Gardening programs introduced at St Augustine Youth Services


Robin Kass Burchfield, Director of Development at St Augustine Youth Services, told Historic City News editor, Michael Gold, last week that it is hard to overstate the benefits to children when they garden; but, for some, the benefits may be profound — especially children who have experienced emotional and physical abuse, requiring separation from family and long term institutional care.

SAYS has developed two unique gardening programs which have been integrated into the therapeutic residential services they provide to children; many of whom have been the victims of child abuse or extreme neglect.

”Gardening can help our boys’ progress socially, educationally and psychologically. Our boys have had few opportunities to experience life outside of the context of their neglect and abuse; as well as personal, emotional, and behavioral struggles,” Burchfield explained. “When children take care of something living they learn skills that help them take care of themselves, increasing the child’s power of observation; understanding what happened, what is happening and what needs to happen.”

The Dodd Family Giving Garden is the butterfly garden, although a little sad looking right now from the freeze, it has turned out to be more rewarding than ever expected. Burchfield said the boys could not believe they created something that would attract so many butterflies.

“On most days we would see as many as ten species of butterflies and half as many caterpillars,” Burchfield says. “A few days, they were in such great numbers that work would stop and staff would stand around the garden watching in wonder. This spring we will add more species of native plants to host and feed even more species of butterflies.”

The Dell-Sauls Family Learning Garden is a box-style garden utilizing custom designed soil, as well as vertical and horizontal growing methods. All of the boxes have greenhouse hoops so they can be covered for starting seed or protect from inclement weather.

“We designed our soil to be similar to the Amazon Terra Preta soil,” according to Burchfield during a tour of the facilities. “Using local resources we crafted the soil with Kaolin clay, silt and sand, “bio” char charged with fish and seaweed compost tea and added beneficial nematodes, fungi and bacteria.”

For twenty-five years, St Augustine Youth Services has been providing local children a safe, stable home in which to live, learn, grow and heal — both physically and emotionally. The gardening program would have been difficult to engineer at the cramped Saragossa Street location downtown; but, since moving into the 12-acre Hutson Family Campus last March, on US-1 South near SR-206, more programs, like gardening, are possible.

“Gardening allows the boys to take on the role of caregiver — creating opportunities to gain a positive sense of self-worth, personal capacity and accomplishment,” Burchfield pointed out. “In this relaxed environment, children can experience conversation, socialization, and express their feelings. We have seen our boys gain a sense of belonging and ownership for the gardens and feel pride in their work.”

Burchfield told Historic City News that they expect completion of the garden to take place in early spring. At that time, they plan to construct the grow tunnel, finish the fence gates, covered shelter and storage, plant for spring and start seeds for summer. They are already enjoying lettuce, strawberries, collard greens, herbs and other vegetables.

We are deeply grateful for the fifty plus volunteers who worked many hard hours building the garden from the ground up. Special thanks go to Austin Outdoor, Inc, in Palm Coast for grading the garden area and mixing the soil; to Barbara Trunzo, our amazing forewoman; to the most enthusiastic students from Flagler College; the volunteers from the New Life Baptist Church and the Riverdale United Methodist Church and all the community volunteers, staff and the boys at SAYS. We look forward to working with the St. Augustine Garden Club’s Woodland Circle and thank them for the advice they given to us so far. For more information on SAYS and how you can donate time or make a monetary donation, please go to our website at or call 904-829-1770.

Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News staff photographer

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