community garden being built and decided to look into it and then got a plot. I also see families there with their kids,” she said. “The people there are excited to grow, and grow together and just kind of do something new. There are also many different skill levels.”
Not only are the plots full of fresh produce, but they are also restricted from pesticides or unhealthy practices.
“All of the crops are organic and grown with love,” Sauer said. “Plus, the garden provides an opportunity for learning. The garden committee has training on different topics at least once a month.”
Melanie Kamburian, co-chairperson of the Community Garden Committee with the Junior League, was key to implementing the new garden. She said she is thankful for the cooperation of the city.
“They also supply water for irrigation. Plus, they built an iguana-proof fence to keep them from destroying the plots,” she said.
Brightline’s involvement was key in terms of landscaping and getting the help needed to move from the old location to the new one.
“I worked with the project manager at Brightline in terms of where we wanted the trees transplanted, because it was our desire to preserve our native trees,” Kamburian said.
“We have various gardeners, ranging from beginners to experts,” she said. “We realize that everybody doesn’t have all of the information for seeding or composting, so we decided to have monthly classes and gardening workshops for everybody at various levels of expertise.”
Not only will residents benefit who are growing produce in the new garden, but so will those in need in the community.
“Ten percent of the proceeds and 10% of the vegetables and fruits that are harvested here are donated to Boca Helping Hands,” Kamburian said. “It’s very exciting to know that you can grow vegetables and that you’re also putting them to a good cause.”
Students are also one of the focuses for the Junior League’s efforts in the garden.
“We are working on partnering with local schools to have classes here. We have specific teaching plots available that are vacant right now for them,” she said.
The next step for the garden, according to Kamburian, is a pollinator garden right next to the new garden.
“Now that the community garden is completed, my secondary vision is to have a community butterfly garden, the first of its kind here in Boca Raton,” she said. “The city was overwhelmed with joy and excitement having learned about that idea. Now we are working with three master gardeners who have the expertise to make that happen.”
For information about leasing a plot or donating to the project, visit, or email