Sunday, April 1, 2012

American family community garden expands, builds community

I have some great news to share with those who have been following my ongoing adventure in community gardening where I work at American Family Insurance in Madison Wisconsin. In spring 2011, the company hired Community GroundWorks to design and build 56 plots, and 55 of them were worked all summer. In the autumn, we surveyed our Madison-based employees to see if there was demand for more plots. The overwhelming response indicated that indeed, there was. The company's sustainability area was interested in supporting a garden expansion, and we worked throughout the winter on the details.

I'm pleased to announce that in April, we will break ground to add 62 new plots. Additionally, we will till ground for what we are affectionately calling the “pumpkin patch,” a community effort to raise summer squash, zucchini, winter squash and pumpkins (pie and jack-o'-lantern) for gardeners and for local food pantries. More on that in another entry.

Before we could get Community GroundWorks in to plow the land, we had some heavy labor to do, and I couldn't be more proud of our gardeners after our recent Saturday workday.

We needed to move a sizable pile of wood chips left over from last year's delivery. And we had a messy compost pile to move to make way for the new plots.

On Saturday, March 31, 25 people showed up with wheelbarrows, pitchforks, shovels and rakes, bundled up against the cold and damp wind.

In just one hour, we did an amazing amount of work. What I am particularly happy about is that gardeners from the existing plots pitched in to help prepare the area for the expansion. Early in the day my my co-worker Connie shared why she signed up for a plot and showed up for the work day; "I'm mostly a solo gardener, but I wanted to give this community thing a try." I think many of the people who showed up on a blustery March morning share this sentiment. 

Thanks Connie and the 23 other people who came out to expand the community garden to include more people.

The photos below show what we did.

First, rake back the thin layer of wood chips from last year.

Next, lay down cardboard. Some of these massive boxes were delivered from Rutabaga in Monona. Thanks Rutabaga!

 Add wood chips from the pile we had to move.

 A beautiful new path with no weeds poking through. We will add a deeper layer of new wood chips later this spring.
 The first person tackling the compost pile.

 Back and forth to the new compost pile, a great distance away from the current file and the garden plots.


  1. I don't think you did justice to how COLD it was that morning. I worked fast because if I slowed down I couldn't feel my fingers! ;-)
    - Renee

  2. Your post really struck home - community gardens are a passion of mine, too. We created the first community garden in our community. Check out the bottom video on this page:

  3. You are a dynamo, Josh! Way to go on the cardboard and woodchips.

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