In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d learn so much or be so interested in trash!
When I was a child, it was my job to take out the daily compost. In the summer it was stinky and there were bugs all around the bin. In the winter, nothing was decomposing because it was frozen. I didn’t get it.
Then in college I saw things differently. I came to see trash as a resource, a realization that would set me on a path I would not have predicted.
I realized everything is connected in one big loop. Therefore, everything must go somewhere – there is no “away.” The consumption of resources (inputs) must produce outputs that are used for something else. When we are finished using something, it doesn’t vanish, it just takes a different form. Think of it this way, when baking a loaf of bread, we use flour and other ingredients (inputs) to get bread (an output). We never see the ingredients again as they were originally, because they’ve taken on a different form.
This was on my mind the day I stood next to a pile of American Family rubbish at our waste hauler’s sorting facility last October. Our vendor had dumped our 40-yard compacter on the floor for our viewing and sorting pleasure (see photo). It was an eye-opening experience for me and the rest of the recycling project team.
We were there to estimate what percentage of our trash was organic and could be recycled and what could go to the landfill. We were astonished to see huge amounts of recyclable materials in the waste pile headed to the landfill.
Since that day, our facilities operations project has taken a new approach to recycling. First, we needed to define what our desired outcome would be. Second, we had to figure out how to get there. After a lot of thought, we decided on an ambitious goal of reducing the amount of waste we send to a landfill from the national headquarters to be no more than 10 percent of our total waste output.
Now, we face the challenge of achieving this lofty goal. Stay tuned. Every employee will be an important part of this program’s success!
Looking back to my childhood, I can now see how much I learned from our family compost pile. It produced nutrient-rich soil that was applied directly to our garden, which produced food that went directly to our dining room table. It also cultivated a culture of recycling in our home that set me up for my life’s work. It created a neat and tidy feedback loop.
We can all do a better job of recycling. How do you, as an individual, think about waste? What do you do to complete the loop and make a positive impact on our global problem of waste?
Editor's note: American Family Insurance is the now the first major private employer in Dane County, Wisconsin to routinely divert food-related waste from the landfill. Read more about our zero-waste initiative here, and learn more about our company's sustainability efforts on our website.
During summer, whether you have an abundant vegetable garden, receive a weekly community-supported agriculture box of veggies, or just couldn’t stop buying produce at the farmers market, you may be asking yourself, “What do I do with all these vegetables?”
Here are some ideas of what to do with excess produce before it wilts away.
Use a seasonal cookbook
Summer is a great time to eat fresh, local food. There are many seasonal cookbooks, From Asparagus to Zucchini, A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce is one of my favorites. I like that it’s published by Wisconsin’s FAIRSHARE CSA Coalition – they know their seasonal veggies!
I haven’t tried it yet, but FAIRSHARE recently published a companion to Asparagus, titled Farm-Fresh and Fast: Easy Recipes and Tips for Making the Most of Fresh, Seasonal Foods. It’s on my short list!
Preserve what you can’t eat
Garlic, many varieties of onions, and down the road, root vegetables and winter squash, will keep a long time. Just eat as you need them. Drying and freezing are a couple of great options for small-scale food preservation. I dry herbs by tying them in bunches and hanging in a warm dry place out of the sun (house or garage attic are great for this). A food dehydrator can dry just about anything. No need to buy one, I got one from a friend who had an extra, or keep an eye on your local second hand stores.
Freezing is a little more involved, but nothing that you can’t do with a little research and hot water (really). And if you want to learn more about canning, search online for a water-bath or pressure canning class. They are usually 2-3 hours each.
Share your bounty
If you’ve simply got too much food to eat and no time or desire to preserve it, share it!
- Pack up extra produce and go introduce yourself to a neighbor you’ve been meaning to get to know better.
- Encourage healthy snacking at work. Slice up some produce and bring in a vegetable platter. Boast about where it came from.
- Donate it! Many food pantries now accept any quantity of fresh produce to share with their communities. My community garden organizes a collection bin and last year, we donated more than 300 pounds of fresh produce to several Madison, Wis.-area food pantries. Your donation won’t be on that scale, but will be just as appreciated.
Josh Feyen - the Urbane Farmer shares his “raised-on-a-farm” wisdom and writes about urban farming and organic gardening topics on his personal blog, too.
Editor's note: However you spend it, summer has a wonderful, effortless way of bringing us closer to the ones we love. In this spirit, American Family invites you and your family to join us for our 30 Days of Summer celebration.
Throughout the season, we’re featuring ideas - like gardening - for family fun and safety with our communities on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures!
As a husband, a father, and someone active in the Madison, Wis. community, it’s shocking: Nearly 19,000 kids in our area are at risk for insufficient nutrition.
The first time I heard that statistic, I didn't believe it. Not in Madison. After all, we are home to a world-class university, a progressive state government, and our economy does better than most at weathering national economic downturns.
It’s shocking, especially to those of us who don’t think twice about a trip to the grocery store or a visit to one of the many farmers’ markets in the area. There are colorful mountains of fresh, wholesome food - right?
And yet 19,000 kids may not get the healthy food they need to build strong bodies and healthy minds. Studies suggest that kids who go hungry early in life are 2 ½ times more likely to have poor overall health 10 to 15 years later. Those are simply terrible statistics.
As a community, we have the financial resources and compassion, the knowledge and the spirit to fix this problem. I know we can do a better job to get kids the nutrition they need. United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative is leading the charge and together we can do this. We may not be able to solve world hunger, but we sure can feed the hungry child next door.
American Family learned about this new initiative just as we were starting a charitable foundation with professional golfer Steve Stricker and his wife, Nicki. Although it’s very early in the foundation’s development, we know its focus is helping to build strong families and healthy kids. We’ve identified nutrition and overall wellness as a place to start.
It’s a perfect fit. The Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation is pleased to make its first gift to the community through the United Way of Dane County’s Healthy Food for All Children initiative. We’re proud to help kick start this important work with a $50,000 gift. The initiative gets more fresh, healthy food to kids who need it right now and its 10-year plan includes measuring results so improvement can be maintained over time.
With your help we can achieve even more. Whether you donate, volunteer or educate others, why not help us? You can join in and support United Way of Dane County in this work by calling United Way 2-1-1 or log onto www.unitedwaydanecounty.org to volunteer or donate today.
Every child deserves the chance to achieve their dreams. Are you with us?
Editor’s note: United Way’s Healthy Food for All Children community plan is the result of a partnership between United Way, the Goodman Foundation and Community Action Coalition of Southeastern Wisconsin. It was introduced on June 24, and focuses on several strategies. It will enhance access to healthy foods for children and families and increase the capacity of neighborhoods and communities to support affordable healthy food choices. It will also maintain culturally appropriate healthy food during and after school, throughout summer programs and in childcare through expanded choices for students and integrated education on healthy living. More than 30 community leaders developed the plan that unifies the community in a common vision to increase options and availability of healthy food for children.
This first appeared as on op-ed in the Capital Times on July 17, 2013.
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.
As a kid, I was a Girl Scout, and our motto was “Be Prepared.” That motto is one I’ve taken to heart and serves me well as a volunteer ambulance driver.
I began driving an ambulance about three years ago. My husband saw a flier asking for volunteers and he felt my caring nature, along with my ability to drive large vehicles like our friends 30’ motorhome, made me a good candidate to be an ambulance driver. You see, in small, rural communities like mine, emergency and fire services are staffed by volunteers.
The big difference between an ambulance and a motorhome is that with an ambulance, you have an injured passenger along with emergency medical technicians in the back. And, you have to get to a hospital as quickly and safely as you can, often driving in inclement weather on winding roads.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a fire, heart attack or large hazardous material spill, we’re ready to roll at a moment’s notice.
One of my more memorable calls was an accident during deer hunting season. A hunter tripped with a loaded gun and his self-inflicted injury was severe enough that it eventually cost him his leg. Because an ambulance doesn’t travel well through the woods, we walked a mile each way to carry him back to the ambulance.
Because of the wide range of emergencies we handle, we are constantly training. In addition to the required state and federal certifications, my team has monthly training meetings to keep our skills sharp.
I’ve learned a lot in three years and the learning has served me (and my co-workers) well. At our East Region Building, I’m a first responder for medical emergencies.
I’ve also shared life-saving tips with others. One simple and important tip I tell everyone is to keep a list of medications you or your family members are taking – including non-prescription ones – on or near the refrigerator. Be sure to include the dosage and frequency you take them. Because medical technicians and fire rescue teams always look at the refrigerator for this type of information, it’s there in case you’re injured and unable to speak for yourself.
As an ambulance driver, I know what can happen to people in the blink of an eye. When my pager goes off, I’m already thinking about what I may encounter as I’m racing to the Emergency Medical Services building.
No matter what time of day it is or what the weather is like, I always need to be prepared. Whether at work or at home I’m always ready to go.