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The White Mountain and San Carlos Apache Reservations together are the size of Rhode Island but have only one grocery store each. For many on the reservation, healthy food choices are thirty miles away and a vehicle isn’t always available. Due to this lack of produce and healthy food, many suffer from food insecurity, which means they get enough calories to survive but not the right nutrients and vitamins, often-times leading to poor health, iron deficiency, developmental risks, and behavioral problems.
To help fight this health issue, Kingdom Workers in teaming with the local Lutheran churches and schools to teach gardening and healthy eating practices. There are two gardens. One of them is located at the East Fork Lutheran School and is primarily for youth. Field Manager Anna Sherod says, “We invite community members to participate, and that is a program where the kids do the gardening themselves. So it’s hands-on learning and their families get the produce, and we also have the kids learning where they can sell produce at the end. They sell in a farmers market.” They also learn skills like composting, tilling, harvesting, and even food preservation. One of the most important things to teach is the difference between food from creation and food from a factory. Teaching kids to make the right choices is key. Even with all the learning, the kids have a great time in the garden and take pride in their green thumbs. “They are so good at gardening. It’s surprising. They’re so into it. They just attack the garden - literally attack it with screaming like - ‘We’re gonna get the weeds!’ They just go nuts. They’re just a joy to watch grow.”
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Gardening with Children Tips
Each Tip Sheet has
• Bible reading to connect God's word with growing
• Applications from the Apache Garden
• Practical Tips from helping kids learn about nature
Why is reaching kids vital? Consider a few numbers:
The median age of a tribal member is 24 years old.
The local premature mortality rate is high: 84%.
There is only one grocery store within 35 minutes driving distance.
The other garden is at the White River Lutheran Church. This one is for the whole community, and most of the produce is used for a weekly supper for participants of the Celebrate Recovery Program. “We use that garden as a pilot garden - sort of a garden that shows people how to garden, and we do instructional workshops at that garden too. So people have a reason to hang around, to have fellowship at the church, and again people do take that produce home sometimes too. It’s a totally great, on-site, church-based, educational opportunity,” says Anna. One of the most important parts of this program is the educational aspect. The purpose is not only to grow food, but to teach the participants how to independently grow their own garden and ultimately make healthy choices.
Not only are the gardens a source of health food and education, but they provide a wonderful environment for sharing the Gospel. Anna says, “Some of the lessons that we’ve used with the kids have been with the fruits of the spirit, or about the parable of the weeds and wheat, or the parable of the sower and the seed, things like that. And there are gardening truths that come out of those parables as well as spiritual truths, so we can sort of talk about both at once, and that’s a really efficient way to grow kids in their knowledge of the Lord and grow their knowledge of gardening, and it’s been really fun to sort of mix those things.” Volunteer Bob Wells adds, “Spreading the Gospel through the Kingdom Workers’ work here is done at a 1:1 basis. Whether it be a homeowner… It could even be with our gardening project where the kids are very inquisitive and wanting to know why we’re doing what we’re doing and very excited to get their hands dirty.”
In a community where alcoholism and substance abuse are too common, introducing the Gospel to people at an early age can make all the difference. The median age of people on the reservations is twenty-four, while the median for the rest of the U.S. is thirty-seven. Anna says, “The more that we can work with the teenagers, the more that we don’t have to work with them later in substance abuse recovery group. We’re really excited about getting them plugged into God’s word at a younger age in a meaningful way.”
A few more pictures from the gardens
The gardens of the Apache Reservations are making a difference in their communities. By showing love and concern for people, Kingdom Workers is helping to fight food insecurity and spread the Gospel. The job may never be finished, but the Holy Spirit is reaching hearts and saving lives in Arizona. Bob Wells describes it like this: “Healthy eating leads to a lifetime of healthy habits and healthy living conditions. And of course, along with the Word of God that is with them as Jesus walks with them, that just leads to an overall better life for them for the lifetime that they’ll live here on the reservation... It is very difficult stories that we hear, a difficult life, that’s the bad news. The good news is that [they] know who their savior is, and they come regularly to fill churches to celebrate weekly the blessings that Christ has given us and the salvation that he has won for us.”
Field Manager: Anna Sherod