I like to garden, put vegetable plants and seeds in the ground and see what happens. I like to tend the plants, watch them grow, flower and start to fruit. I wait impatiently for a tomato to turn just the right shade of red before picking it.
So it comes as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to ask for one of the 56 10x10-foot plots in American Family's new community garden on the company’s National Headquarters grounds.
What did surprise me is what happened next.
I talk about the garden with anyone who has five minutes to listen. I explain how proud I am what we've built in just two years. I describe how the community garden is much bigger than a 10x10-foot plot. I show off photos of the garden, gardeners and the produce we harvest. I talk about the 377 pounds of fresh produce we donated to food pantries in the Madison, Wis., area this year.
We call it a "community garden" for a reason. Our community garden has 118 plots, but many more people are involved. I've seen husband-wife teams, entire families and small groups of coworkers work garden plots together.
I'm always meeting new people in the garden. We share seeds, gardening tips and recipes. Together, we celebrate that great big onion (a one-pound onion) and mourn together the loss of a plant or an entire patch of sweet corn (darn raccoons!). And I've met children who wouldn't touch a green bean but after growing them, can't get enough.
My involvement with the community garden is an incredibly engaging and educational process. Not only do I go to work each day, I visit my plot before or after work. I joined the garden committee. Then I volunteered to be a garden monitor. Now in our second year, I volunteered to co-chair the garden's leadership team.
The community garden is also part of American Family's overall sustainability efforts. The garden sits on previously unused land, making it productive. In addition to 118 individual plots, we planted six fruit trees that will eventually be harvested by community members. And being right here on the company's national headquarters campus, people don't have to drive far or out of their way to get to it because most of us tend our gardens before or after work.
The garden has also sparked my interest in writing about it, so I started a personal blog about urban gardening, where I encourage people to comment, share their perspectives and have gardening fun.
Josh Feyen is a social media specialist at American Family Insurance, where he also grows vegetables in a community garden plot. Josh writes about his gardening adventures in The Urbane Farmer blog.
This month, we introduced this public blog on our website called Dream Protectors, the American Family Insurance blog.
It’s a new place for us to share our American Family stories. In creating this blog, we were motivated by an internal blog we have, where employees and agents share their experiences and inspiration. Why not share the stories about how we take care of customers or ways we are involved in our communities with the world, too?
These posts will be an opportunity for you to get to know us better. From taking care of customers during a big storm (like after the Joplin tornado in 2011) to agents going the extra mile to help a customer cut down a tree, to our focus on sustainability and our support of community agriculture, it all paints a rich picture of who we are as a company, and what we stand for.
If you have any thoughts or ideas about our blog, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me an email at email@example.com
My mom always told me – it’s better to give than to receive. She’s right. But it’s even better to support something you know will make a difference.
American Family recently began its support of the National FFA Organization’s Rally to Fight Hunger. This “social cause” lives on our company’s Facebook page and requires some action from you. For every new person who “likes” the page from now through Oct. 31, our company will donate $1 toward fighting hunger in the U.S. (up to $20,000). You can monitor this progress on Facebook or our website.
In working with the dedicated people of the National FFA Organization, I learned about the widening scope of hunger. In the coming year, nearly one in five U.S. children will face the risk of hunger.
That’s too many.
We can’t eliminate hunger with money alone. But by partnering with organizations like FFA – that understand hunger and food insecurity – American Family can make a bigger impact with our donation. It will fund as many as 50,000 prepackaged meals being assembled at the FFA’s Rally to Fight Hunger, part of the organization’s national convention in Indianapolis in October.
I’d encourage you to connect with us on Facebook where we’ve been sharing some of this information, to help educate our community about the prevalence and impact of hunger. We want to help feed more hungry families, but we also want to shine a stronger light on this issue.
You can help, too. Talk with your friends and family about this important cause. Share the information from our Facebook and Twitter pages. Watch and share our YouTube video, which goes into more detail about FFA’s program. Help us reach our goal – and in the process, educate more people on the issue of hunger.
As Oprah Winfrey once said, “I think [giving is] an ongoing process. And it's not just about being able to write a check. It's being able to touch somebody's life.”
Thanks for your willingness to give and touch lives in simple ways.
Today is a day for celebration here at American Family … as we mark our 85th birthday! Eighty-five years in business, and you – our customers, agents and employees – made that happen. Thank you.
You might not have known this, but American Family has been part of my family for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve actually celebrated 47 birthdays with American Family, starting back when my dad was an American Family agent in DeForest, Wis. in the '60s. I followed in my dad’s footsteps in 1985 and became an agent for our company, after working a couple years as a claims adjuster. Since then I’ve held a variety of leadership positions and today, I have the honor of serving as the CEO.
A milestone birthday like this gives us a chance to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. And it also gives us pause, to think about what’s ahead – including the opening of DreamBank in Madison, Wis., today. Across all our sites, our employees are giving back to their communities this week as a way to say thanks for your support over the past 85 years. We'll share some pictures in a few days.
As a company, we've seen a lot of changes – especially in the past few years. But one thing that won’t change is our focus on taking care of our customers. I can tell you nothing makes me happier than hearing from a customer thanking our agents or our claims team for taking care of them.
Our birthday celebration gives us a chance to again say thanks – to our agents and employees for the great work they do, and to our customers who've been with us for many of these birthdays. We appreciate the trust you have in us. We know you depend on us to be there when you need us the most – just like family.
About the author: Jack Salzwedel is the chief executive officer of American Family Insurance. You can follow him on Twitter @AmFamJack, where he shares his thoughts on the insurance industry, the economy and his favorite sports teams – in 140 characters or less.