A great way for a company to share with the community: Collect fresh, wholesome, locally grown vegetables for the local food shelf.

Mark, a Gardener’s Supply employee, holds freshly picked vegetables from his community garden plot that he delivers each week to the local food shelf.

When Pat arrives at the community food shelf with a grocery bag of homegrown tomatoes, kale, lettuce, cucumbers and zucchini, she gets a hero’s welcome. “You would think I’d delivered a truckload of vegetables, instead of an armful,” she says.

Every Wednesday during the gardening season, employee-owners at Gardener’s Supply bring extra garden vegetables for donation. Giving back to our community is a longstanding corporate commitment. What better way to give back than to provide fresh, wholesome, locally grown vegetables to those in need.

It all started last fall with a month-long food drive organized by the Employee Stock Ownership (ESOP) committee. Fifteen teams of five or six people each competed for the honor of bringing in the most food each week. Stacks of nonperishable foods filled the plastic bins stacked just inside the front door every Wednesday morning throughout October. The program was so successful that the food shelf had to send over a truck every week to pick up the bins.

The collection point is right at the front door, so it’s easy for employees to remember.

At noon on drop off day, members of the ESOP committee weighed each team’s donation, recorded the weekly results on a chart, and announced the weekly winner in an all-company e-mail. We anticipated the weekly weigh-in as keenly as any major-league sporting event. At the end of the month, the winning team was treated to a gourmet breakfast cooked by ESOP committee members. The total weight of the donations from the 15 teams was 9,200 pounds, or nearly 1 ton of food per week!

This summer, the committee invited employees to plant extra vegetables, an initiative patterned after the Plant a Row for the Hungry program promoted by the Garden Writers Association. “The program went so well last fall that we decided to repeat it with a summer campaign,” Pat said. Since most of Gardener’s Supply’s employees have gardens at home, the response has been good. Garden space on the company campuses has also been pressed into service. Several members of the Customer Contact Center used 75 square feet in the display gardens to grow tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant, and greens for the weekly donation.

Mark, another experienced and avid gardener at our shipping facility, devoted his 100-square-foot employee/community garden plot to the cause, using donated seeds and seedlings. When three more neighboring plots became available throughout the summer, he added their vegetables to the weekly donation. Employee members of the Garden Club help weed and harvest the garden during breaks and lunch. By mid-August, Mark says, “I’ve delivered more than 150 pounds of squash, lettuce, Swiss chard, snap peas, string beans and tomatoes. We still have the main tomato and squash crops to come in.”

“Helping feels good,” says Pat. “Growing food and sharing the harvest is a win-win.” Patrons of the food shelf couldn’t agree more.

For more on this topic, read Gleaning Programs Help Feed Hungry Neighbors

-Ann WhitmanHorticulturist, Gardener’s Supply