A Gardening Ministry

Date posted: Tuesday 10 July 2018

The first time I was able to go to Guatemala, I was thrilled. Finally, I would be able to visit the land of the Mayan peoples and meet the descendants of that culture. Ever since fifth grade, when my teacher read us a book about the Mayans, I wanted to learn more. In 1992, I taught a class that included information about the foods that were developed in the pre-Columbian Americas. Cultures across the planet have adopted the foods developed by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, including tomatoes, chili peppers, bell peppers, chocolate, vanilla, corn, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.


During my trip, I had time to speak with the women Cimiento, which is St. Michael's sister congregation. Pastor Karen told me that the women had expressed a desire to take up gardening. They felt that gardening could be a great way to improve both nutrition and the economy in their community. I was excited and wanted to help them redevelop their gardening skills, which had been mainly lost during their years as refugees.


Starting the gardens

After returning to the Twin Cities, I applied for a grant that would provide someone to help get the gardening program started. Happily, the grant was funded, and a graduate student named Brandon Louie from the University of California, Davis helped set up example gardens at the Lutheran Center. More funds were secured to bring women from rural congregations to the Lutheran Center to learn about gardening and to participate in the gardening ministry. They chose the types of seeds they wanted to plant and developed their gardens. In Cimiento, the men and women worked together to set up a church garden.


On my third visit to Cimiento, I had the privilege of meeting with the women who had been working on the garden. They were well organized, with a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. During the first season they had been able to sell the cilantro they grew for a profit, which was used to help the church buy a sound system. They had also been able to provide short term loans to families who desperately needed cash for emergencies.


However, there were significant concerns. Chickens and dogs from the village were getting into the garden and destroying much of their work. They needed a fence around the church and garden, to keep these intruders out. I am very grateful to the congregation of St. Michael's for providing funding for the requested fence. The women also sought information that would improve their gardening success. Their concerns included: during the dry season, it was very difficult to provide enough water for the plants; plants did not seem to grow as well during the second season they were planted as they had the first; and they realized that some plants would probably grow better if they were planted during a certain season, but they had no idea of what the time table needed to be.


Next steps

I began to look for someone who could help with these issues of 'tropical' gardening. Happily, I was connected with Randee Edmundson. Randee recently completed working in the Peace Corps in Africa, helping develop gardens to improve the nutrition of communities there. In Guatemala, she will introduce a composting program to improve soil fertility, texture, and water-holding capacity. She also has experience in increasing efficiency of water delivery and retention during the dry season. In addition, we hope to establish connections to local people who have memories or experience gardening in the area who can help us decipher planting schedules, and perhaps even point us to better choices for vegetables and fruits to grow.


As Randee joins us and this gardening ministry continues, please keep it in your prayers!


Joan Felice
St. Michael's, Roseville