Growing Hope is no longer part of this project. For more information contact Carrfour Supportive Housing.

In 2012 Growing Hope partnered with Carrfour Supportive Housing and other community partners to create a much needed youth program for at risk children of Verde Gardens.

The opportunities for their children that they never had.

“We need to prove to the community that we are organized and responsible and willing to do the best for our kids and generations to come.”

-Kiara Villegas
Vere Kids Council President

Verde Kids started as an after school program in March, 2012 to engage youth in healthy living, environmental stewardship and micro-enterprise along with tutoring and mentorship.  The program is open to youth ages 5-21 and to their parents.Kids-timeline-update

Thanks to the State Farm partnership, Verde Kids has the possibility for an experiential learning after-school program that supports the mission of a healthier lifestyle and a healthier environment. The Verde Kids not only enjoy learning on the farm but also plunge into the native ecosystems of South Florida through field trips and activities. As a healthier lifestyle resonates with Verde Kids, they think of new ways to connect their neighborhood back to nature.  These youth are empowered to take control of their future and to be positive influences on their families and friends.

Since being awarded the State Farm YAB grant, interest in the Verde Kids program has grown exponentially and enrollment continues to increase.  But the program impacts more than just the participants. Through positive peer influence and youth leadership, youth as well as adults in the community have joined in the effort to be more environmentally conscious. The neighboring school changed their lunch disposal policy. Local organizations are implementing composting and recycling programs in conjunction with the Verde Farm, and many other community members have made changes in their attitude toward the environment and their health and are ready to implement a social entrepreneurial component.


Community leaders identify five major components to the program:

1) Environmental Stewardship
2) Healthy Cooking and Eating
3) Leadership, Education and Social Entrepreneurship
4) Storytelling, Video Production, and Social Media
5) Adult Mentorship

1) Environmental Stewardship:
Youth designed and now maintain two edible gardens and a native butterfly garden. Verde Kids also helped analyze soil composition and nutrition needs for the Verde Farm through soil tests. They seeded, transplanted and harvested vegetables from the farm, while learning environmentally friendly ways to control pests and diseases. By shadowing farm managers they discovered what their jobs entailed and learned proper techniques from handling tools to milking cows.

They also are playing a lead role in the composting program they helped to designed.  They learned the decomposition process which can come from some unexpected places. Helping with the worm farm is their favorite!

2) Healthy Cooking and Eating
VK offers interactive cooking classes with fresh produce further connecting the children to the farm’s bounty as well as to the tropical fruits that are native to South Florida. They also learn healthier recipes and eating habits that they share with their families proudly.

3) Leadership, Education and Community Development
Professional instructors from all walks of life teach classes in sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship, cooking and video production.

The VK Youth Council formed and developed a plan of action to market their program to the Mandarin Lakes K-8 School. The council wrote a letter requesting approval to implement a composting pilot program in the Spring of 2013 and school officials agreed! The 8th Grade science class implemented school wide composting and are studying the results.

Verde Gardens was awarded a KaBOOM playground in March. Youth created composting and recycling bins to reduce trash at the event and they educated volunteers on how to reduce waste. The children also planted a butterfly garden they designed with the help of Florida’s International University’s (FIU) Agroecology program.

With the input from the Community Council, the President led the campaign to create a social entrepreneurship program for the older youth at Verde Gardens. Their goal is to create a youth CO-OP, where they will have the opportunity to learn how to run a small business and to better utilize the market as a place of commerce.

4) Video Production and Storytelling
Living and working in the Digital Age, it is essential to be able to communicate one’s story through video  and to effectively share that message through social media. Therefore, at VG a major focus is placed on video production. Youth learn the art and techniques to communicate their story.

Even more importantly, they learn to be active participants within the medium. Today many people watch TV, play video games and surf the net. Many spend more time connected to these digital media sources than having personal interaction with others. However many do not understand how digital media works. They are passive viewers and are submissive to the many negative forces around them.  Media is a powerful tool and must be respected and understood.

VG offers the guidance and development for youth to be active, engaged and educated participants in video production and social media. Youth learn various components within the medium to create clear, effective, and valuable messages. The past year the youth helped to create 7 videos.

One video already mentioned is “The Adventures of the Compost Kid.” This video was the youths’ way to tackle a huge environmental crisis, without making a typical environmental documentary. Instead the youth created the Compost Kid, a super hero who helps the youth of VG to battle the evils of pollution. A youth’s father created a compost rap song for the soundtrack of the video. The youth completed a trailer for the Compost Kid.

See their videos below!

5) Adult Involvement
Carrfour’s Verde Gardens is a pilot housing program with a goal of engaging families to become active participants in this unique agricultural and social entrepreneurial enterprise. The program seeks to create a more sustainable world led by those who are formerly homeless.

Since the majority of residents had no background in agriculture, initially, adult participation was almost non-existent.  Some had  negative feelings towards farming and many had disabilities which made it difficult to participate.

But these parents share one powerful commonality: their children and the desire for their children to have a safer and more sustainable future. The youth program gives the parents a mission that combines education and participation into building a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable world.

Over 115 residents volunteered during the program recording over 400 volunteer hours. Resident adults implemented a composting program for the summer youth camp. An an additional 400-500 volunteer hours will be recorded during the summer camp.

Other adult volunteers from partnerships serve as mentors for our program. Several students from FIU helped the youth in planting a native butterfly garden for their Kaboom playground area and developed a brochure with maps highlighting the plants and the butterflies they attract. Other influence from outside the community has come from Miami Dade College Students who have developed relationships with students while on field trips and the farm employees who mentor and share their skills with the participants of the program.

State Farm Check2



Here are some of their projects:



Growing Hope Initiative