Growing goodness: Missionary returns home, opens community garden

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Wheeler – Hilary Barnett is taking her missionary experience and bringing it to her home community. 

Hilary Barnett weeds her community garden in the early morning hours on Wednesday. The garden is open to the public and can visit it at 633 County 5031 in Wheeler. News photo/Demi Roberts

Barnett has started a community garden in the Wheeler area. 

“I worked in the Caribbean as a missionary for two years helping farmers, and when I came back home I saw a lot of similarities between the people of Grenada and the people of Mississippi. I learned that one in four children in Mississippi are hungry, and to me that is not acceptable,” Barnett explained.

This spring Barnett, along with youth members of Wheeler Methodist Church, which she attends, planted a large garden. The idea was to plant the garden and open it to the public for those who need healthy food.

“Our motto is ‘pay what you can, and take what you can eat.’ If you can help work the garden by weeding or whatever is needed or make a donation, then you can take what food you need. The excess each week goes to the food boxes at Wheeler Methodist to pass out to the community,” Barnett said.

“We are not trying to build a food pantry, but our ultimate goal is grow a non-profit working farm to help feed low income families in the area.”

Barnett is not new to the skill of gardening. She began her passion for gardening when she was 17 years old while growing up in the same neighborhood with gardens. She learned the skills and knew that was her calling. After graduating Wheeler, Barnett attended Northeast Mississippi Community College for two years and majored in nutrition. She took a sabbatical for two years to work as a missionary in Grenada, and is now home in Wheeler and completing her bachelor’s degree in nutrition online through Purdue University. 

She is employed full-time at Smith’s Nursery in Saltillo. 

“I do this because I think healthy food should be available and affordable to everyone. Grocery stores charge double or triple what it actually costs to grow your own food or even trade with farmers,” Barnett added.

“I also want to teach the skill of gardening to children, youth, and adults so it is not a lost art, and also so they can learn to save money and provide for their families. I believe that if you teach someone to fish, then they can be fed for a lifetime. The same is true for gardening.”

Barnett’s long term plans for the community garden also include gardening classes and canning classes. She is researching and applying for community grants to create funds to expand the garden into a working farm.

The summer garden includes fruits and vegetables such as squash, zucchini, cucumbers, purple hull peas, sweet and hot peppers, strawberries, and a variety of tomatoes. Barnett plans to plant a fall garden also which will include lettuce, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and more. The gardens are all organic with no pesticides used. 

Families can visit her garden at 633 County Road 5031 Booneville, MS 38829 in the Wheeler community. (It is located two houses down from the Wheeler Methodist Church). You can also visit her Facebook Page entitled Diakonia Farm. Barnett is on site at the garden on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and also on weekends. For more information, contact Barnett at 662-554-7596.