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People Who Care: John Smith's Green Thumb


Monarch Development Specialist John Smith grew up in Hubert, N.C. with parents who loved to garden. From an early age he watched and appreciated his parents canning and freezing  vegetables, and identifing and nurturing different plants. This cultivated in him a deep appreciation for growing things that continued into his adult life as he tends his English garden at his home in New Bern and contributes to his community garden plots in Craven County.

His extensive gardening experience was quickly utilized when he came on board at Monarch last year after working as the director of admissions for Craven Community College. He now works at the Health Drive Day program in Craven County as a development specialist.

He jokes that when he was first asked to help out at the M.A.G.I.C.A.L. garden at Health Drive he assumed it would be a few hours a week, but that quickly evolved into a much bigger job as he is now the lead for the project.

“It was really a natural thing,” he explained referencing his already deep love for gardening, “but the most important thing is the garden provided opportunities for people we support. They really enjoy seeing things grow.”

Smith tends the garden on many weekends and he typically starts his day 30 minutes early so he can go over and check on the garden before his job starts. The people supported at Health Drive also join him many days to help him in the garden.

“When we first started doing it, they didn’t seem that interested,” he said. “But when they started seeing things growing it opened up a new avenue for them. They really enjoy the fresh veggies.”

The garden has helped supply fresh vegetables to the area’s group homes and those who attend the day program at Health Drive have harvested the vegetables each growing season and cooked meals from what they grew in the garden.

“It makes me a little mad,” he jokes, “because the Health Drive garden is producing better than my own garden. We’re still getting six foot okra.”

His hope is that eventually each group home will have a small garden to produce vegetables for the house and to continue to help grow the Health Drive garden. Right now they are harvesting cabbage, collard greens, spinach and beets.

“Any time you see something that is nurtured and it grows the final result of that is wonderful. It’s the same for the people we support, when you see their eyes dancing because they’re getting ready to pick veggies. They enjoy it so much,” Smith said. “I get a big kick out of things growing, and I get a bigger kick out of those we support enjoying it.”

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