Bonding with employees while gardening for a local food pantry

Plant a Row for the Hungry

I own a small business in East Anchorage.  My business has absolutely nothing to do with gardening but we all love to eat and enjoy the great outdoors so gardening interests many of my employees.  My business is a small group that loves to be a part of our local community with a quarterly volunteer project.  Last year we started doing a group gardening project with the product donated to a local food bank.  This idea came from Alaska Mill and Feed’s program, “Plant a Row for the Hungry.”  It has become a hit with my employees so much so that they want to do it every year.  To start this project, we closed our clinic down early one evening in mid June and all piled into my back yard.

Building the gardenIMG_1567

My home is in South Anchorage. The patch of my yard that I had designated for this project is a patch that was an overgrown raised garden bed, untended for probably decades.  The dirt was such good quality that we decided to till it up and fight the weeds rather than bringing in fresh topsoil.  Typically I try to stay away from using a tiller but this patch needed a fresh start so we tilled about 6 inches deep.

Planting

One of my fellow employees had started some seeds at home about 2 weeks earlier.  The seedlings were all hardened off and ready to plant.  We had started zucchini, kohlrabi, beets, and kale in small containers.  She had used a simple heat mat and a fluorescent light for this seedling project.  We direct seeded carrots and lettuce on the day of our event.  The beets did surprisingly well after being transplanted.  The beets were not direct seeded simply because we wanted to try to start them indoors and transplant them.  To help speed the germination of the carrots, I soaked them in water for a few hours prior to planting.  We were unsure if the carrots would actually mature, because of our late start, but we figured that we would at least have some small carrots by the end of the season.

Maintenance

After planting all of our plants and seeds, we set up a drip irrigation system that would automatically water every second morning for 60 minutes.  The drip system that I chose is from DripWorks and is a fantastic system.  The timer is simple to set up as well as the flow system. IMG_1597 I chose to use the 1/4inch dripline that has the drip openings spaced every 12 inches.  My drip system has saved me a large amount of time and water.  The plants appear to love it and I have increased my yields by more than double from when I was hand watering everything.   In addition, this has limited my weed growth by only watering the seedlings and not the entire patch of weed seeds.  Finally we mulched everything with straw.  I then tended the veggies by weeding. At the end of the summer, I harvested and we took the produce to the local food bank.

The Outcome

This quality time spent with the women that I work with was fantastic and really improved morale.  There is nothing that improves people’s mindset more than working hard in the sunshine, laughing together, and producing a product that helps people.  I would recommend this garden bonding project for anyone with a small business, a group of friends, or a family.   The fresh air, hard work, and giving to those in need really put everyone in great spirits.  After a good evening of work, we all relaxed for dinner and drinks. We talked about gardening and many things that had nothing to do with our often enjoyable, yet very stressful, workplace.  Many of the girls had never gardened and were really excited to learn some of the basics.

1 group of outdoor people with a hard working, fun, attitude + 5 packets of seeds + sunny evening = increased company morale while helping to feed the hungry.  A win-win for everyone!

In addition to this gardening volunteer project we have frequently volunteered as a group at the Alaska Botanical Gardens.  It’s a fun place to volunteer and we would highly recommend it as well!

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