Community Involvement

Biking to work gives me the gift of time

By biking to work instead of driving, Dale Gavney gets exercise, saves money, has a greener footprint and gets back some time.Most days, I bike to work. By bike, I mean the motorless kind. In addition to saving money on gas, reducing wear and tear on my car, and having a greener footprint (I now drive about 5,000 miles less per year), I’ve discovered my bike is also my personal time machine.

First, my bike saves me time.

Riding to work blends my commuting and workout time. By blending exercise and commuting, I actually get about an hour back in my day! How’s that for quantifiable impact!

Second, my bike gives me time.

Being on a bike twice a day gives me more time outside, feeling the sun (or rain) on my skin, smelling the grass, the trees, or farmers’ fields. I also hear birds and frogs that I can’t hear when I’m in a car. This outside time is precious to me.

If you practice mindfulness or other kinds of meditation, you know being attuned to your senses is important. Riding a bike like I do is a gold mine for the senses.

I also get more time to connect to others. On a bike, it’s easy to pull over and chat with anyone including neighbors, fellow bikers and even the crossing guard I see every day on my way to work.

Third, my bike itself is from another time.

Heavy, solid and with a smooth ride, my Reagan-era mountain bike is “more Harley-Davidson than Trek,” according to the guy who sold it to me.

Finally, my bike takes me back in time.

Bike riding is making me younger. Maybe not literally, but riding has changed my appetite to be more in line with a person half my age. On really challenging days, when the wind is strong or snow is on the ground, I get an awesome workout and lots of fresh air. On those days I feel like I’m 20 again.

And on those nights, I’m asleep in no time. 

Editor's note: The League of American Bicyclists has named American Family Insurance as one of 400 Bicycle Friendly Businesses nationwide. 

Posted by Dale Gavney on Fri, Aug 30 2013 10:43 amDale Gavney is a business performance and planning administrator for American Family Insurance.

Wise Land Use Yields Unexpected Benefits

Rita Garczynski on the grounds of American Family Insurance National Headquarters.I never tire of the view at our headquarters in Madison, Wis. The surrounding landscape features wildflowers, stone walls, seating areas and a pond. These gradually change over to oak woodlots and large grassland areas.

When our facility was built, the intent of the grasslands was to transition to outlying natural areas and keep expenses down by reducing the costs associated with large well-groomed lawns. It turns out these tall grasses are an ideal habitat for nesting grassland birds. An employee discovered this 20 years ago when he spotted a Dicksissel living in the grasses.

Knowing this, American Family decided to strike a balance between economic development and land resource protection. We realized we have an opportunity to protect and restore diverse plant and animal species on our lands.

As an example, we found that simply by delaying the annual mowing of our meadow until mid-August, the Dicksissel – whose population has been steeply declining – could successfully raise their young.

Our land use plan has three goals:

  • Research existing habitat and wildlife.
  • Implement land-management practices to support habitat-enhancement strategies.
  • Promote employee and community involvement.

Since then, some of our land-use achievements include:

  • Installation of a native prairie butterfly garden.
  • Restoration of oak woodlots to oak savannas.
  • Conversion of several acres of non-native plants to native species.
  • Pond management for habitat diversity.
  • Installation of a 34 bluebird nest boxes.

It’s been a gratifying experience. Some of the most rewarding compliments on our land use come from customers. One guest said that after discovering American Family’s dedication to responsible land management, he would definitely remain our customer. He was an administrator at a local college and was so impressed with our land use plans that he asked if his facilities team could contact me for more details!

I also received a similar compliment from a customer who is an employee with the Wisconsin DNR. She said, “I am so thrilled and impressed to discover I have been doing business with a company that truly cares about the environment.”

At American Family, it’s rewarding to know our good stewardship isn’t just a financial way of life, it extends to our land resources as well.

Editor's note: Learn more about the environmental sustainability efforts at American Family Insurance on our website

Posted by Rita Garczynski on Tue, Aug 27 2013 6:52 amRita Garczynski is facilities site specialist with American Family Insurance.

Go take a hike, it’s good for body and soul

Balanced Rock at Devils Lake State ParkI don’t hike as much as I’d like to these days, but I carry fond memories of hiking with my daughters when they were children and a special hike with them years later.

One special spot is Devils Lake State Park near Baraboo, Wis. Despite its name, it’s a heavenly place. Devils Lake offers miles of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty, so there’s something for just about everyone.

I have three specific hiking memories that come to mind.

Hiking memory No. 1: During a weekend camping trip there when the girls were ages 4 and 8, their mother and I took them on a hike all the way around the lake. I can’t recall the exact distance, but it’s about three miles or so. I recall being quite proud because they made it all the way without whining or asking to be carried.

Hiking memory No. 2: A few years later, my older daughter accompanied me and a friend on a hike along the East Bluff trail heading south from the north end of the lake. Somewhere along the south face of the East Bluff we unwittingly got off the trail and ended up climbing down through some big boulders for a while. It turned out to be a little dangerous, to tell the truth, especially for a 10-year-old. But we were unscathed and lived to tell about it.

Hiking memory No. 3: When my younger daughter was about to head off to college in another state, the girls wanted one last day of adventure with their old man. They realized this rite of passage meant the opportunities for this kind of activity would be limited as they moved along in life, living in different states, pursuing their own careers, etc. So off we went to Devils Lake. We hiked there and then headed for nearby Phil’s Woods, a small park named for Phillip La Follette, a three-time governor of Wisconsin. We had never been there before, so we combined a new experience with a familiar experience that day. It’s one of my favorite memories.

So make the most of your summer. Get out there and hike. You’ll get some exercise, see some sights, flirt with danger and create some great memories. And it always helps to stay on the trails and dress appropriately to keep ticks and other bugs at bay.

30 Days of SummerEditor's note: Where are your favorite places to take a hike? Leave a comment, or visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer. Join the conversation by checking out the #30DaysOfSummer hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted by Paul Johnson on Mon, Aug 05 2013 8:11 amPaul Johnson is a strategic communications editor for American Family Insurance.

Let’s Talk Trash

American Family Insurance leading way in local private sector on organics recyclingIn 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

Posted by Maggie Layden on Fri, Jul 26 2013 11:07 amMaggie Layden is a facility support technician with American Family Insurance.

Got produce? Gardening tips to make summer's bounty last

Share your garden's bounty this summer.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!

Basil drying

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.

30 Days of SummerEditor'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 FacebookTwitterPinterest 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!

Posted by Josh Feyen on Mon, Jul 22 2013 10:40 am
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