Roots in Tradition, Seeds of Change
For me, the start of a new growing season sparks ideas and opportunities for growth. Since this year’s growing season took a bit longer to kick into gear, that left plenty of time to dream and plan!
As co-lead for the American Family Employee Community Garden at the company's National Headquarters in Madison, Wis., I’ve had the pleasure of seeing new faces, new plots and new enthusiasm invigorate our garden’s third season. And without the support of an incredibly dedicated group of garden volunteers, participant gardeners, and corporate champions the garden wouldn’t be what it is today.
Here's a look at some of the 2013 highlights:
- Enough gardener interest to justify four new 10’ x 10’ plots (bringing our total to 122).
- Commitment from our company's Food Pantry Committee and our garden community to exceed last year’s fresh produce donation of 388 pounds, which aligned well with our support of Feeding America during our Pledge to Plant a Row in May and June.
- Utilize extra space for our community garden's Vine Patch. In its second year, this group of gardeners grows squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons. In addition, this space serves as the incubator for one gardener’s dream of growing her own Great Pumpkin! (Stay tuned for updates.)
Interest in employee community gardens has reached American Family's St. Joseph, Mo., regional office, where a recently formed garden committee is exploring what it will take to bring a garden on site. The hope is that a garden will be in place for the 2014 growing season!
So, why would an insurance company bother with an on-site community garden?
Back in August 2010, I enrolled in a leadership class and was challenged to create something that would foster a more sustainable community. LeeAnn Glover, another American Family employee also in the class, joined me in the effort to develop a vision and plan for what is now the Employee Community Garden. The project aligned perfectly with American Family's goals of workplace sustainability, health and wellness, and employee engagement. The garden plan not only addressed forward-looking goals, but also reflected back on the company’s history.
American Family has deep roots in agriculture, going back to 1927 when the company was formed here in Madison. Back then, we were Farmers Mutual Insurance Company and the business strategy focused on insuring farmers (in 1963 the name changed to American Family Mutual Insurance Company in response to geographic and customer expansion). It didn’t take American Family long to grow beyond Wisconsin’s borders, but the company has never forgotten those agricultural traditions of integrity, hard work and community relationships.
Those traditions have manifested themselves through the garden’s personal-scale cultivation. The land continues to give back. The garden is a conduit by which employees and their families can experience the reward of a harvest, share fresh produce with those in our community who need it, and form new friendships as well as a new-found respect for patience in nature.