Reaping the Benefits of DuraTech’s Community Garden
Reaping the Benefits of DuraTech’s Community Garden
Reaping the Benefits of DuraTech's Community Garden
DuraTech planted the seed for a company wellness program back in 2015. What started as a team member suggestion, has grown into a successful program that helps educate team members about wellness through a variety of resources and activities. Since then, a group of team members formed a wellness committee and created a mission statement as a guideline for the program.
Wellness Committee Mission:
“The mission of DuraTech Wellness Program is to improve the health and wellbeing of DuraTech team members and their families’ lives through education and activities that will support positive lifestyle changes resulting in improved employee productivity and morale.”
Over a year ago, in 2019, another team member suggestion led to the development of DuraTech’s “Community Garden.” Tim Drey, DuraTech’s Director of Quality and Operational Excellence proposed the idea for the garden. We asked Tim about his suggestion and gardening interests:
How did you come up with the idea for a DuraTech community garden?
At that time, I remember crop-share (CSA) information being posted somewhere. This, coupled with our wellness initiatives, made me think about how DuraTech could create a sense of internal community with healthy eating options. Throughout the year, team members with gardens bring their extra produce to DuraTech. I’m always amazed how quickly it is consumed. Thinking about our team member demographics, we have many that would not have access to yard space and may not have the knowledge or support needed to get started in gardening. The community garden idea was born from these factors and the fact DuraTech had a new large plot of raw land available!
What was the goal you wanted DuraTech to achieve by starting a garden?
The goal to be achieved was to further complement our family-like culture by using the garden as a shared hobby with a healthy benefit. Not everyone can participate in DuraTrek or other “fitness”-type events. The garden provides opportunity to build community through shared interest and exchange of knowledge. It provides many rewards to members both in positive mental health and physical health activities.
What is your personal interest and experience level with gardening?
My family always had a garden and it was a critical part of maintaining a balanced home growing up. Some of my earliest memories are helping my grandparents with watering flowers, planting tomatoes, and cutting raw corn off the cob in fall. As a result, my wife and I always tried to supplement our groceries with some sort of homegrown produce. Whether it was a window herb garden in our first tiny apartments, a patio garden when we had more space, and now multiple gardens with herbs, fruit and vegetables; gardening is an important satisfier in making our own house a home. We are definitely hobbyist gardeners and love trying new varieties of produce. Various new heirloom varieties are always a must. This year we have adventurously started a nice plot of quinoa and another area of wildflowers. Especially in times of social distancing, a garden never has a lack of weeds to pull or plants to attend to. It is always a fun topic of discussion with neighbors that pass by and pick a few stranded raspberries from their side of the fence line!
Are you one of the volunteers this year for the garden?
I am not an active participant as I am lucky enough to have yard space at my current home. I do donate seedlings each year. This year the garden received 3 gallons of our raspberry shoots to start!
Sara Savor, DuraTech’s Human Resources Generalist and Wellness Committee Leader, believes the garden serves a different purpose for each person that’s involved with it. Savor, who planted lettuce and peppers this year, said she is involved to learn more about gardening. She said several team members that volunteer for the garden are very knowledgeable and can help those trying to learn. “This year, we planted quite a few new items, which I am hoping gives people an opportunity to try something that they might not normally try. It is also another way to educate people on healthy lifestyles.” Savor added.
The first year for the garden served to be more of a learning opportunity. Some additions were made this year to ensure it stayed a success for everyone involved. Jerry Mashak, an Artist for DuraTech, has become the “Garden Coordinator” this year. Mashak said at the end of last year, he and some other volunteers came up with ideas for garden improvements. One improvement over last year was how they prepped the garden. This year they found someone that could till the garden, and Mashak himself added compost. “Just tilling and adding compost this year really made the plants pop.” Mashak expressed. Other fixes included a new garden gate for the garden fence, assigned rows for volunteers and a watering schedule.
Mashak, left, discusses the watering schedule
Mashak grew up on a farm and was always around large vegetable gardens; including a potato garden. He has fond memories of those gardens from when he was a young boy, like being able to pull vegetables from the garden and taking a bite. Like Drey, Mashak said wherever he has lived, he has grown some sort of garden. Although he has some personal experience with gardens, he is always interested in learning more about the hobby. Recently, he has turned to the internet to learn different gardening techniques to help with DuraTech’s Community Garden; including how to protect the plants from insects in an environmentally safe way. He is also learning from other Community Garden volunteers.
Mashak finds many benefits to the Community Garden such as, education on gardening, wellness, healthy eating, trying different vegetables you may not have otherwise tried, getting time to take a break from the computer to be outside and having an opportunity to work with other team members he would not normally have a chance to work with.
The Community Garden volunteers range from zero gardening experience to very experienced and everyone can learn from each other. There are about 12 volunteers this year, who, according Mashak, are all responsible for their own garden row; which they are required to plant, weed and harvest. Stakes, strings and signage were provided so volunteers know what row belongs to them. Volunteers are also assigned one week each to water the entire garden.
Mashak said he planted ground cherries, eggplant, kohlrabi, cucumbers and potatoes. Other vegetable plants this year include green onions/scallions, herbs, tomatoes, raspberries, and more. The harvest of the vegetables will be important, as it’s another opportunity to teach each other when plants are ready to be pulled and how to clean and present them. Volunteers are able to keep their own crops, but are encouraged to share with other volunteers or team members that may be interested in trying something new.
Mashak emphasized that it takes all kinds of volunteers to make this garden what it is. Other team members, aside from those volunteering for a row in the garden, have helped by donating plants, putting up the garden fence or bringing in garden clippings.
We asked Amanda Running, Accounts Manager for the Insurance Center- DuraTech’s Insurance Broker, what the benefits of a corporate wellness committee are. Running serves on various wellness committees throughout the La Crosse, WI market, including DuraTech’s committee. According to Running, “There are so many benefits to an effective wellness committee. There is education, awareness, accountability, participation and engagement. The goal of a wellness committee is to engage employees in a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of the employees. It’s a full circle effect. Healthier employees often means fewer medical claims, offering more competitive health insurance premiums for the employees.”
She also commented that DuraTech’s wellness committee stands out from others due to the engagement from the committee members in addition to the support of Senior Leadership. “Those two are key in a successful wellness program. Without those two key indicators, wellness committees will not be successful.” Running added.
With regards to our Community Garden, Running shared, “I am not aware of any other local business that has a community garden! This garden has created an opportunity for DuraTech employees to work together as a team and collaborate to create something so significant. There are multiple people that offer their time to maintain the garden. People stop by on their days off and often over the weekend to help weed or water the garden, which I think is so great. The success of the collaboration is measured by the quality that comes from this garden and employees have really invested their own personal time into this garden. I think it’s so neat!”
Wildlife is also a part of the Community Garden. A bird house was put up near the garden, and a Wren has already moved in. A family of woodchucks is also keeping the garden volunteers on their toes. They are hoping the garden fence will keep them from nibbling on their plants.
While weather and other environmental factors means a garden can never fully be predictable, the Community Garden will continue to foster wellness and team comradery. Drey summed up his thoughts by sharing, “I’m extremely happy this suggestion created the springboard needed. The Garden Committee seems well organized and I was proud of their 1st year harvest.”