Nestled against a chain-link fence that wraps around the Boys Ranch pool is a raised flower bed teeming with life. Green every brick barrier as spinach, tomatoes, onions, and peppers thrive under the Florida sun. The Miracle Garden is a onestop-shop for a fresh, organic salad for the boys who look after it.
Boys Ranch Recreational Director Tony Dodd got the idea to plant a garden on campus when a few Ranchers became curious about the salads Mr. Dodd ate for lunch every day. Scott, one of the Ranchers who helped build and maintain the garden, commented, “We all wanted to do it because he showed us the salads he made. He let us eat some of it and it was really good.” The other three boys—Jeremy, Jason, and Tyler—were also interested in the project.
“Some of us wanted to eat better, get in shape and get healthy,” Tyler said.
Before there was a garden, the small patch of earth was an island of landscaping that was lost amid the concrete expanse of the campus pool.
“After we cleaned it out, we spent like a whole week scooping cow manure,” Tyler said, laughing.
“Dried cow manure,” Jeremy corrected. "We went to the field and scooped up a lot of dried cow manure. We put it into barrels, put it into the trailer and then unloaded
it into the garden. Got some shovels and broke it all up, and then we got a bunch of soil and put it on top of that.”
The hard work involved in putting their garden together wasn’t a deterrent for these Ranchers. They listened when Pop Dodd explained why they layer the manure and then the soil and how to pull weeds and water the plants.
“He said it would look really nice. Now it looks more than really nice,” Jeremy said.
Once the soil was properly layered in the bed, the boys had to decide what plants they wanted to include in their garden. They looked to Mr. Dodd for help, remembering the delicious salad they had all sampled.
“Some of the plants we bought, and some of the plants Pop Dodd had at his house,” Scott explained.
One of the most important aspects of this garden is the lack of chemicals used to fight off pests.
“We didn’t use any pesticides,” Jeremy said.
“No chemicals at all,” Scott added. “It’s all natural. Organic.”
Right now, the Miracle Garden consists of Seminole pumpkins, an assortment of spinach, moringa (God’s Tree), yardlong beans, Egyptian walking onions, cherry tomatoes, purple tree collards, mushroom herb, and peppers. Now that they can see the fruits of their labor, all four boys are excited to expand their garden across the Ranch.
“I would definitely like to see an apple tree,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah, somewhere on the Ranch,” Scott agreed. “Because fruit, when it’s hot and everything, it hydrates you and you feel better.”
“We could also do raspberries and blackberries,” Tyler said. “And blueberries and watermelons.”
“I’d like to plant some Japanese plums,” Jason added. “It’s small, like the size of a grape, and orange. Like an orange cherry.”
The boys aren’t shy about picking out a snack from their garden. Often times they’ll pick a stack of various types of spinach, forgo a bowl and salad dressing, and eat what Mr. Dodd calls a “leaf sandwich.”
“It’s better than Skittles!” Jeremy said.