Community Involvement

Getting more out of your garden with less work

Josh Feyen offers gardening tips to reduce your work this spirng and summer.Ever since I called myself a “lazy gardener” earlier this spring, I’ve been wondering if the word “lazy” comes from the French “laissez faire,” or “deliberate abstention from direction or interference…” In my case, the less I have to interfere in my garden, the more time I have to prepare and eat the food from it.

Here are two more areas where I significantly decrease work, increase fun and grow more vegetables.

Succession planting
Some vegetables are harvested or die mid-summer. Succession planting can make sure your valuable garden space doesn’t go to waste for the rest of the season.

  • Create a planting scheduled so you don’t forget to get those seeds in on time.
  • Watch the maturity time on seed packets. It’s no fun planting 50-day beets 30 days before the first frost.
  • Plant fast-growing plants near slower growing ones. For example, plant garlic (fast) near peppers (slower) - after your mid-July garlic harvest, the peppers will fill out and take up the empty space.
  • In late July or early August, plant beets, carrots or radishes, all of which will grow before the first frost hits them.
  • In September, plant lettuce.
  • In October, plant garlic for harvest next season.

Water once a week, even when it’s dry:

  • If your garden is well-mulched, plants only need water once a week. Take rain into consideration.
  • When watering, soak the plant for 30 seconds to a minute per plant on a low to medium water flow. The point is to deeply water occasionally rather than shallow water frequently.
  • Stick your fingers under the mulch, if it’s moist, your plants are happy – no need to water that day.
  • Overwatering can drain soil fertility, cause erosion and in many cases, makes for unhappy plants.
  • When watering, avoid wetting leaves or watering in the evening. Damp leaves lead to sunburn during the day, and fungal disease when damp overnight.

Editor's note: If you garden, consider taking the American Family Insurance Pledge to Plant a Row to Fight Hunger. Go to our Facebook page, take the pledge to plant a row of vegetables in your home or community garden. When they're ripe, donate them to your local food bank. For every pledge received, American Family will donate $1 to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. 

Posted by Josh Feyen on Tue, Jun 04 2013 3:23 pm

Have you thanked a veteran today?

Thank a veteran this Memorial Day weekend.I never grow tired of stories from those who’ve served in our Armed Forces.

As a young newspaper reporter, I met one of the last surviving veterans of WWI. Though 90 years had shriveled his frame, he stood tall and proud as I took his photo next to an American flag.

On another occasion, I interviewed one of the few surviving crew members of the U.S.S Indianapolis, the last American ship sunk by enemy forces in WWII. He recalled with vivid detail four days floating at sea until rescuers arrived.

And as a child, I listened intently as my father and uncle relived their war experiences from the Army and Navy, respectively. Though serving in a foreign land may not have been the optimal way to spend their youth, they never regretted the role they played in defending our nation’s freedoms.

I’ve met a good share veterans from my own generation as well – men and women who’ve served in numerous capacities, for many different reasons. Some, like me, were stateside in the Reserves, fortunate to have stayed out of harm’s way. Others weren’t so lucky – separated from their families for many months and by thousands of miles to serve our nation’s call.

As part of our 30 Days of Thanks, American Family recognized veterans for their service. We were pleased to hear from numerous people who have worn the uniform. Here are just a few comments we received: 

  • “I served in the Korean War on the front lines from late Feb 1951 until Dec 31, 1951, A VERY cold place – much like Minnesota – and we had no overshoes or winter sleeping bags....Brrr.”
  • Sometimes we’re all forgotten about, and what we give up for our country. Family, health and life.”
  •  "I am a veteran – 4 years active duty, Security Forces USAF. I show my appreciation to Veterans everyday by acknowledging them when I see or meet them."
  • "Yes, I am a Veteran of WWII – one of the few still alive.  I was a medic and worked in a large Veteran's hospital as a surgical tech, so I saw the terrible results of war. I also lost some of friends I trained with."
  • "Having served 21 years myself, I thank God everyday for these young men and women who keep us safe today.  We must never forget however, all our veterans from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam and all the other victories forged by our gallant men and women in uniform."

Thank you to all those who took the time write. And thank you everyone who has served in the Armed Forces – in war, in peace, at home and overseas. We live the results of your service every day.

P.S.: Want to thank a veteran? Leave a comment, or head to our Facebook page and post a message on our Wall. 

Posted by Paul Bauman on Fri, May 24 2013 7:25 amPaul Bauman is a web experience administrator for American Family Insurance. When not developing content for the company’s websites, he enjoys sharing the running trail with his thoughts, which move at a much faster pace.

A dream come true for firefighter Brandon Troia

Madison firefighter Brandon Troia and his daugtherEver since I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming a Madison firefighter.

Growing up, I was mesmerized by the stories my great-uncle, Mel Troia, told about his experiences as a Madison firefighter. It wasn’t hard to picture myself riding fire trucks, fighting the flames and most of all – helping people. As a firefighter, I’d save people’s homes, their possessions and even their lives!

First though, I had to grow up and prove I was firefighter material.

I was raised by a single Mom who worked three jobs to support us. She wanted to give me a good life and she led by example. She showed me no matter what your dream is, with hard work and dedication, you can reach it. Armed with her guidance, I was convinced my dream was always within reach. I didn’t realize though, that along the road to achieving my dreams, I’d have some bumps to contend with.

As a high school student, I attended a career day and met recruiters from the Madison Fire Department. That sealed it for me – I knew from that point on I wanted to become a Madison firefighter.

After high school, I enrolled in the Fire Science program at Madison College and landed an internship at the Maple Bluff Fire Department. My goal quickly became a passion.

I admit I didn’t have the world’s best background. I had some trouble in high school and my initial applications to MFD were turned down. I was also a single father of two wonderful kids. Like my mother did for me, I had to support them. Fortunately, I was able to find work in construction which allowed me to support my kids but I was away from home a lot and missed them desperately.

Stories from DreamBankMy goal of being in the MFD was now even stronger. My kids were the extra motivation I needed. I turned to the lessons my Mom taught me and applied again. A rigorous physical agility test and interview designed to reveal one’s core identity and character were my chance to prove who I really was, rather than be shadowed by a few questionable events in my past.

I’ll never forget the day when Chief Steve Davis called to offer me the opportunity to become a Madison firefighter. I couldn’t believe it. I called my Mom first and could barely keep it together. The proudest moment for me though, was when my 11-year-old son, Garrett, pinned my MFD badge on my uniform at the Madison Fire Academy commencement ceremony this past January. I did it! I reached my dream.

Although the road had a few bumps along the way, I never lost sight of my dream. With hard work, determination and dedication I reached it. If I can, you can. Your dream is out there. Don’t ever stop trying to get it.

Editor’s note: This is part of a Dream Protectors blog feature called Stories From DreamBank, which showcases real-life dreams from visitors to the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Visit DreamBank on the Square or online at www.amfam.com/DreamBank

Posted by Brandon Troia on Wed, May 15 2013 6:31 pmBrandon Troia is a firefighter for the Madison, Wis., fire department.

Gardening for a cause: Pledge to Plant a Row

Fight Hunger in AmericaI’m getting into the gardening game, and I’m a little nervous. I’ve signed up for a 10x10 garden plot in our American Family Insurance community garden.

It’s a little intimidating because we’ve got some very talented home gardeners around here. They’re talking about straw bale gardens and raised bed gardens. Josh Feyen on our social media team even has a blog about urban gardening – and he just planted an orchard in his small, urban front yard!

Me? I’ve had a few tomato plants around the yard. A few herbs. Some ailing blueberry bushes. But this is the first time I’m plotting out a garden.

My family loves the farm-fresh produce we can get in the summer, and we bike each summer Saturday up to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, Wis. So it’s natural for us to expand our own gardening effort.

Having our own garden is also going to be a way for us to give back to the community. Local food pantries want donations of fresh produce, and we’ll share some of our garden’s bounty with them.

Over the next several weeks, American Family Insurance is working to raise awareness of the opportunity to donate produce through our Pledge to Plant a Row effort on Facebook. We’re asking people to take that pledge, set aside a row of produce and donate it to a local food bank. For every pledge made between now and June 20, we’ll donate $1 to Feeding America, up to $5,000.

Pleldge to Plant a Row to fight hunger in AmericaThis is part of our ongoing effort to help fight hunger in our communities and help raise awareness of this important issue. It builds on last fall’s effort to support the National FFA Organization’s Rally to Fight Hunger, which was backed by more than 20,000 of our Facebook fans and funded 50,000 prepackaged meals.

Whether you’re a veteran gardener or just getting started, I hope you’ll join us in this pledge, and connect with us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing information about supporting local food pantries, statistics on the impact hunger has in our communities, and ways for you to help.

Posted by Michele Wingate on Thu, May 09 2013 1:15 pm

During teacher appreciation week, tell a teacher you care

Teacher Appreciation Week Monday, May 6, begins “Teacher Appreciation Week.” For all the great things teachers do, it should be a year-round event.

As a parent of two, I deeply appreciate everything my kids’ teachers have done for them. It was their teachers who encouraged their reading and writing. It was their teachers who taught them to play music, solve problems and look for answers.

In many cases, children spend more of their waking time in schools with their teachers than they do with their family. Teachers are role models, coaches, cheerleaders and provide a shoulder to cry on when bad things happen. Their care for students extends beyond school walls. 

I’ve seen teachers who can barely make ends meet in their own homes, quietly take up a collection amongst themselves to pay for emergency food or lodging for a homeless family whose child is in their classroom. Sadly, in recent events, we’ve even seen teachers lay down their lives to try and protect their students.

Teachers are called upon to make schools safe for your kids and mine. They break up fights, try to stop bullying, make everyone feel safe and keep order in the classroom. For all that, they get sworn at, get (credible) death threats from students and blame from parents when their child doesn’t do well.

As a society, we ask a lot from our teachers. We entrust our most valuable resource – our children and their future – to them. We ask them to educate and motivate young minds and give them guidance.  

Yet the hours are long and the pay is low. Many teachers are in the classroom long before the start of the “contract” day and stay long after. Papers, tests and projects don’t grade themselves. It’s done by a teacher and often at home in the evenings and weekends. The stress takes its toll. Statistically, 45 percent of teachers leave the field after only five years.

I’ve heard people say that teachers have it easy with summers off, time off at Christmas and again in spring. The teachers I’ve met spend that time taking classes to renew their teaching license, planning out the next year’s curriculum or working a second job to make ends meet.

Make no mistake about it – teachers love what they do. They do it to make a difference in a child’s life. They do it to see the excitement in a student’s eyes when they “get it.”

Yet for everything our teachers do, they are seldom shown appreciation. This year, show your appreciation. Take a moment to thank the teachers in your life for all they’ve done.

Posted by Eric Wolf on Tue, May 07 2013 11:28 am
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