Leading the way past circular demonstration beds of swiss chard ringed with marigolds and leeks to retard pests, Naranjo parts a screen of giant taro leaves, revealing a garden like a scene from a children’s book.
“My favorite spot. It’s where the polycultures are planted."
A thin trail winds among banana and papaya trees, taro, sweet potato and beans; plants grown together for mutual benefit, one of the essential ideas behind permaculture and the farm. Like the plants, people thrive, too.
Glory Otano, who studied culinary arts through a program of Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, has a new career in the farm’s kitchen making food look and taste beautiful. She talks excitedly about the menu she’s creating for the farm’s next venture: an organic cafe. The shelves of colorful preserves give her the same experience of accomplishment as the flower arrangements give Bornstein’s seniors.
At the Samuel D. Goldstein Lauderdale Lakes Alzheimer Care Center, the large outdoor patio is arranged with folding chairs where locals in varying stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia await Bornstein’s arrival. Some stare at the floor. One woman is sleeping. But they soon come alive as Bornstein reconnects them to the strip of land they have planted together, bursting with avocado, mint, callaloo and other species native to the Caribbean from whence many of them came.
A woman in an aggressive stage of her disease waters a pomegranate tree.
Lucian Gseow, a Jamaican of Chinese descent, works the soil with confident hands. "I used to farm. I owned many acres in St. Ann parish. and sold tomato crops at market with six women working for me,” he says.
A resident of Little Haiti, Clara Bre Soir moves her walker close enough to help Bornstein plant Thai basil. The herb’s aroma triggers powerful memories. She speaks of the Bacardi rum cakes she sometimes still bakes. Basil is one of the ingredients.
Seemingly from nowhere, a memory comes to Lauderdale Lakes resident Dorothy Dillard, who grew up on a North Carolina tobacco farm, of moving to Florida in the 1960s. “It was kind of prejudiced, but it’s better now.”
Her eyes are fixed on Bornstein.
"He’s a nice, nice person. He’s sincere."
Facility manager Shirley Beckford appears with trays of sandwiches for an afternoon snack. Bornstein advises her and other clients who use his services: “Call it a green thumb club, call it a garden club, but don’t call it horticulture therapy."
But his participants know better. As their hour together comes to an end, one of them says, “Robert, this is about much more than plants, isn’t it.”