Jacky Barry from the Philipsburg Adventist Church in St. Maarten, shows of part of her vegetable garden she started in her backyard after the stay-at-home measures were enforced in March. She leads a closed Facebook group of more than 776 members. [Photo: Facebook]

May 6, 2020 | St. Croix, US Virgin Islands | Royston Philbert / NCC Staff / IAD News Staff

Jacky Barry, a member of the Philipsburg Seventh-day Adventist Church on the island 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 members.

“It was God who gave me this ministry,” said Barry. “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 a Facebook to support the online initiative. She said she just 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.

Produce collected from Bibi Hodge Shaw one of the members of the vegetable garden group. [Photo: Bibi Hodge Shaw]

Now more than ever, people understand that physical fitness and good nutrition are the keys to a healthy and vibrant lifestyle, explained Barry. “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, the health educator and member of the Cole Bay Adventist Church, feels so 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 how a typical morning on 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.  Group members learn and share how to plant and harvest organic vegetables, propagate plants for transplanting and how to weed, water, mulch and compost.

Sharon Hughes, a one of the gardener group and member of the Cole Bay Adventist Church in St. Maarten, shows off his vegetable box. [Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Hughes]

Cindy Campbell Clark, a group member, said it allowed her to revive her love for gardening and illustrated what can be done with little space.

Barry said the success of her the 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 that agriculture was put on the list of essential businesses after a disaster, she said.  Barry 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.”

Helen Brown, a member of the garden group starts the set up of her vegetable garden in her backyard. [Photo: Facebook]

The new ministry has inspired people from all walks of life to use the time they have to do backyard gardening, shared Barry. “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.

Ms. 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.

Binkie Van Es, a member of the vegetable gardener group poses next to his potted vegetable garden. [Photo: Courtesy of Binkie Van Es]

“My greatest joy is the fact that as we grow a garden, we grow friendship, a prayer life, and even a Christ-like mindset,” said Barry. “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.”

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