By Karen Krugman.
Those of us who know Roy Wilburn think of him as Farmer Roy. He is the smiling guy who is usually sharing grocery bags that we get to fill with organic vegetables from Sunshine Care, if we are lucky enough to snag a bag.
I recently got to speak with Farmer Roy and learned that gardening and growing were not on his radar when he grew up in Lodi, California. He may have always been around gardeners, as his mother and Sicilian grandparents all had green thumbs, but Roy enjoyed running around the vineyards, swimming, and playing in the sunshine. Growing up Roy was also active in drama and is a classically trained pianist. He now prefers playing the guitar, when time allows.
Roy left Lodi in 1974 to attend UCSD where he studied mathematics and minored in drama. One of his shining moments came when he won a writing competition; Eric Christmas performed his winning one-act, solo play about the birth of two Siamese twins.
During his years at UCSD, he also worked in the campus bookstore. There he met the woman who would change his life path. In 1980, Roy moved to Baja’s San Quintin Valley to oversee her father’s tomato-growing business. For the next 20 years, Roy was first a grower and then a manager of the business, which gradually expanded from growing just tomatoes to producing strawberries, peppers, squash and cucumbers, all for export to the United States. The distribution point was Chula Vista. Married in 1983, Roy says, “I married the farmer’s daughter.”
These days Roy can be found at Sunshine Care, a memory care facility located in Poway, where he is the Horticulture Manager. He oversees the landscaping of the 32-acre facility, which includes five organic gardens; two fruit tree orchards; a pine tree forest; a memorial rose garden; and a cut flower garden. Produce from the gardens is used in preparing healthy meals for the residents of Sunshine Care and distributed to those in need in the Poway area. The flowers make their way into the homes of community residents.
Sunshine Care offers an Intergenerational Gardening Program pairing home-schooled children with “grandmas and grandpas,” which started prior to Roy’s arrival. Roy has grown this program and also introduced a Horticulture Therapy program unique to Sunshine Care. In the gardens, residents assist in planting, growing and cultivating, each of which provides cognitive, physical, psychological and social benefits. After talking to Roy, I want to spend my twilight years at Sunshine Care.
Well-versed in growing crops, Roy wanted to learn more about landscaping and trees. He joined the San Diego Horticultural Society about 9 years ago, which coincided with his move to Sunshine Care. A natural educator, Roy quickly got involved with SDHS Workshops and now serves on the Board. He speaks two or three times a year at our workshops. Throughout the year, around the county, he also speaks on topics such as soil preparation, vegetables and herbs. Roy is active in many other gardening organizations as well, including the San Diego Community Garden Network and the Poway Valley Garden Club.
When I asked Roy to describe himself in three to five words he said: “Determined, Passionate, Tireless, Humorous and Caring.” I would say that sums him up!