Marystown is a small community on the southern coast of Newfoundland, Canada, an area also known as the “boot.” However, its location and size does not mean it was spared the impact and repercussions of COVID-19 when it first swept through Canada in 2020.
“Many people suffered from mental illness,” Kaitlynn Harushimana, a member of the Marystown Seventh-day Adventist Church, said. “Depression, anxiety, and suicide became more prominent. People suffered isolation and fear, and everyone seemed to be lacking a purpose.”
During the first lockdown last year, the church members began to dream of serving their community with what they had and decided to revamp the large, empty field behind the church.
“We decided to start a community garden,” Harushimana said.“We hoped the garden would bring people together, give them a purpose, and in the end some healthy food, improving the social, physical, and spiritual parts of their health.”
During summer 2020, with funds from Adventist Community Services, they began buying supplies. Harushimana then reached out to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Canada to see if there was a funding opportunity. ADRA was very interested in the project. With the money from ACS, ADRA, and in-kind donations, the garden began with 25 raised beds.
The church members then reached out to their community to see if anyone would like to adopt a bed. It didn’t take long before each bed was claimed. The first planting took place in spring 2021.
“The project is going very well,” Harushimana said. “With ADRA’s money, we were able to buy the plants and seeds so that none of the participating families had to spend any money. They just come and take care of their gardens.”
With the money from ADRA, the church also purchased picnic tables and benches where people could rest and have a picnic. “Sometimes the children play there while their parents work in the gardens. It’s turned into a reading center as well. It’s a safe place where people can socialize. We even have outdoor services and sing-alongs there,” Harushimana said.
The church is also planning to install a sandbox and firepit. These items will give the community even more options for gathering safely and connecting.
The harvest has been a show-stopper.“People driving by the church pull over to ask us what we are doing in our gardens to make them flourish,” Harushimana said. In 2021, many of the Marystown gardens did not do very well. “We’re harvesting so much already. What has been harvested is now growing back.” Among the fruits and vegetables planted, the turnips, potatoes, carrots, peas, and cabbages have been firm favorites.
With a waitlist of community members eager to be involved, the church members are already planning an expansion. They are going to build extra beds so more families can participate. Plans are being made to create higher beds, so seniors don't have to bend low, as well as a few wheelchair-accessible beds.
“The grandfather of a family who gardens with us has Alzheimer’s,” Harushimana shared. “Before the gardens, he was very worried about winter coming because he hadn’t planted anything. He worried his family wouldn’t have enough food. The family asked us if they could join the garden. Now, he comes every day to care for his plants, to weed, and to harvest. ‘This is a good harvest,’ he says as he walks around his garden. Now, he’s relieved and happy that his family will have food through the winter.
“We’re helping people through every walk of life,” Harushimana said. “Families are bonding. People are finding a purpose again.”