Green Fitness Studio, 232 Varet Street, is tucked into an unassuming block populated by industrial manufacturers and artist lofts. Once you climb the stairs, what lies in front of you is a windowed exercise room split between weights and cardio equipment. If you keep walking straight through the facility, past the locker rooms, you’ll find yourself standing on a wood-paneled floor in what first clocks in as a vast auditorium hall. Further on, positioned at the far reaches of the floor is a boxing ring, and before that two dozen stationary bikes.
If you make a right, before you get to the bikes, you’ll see a door leading outside to a rooftop courtyard. Take it. Once outside, you’ll find yourself inside a lush and colorful, well-tended vegetable garden. Most likely, Macques Thomas, personal trainer and garden tender, will be close by.
“I’m trying to create an ecosystem,” Thomas told me recently. “We have four different varieties of birds, and a lot of bees.”
We sat in an empty yoga room. It was too cold to be outside, but if we were, we’d see the greenhouses Thomas built for spinach and kale through the winter. In the colder months, Thomas said, he fills his apartment with seedlings that he then brings to the garden in March.
The whole thing was Thomas’ idea. The garden is not connected to the gym itself, and yet, it seems to tie the whole space together—the space being called “Green Fitness” and all.
“Last year we had tomatoes, beets, snap peas, cucumbers, watermelon, green beans, bell peppers, kale, sunflowers,” Thomas said, while racking his brain, before continuing on. “Different types of basil–sweet basil, African blue, opal basil, thai basil…But it all fit there.”
What comes of all this?, I asked. How do you choose where it goes?
“I literally just randomly see someone and I’ll give them food,” Thomas replied. “Maybe they’ll ask me about it, maybe they’ll come help. I try to get people involved so that they can get a feel of what it’s like to grow your own food.”
Thomas looked me in the eyes—gently, sternly.
“It’s deep,” he said. “I believe God has given me the opportunity to do this.”
Thomas has keen, observant eyes and a soft demeanor. A gray-speckled beard frames the bottom half of his face.
“Adam and Eve were placed in the garden,” Thomas explained. “You know what I mean? It’s like we were made for that spot. So when we’re in that spot, you automatically have that connection to the creator—to God.”
On warmer days, gym-goers will lay down yoga mats next to the potatoes. Young boxers spar beside the kale.
“You can just tell,” Thomas told me. “There’s no anger there, there’s no animosity, there’s no negative energy, because it’s like, we have life. We have things here that we have to take care of. When people get that connection. It clicks in them.”
I nodded. I began to see it too. The power of the garden.
“Just talking about it now is giving me chills,” Thomas said, “We live in a country where a lot of things are artificial.”
I got the sense he was talking about more than just food.
“And you learn so many life lessons,” Thomas said. “You learn to be patient. In life they call it Karma—whatever you put out is going to come back to you. You’re not going to plant cucumber seeds and get a watermelon.”
Cucumber seeds won’t give you a watermelon, I repeated back to him, like some kind of mantra.
Thomas went on, “There’s sometimes in life you have to get rid of things, ‘cause if you don’t, if you let it grow, it can get out of hand.”
Thomas recalled that a few years back he saw some mice running through the garden beds. He didn’t think much of it. He let them be, and then they destroyed everything.
“I said never again,” Thomas remembered. “If you see something that needs to be addressed, address it…Just like in life.”
“Put something on your balcony,” he advised.
“It’s like therapy.”
Eventually, Thomas says he wants to open a fitness facility of his own. Next to the facility, he plans to have a huge garden too, where gym members can reserve plots and plant their own vegetables. The garden at Green Fitness is just practice for what’s coming down the line, he said.
“A garden is so peaceful and full of energy,” Thomas said, leaning in. “You know, it’s like Eden on Earth…The Garden of Eden is right here.”
All images come courtesy of Thomas’ Instagram accounts.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.