BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It may not have been the “Miracle” the company’s brand had in mind, but the transformation Monday of the Fort Madison Community Garden in just three hours was pretty miraculous.
Just over 50 full-time staffers from the Scott’s Miracle Gro facility in Fort Madison descended on the 200’x75′ plot behind the Hy-Vee, property that’s been designated as the Fort Madison Food Pantry Garden for the past five years.
Scotts Miracle-Gro has been the primary sponsor of the garden plot since its inception. Dale Heidbreder, the technical manager for the Fort Madison Scotts facility, organized the fall clean up of the garden after all the produce had been removed.
The company originally provided most of the materials and tools needed to build and sustain the garden, and then fenced it in with a heavy, black chain link fence. They also paid to have two hydrants put in the property and ran irrigation hoses throughout the planting beds. The produce from the garden is tended to and harvested by volunteers with the United Way RSVP program and donated to the local food pantry.
“What I liked about it, and when Scotts decided to get involved, aside from providing for the food pantry, is we used it to teach kids about gardening,” Heidbreder said.
“We used to get a lot of kids in there and we’d let them plant the seeds and different things and it really worked out well for the little ones.”
Heidbreder said he’d like to see more of that kind of education going on with the students in the area.
“We’re always looking for future growers, of course, being Scotts,” he said.
The Fort Madison High School built the storage shed on site and the United Way of the Great River Region’s RSVP (Retired Seniors Volunteer Program) received a grant to put in the cement pad the buildng sits on.
Heidbreder said the staff was able to come out and work as part of Scotts Give Back to Grow program, where all full-time employees can work up to 16 hours paid, in service to the communities they live in.
“We pay people 16 hours for the chance to go out and give back to the community and do this kind of work.,” he said. “All of our full-time associates can do that. It has to be a non-profit and if it’s around the food pantry, or educating on gardening, as we obviously support that.”
“We get our regular pay while we’re out here volunteering,” said Karen McGraw of Argyle, a 21-year employee. “On a nice day like today, I’d much rather be outside. We don’t have a lot of windows in the factory, so it’s nice to be outside.”
McGraw said she was unaware that the company was involved in the program, and that the food went to local needy families.
Heidbreder said the garden, as it is, is growing enough produce to keep the food pantry stocked with vegetables. But he said there is room on the west end of the garden to expand.
“Right now it’s probably producing enough for what they need, but we have more space to the west by the sign if we need it,” he said.
The crews started pulling weeds and pulling vining plants off the the black, heavy chain link fencing. Heidbreder divided the crews into 10 teams. By 11:30 all the weeds had been pulled and raked and all the garden beds had been cleaned and raked. The only remnant of the garden were the leafy stems of asparagus on the west side. He said those would be left until frost, and then they would be cut down to the stalks.
‘This isn’t easy work. It’s messy work and stinky work, but it’s good they can get out of the factory for a while.”
Tammy Hudson, the director of the Great River Region United Way’s RSVP program, said volunteers and Scotts staffing helped fill the pantry with produce this year.
“I feel that without the volunteers who came every week to pick produce, weed eat, etc. the garden wouldn’t have done as well as it did. I feel that the garden produced quite a bit of produce such as; green peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I also liked the willingness of volunteers to undertake this garden project and do whatever needed to be done on a weekly basis to keep it going,” she said.
Jenna Lozano, who just started full-time and didn’t know the garden was used to provide healthy food choices to families in need, said she enjoyed being out and helping with a good cause.
Michelle White, an 18-year employee at the facility on the city’s west side, said it was a learning experience for her.
“It was very educating. You’d never done it before and knowing what they do – what Scotts does over here and for the community was interesting, because I had no clue,” she said. “You’re contributing and you’re helping out with the community. It’s different coming out and seeing everything because I’d never done it before. We got together as a team and everybody just went and did it.”
Heidbreder said it was the most productive crew he’s had on the site.
- “I have had a lot of work crews down here, but it’s been mostly management. But this is the best crew I’ve ever had down here,” Heidbreder told the group to applause.
Then they ate pizza….provided by Scotts.