When I started working at Gardener's Supply in the 1990s, my Vermont backyard was pretty green—with grass. Today, there's just a tiny bit of the original lawn left. Most of the available space has given way to trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and stonework. Watch a slideshow of my garden in Burlington, VT.
In addition to my work at Gardener's Supply, I work in the gardening division at Church Hill Landscapes. In that role, I maintain dozens of gardens and learn a lot in the process. I believe that all gardening is good gardening.
Company Farm in 2013, when we started growing potatoes.
Our pollinator waystation is filled with plants, such as milkweed, that attract pollinators.
EMPLOYEES at Gardener's Supply started Company Farm in 2013. The goal: Grow as much food as possible — for people and pollinators. It's a way for us to turn part of our company's back yard into productive land. The idea is less mowing, more growing. In additon, employee-volunteers who donate food provide direct service to the community.
The farm began in a set of 27 4-x-6-foot raised beds on a hillside beside our Burlington, VT, headquarters. We chose to grow potatoes because they are good keepers and planting and harvest is fairly simple. Right from the start, it became clear that our planting site was especially wet, even though we had raised beds. Winter snow melt and spring rains kept the beds soggy well into June, which is late for planting potatoes. In the first year, the harvest was OK; in our second year, we lost half the crop to rot. By the third year, we had to wait till July to plant, and the harvest was small and disappointing.
By 2016, we knew we couldn't change the site. So, we changed our idea. We moved the potato beds to an area that's relatively dry. In the too-wet site, we planted a pollinator waystation that features wetland species that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. A repeating pattern of plants will ensure beauty and color throughout the season. Because the plants are natives, they attract pollinators and thrive with less effort.
Other teams from our company are growing crops, too. Employees at our garden center, warehouse and workshop are growing potatoes and other vegetables to share with local food shelves.
Eventually, we want to share what we've learned, so other organizations can have their own Company Farms. Wouldn't it be great if more groups could create simple, productive, volunteer-run mini-farms? With a small investment, the returns could be big, including employees with dirt under their fingernails and smiles on their faces.
Our approach so far: Keep it simple and sustainable.
At Gardener's Supply, we believe in doing "good works." In fact, we've donated 8 percent of our profits to gardening-related efforts since the day we opened in 1983.
Community service is not just a company policy, tended to by a few people. It's a founding principle that's part of our corporate culture. Each employee is encouraged to support the community in his or her own way. With Company Farm, we hope to provide employees with another way we can give back and work together as we do it.
Follow us through the season on our blog, Gardener's Journal.
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