“Gardening can be a tool to spread the message of healthful living,” says group manager.
Jacky Barry, a member of the Philipsburg Seventh-day Adventist Church in the island nation of Sint Maarten, chose to use the stay-at-home mandate during the coronavirus pandemic to start a vegetable garden ministry. It’s a ministry that has blossomed into more than 776 participants.
“It was God who gave me this ministry,” Barry said. “I was only thinking of a way to use gardening as a tool to spread the message of healthful living.”
Barry, who serves as the Pathfinder Club area coordinator on the island, manages what she has created as the Kitchen Garden Club on Facebook to support the online initiative. She said she started with a live stream of herself transplanting lettuce, and people were so impressed by the video that she decided to open a group just for people who had the same mindset.
Now more than ever, people understand that physical fitness and good nutrition are the keys to a healthy and vibrant lifestyle, Barry explained. “The promotion of locally raised organic foods is an advantage to families who desire to embrace best health [practices]. When you grow your own, you not only know what you’re eating, you put in the exercise through the vigorous gardening, and get the added benefit of outdoor conversation and fellowship with others who join you,” she said.
Barry said everyone should have a backyard garden. Roslyn Brookson, health educator and member of the Cole Bay Adventist church, said she feels happy to have joined the group. “I am motivated to be a part of the group because it invites members to keep growing and learning.”
“Good morning, gardeners” is a typical greeting as the Facebook group chat begins. Soon after, scores of members join the conversation and share how they are involved in making good on the opportunity to do what they always wanted to do. Group members learn and share how to plant and harvest organic vegetables, how to propagate plants for transplanting, and how to weed, water, mulch, and compost.
Cindy Campbell Clark, a group member, said the group experience allowed her to revive her love for gardening and illustrated what can be done with little space.
Barry said the success of her online gardening ministry has brought a revival to the entire island and has caught the attention of government leaders, who are talking about locating land for agriculture and assisting local farmers.
Many have expressed the thought that this is the first time agriculture was put on the list of essential businesses after a disaster, Barry said. She is glad for the eye-opener, but that’s not the focus of the ministry. “Our focus is about healthful living and [growing] plants using what we have.”
The new ministry has inspired people from all walks of life to use the time they have to do backyard gardening, Barry said. “It has embraced youth and middle-aged individuals as well as managers and public officials to use their time for personal gardening.” About 80 percent of the members are women.
“I have stopped procrastinating,” said one member on the Facebook group. “There is so much encouragement here,” said another.
Barry admires the varieties of organic vegetables she sees from her viewers, which include tomatoes, squash, onions, beets, radishes, eggplant, swiss chard, green beans, okra, peppers, spinach, lettuce, watermelons, cantaloupe, collards, cucumbers, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, and herbs.
“My greatest joy is the fact that as we grow a garden, we grow a friendship, a prayer life, and even a Christ-like mindset,” Barry said. “Just like a garden, this mindset takes daily tending. It is a purposeful activity to grow.” Similarly, when seeking to reach others for Christ, Barry said that a few plans need to be made ahead of time when gardening.
“If we are willing to be creative for the sake of the gospel, God will supply the resources. Green thumb or not, anyone can find ways to minister through community gardens.”