Possibility in the Pumpkin Patch

I know I should be pondering strategy or making another tough CEO choice, but at the moment, it is summer in NH (short season up here) and out my window, the Timberland victory gardens are bursting out of the ground.

About 3 years ago, a group of employees who happen by coincidence to be residents of New Hampshire and citizens, besides being marketing executives or customer service operators, decided to tear up a big patch of the corporate lawn.

They didn’t ask for much; just permission to desecrate the green lawn arranged in best ugly office-park style around the building that we lease as our corporate headquarters.  Things at Timberland work in mysterious ways — I’m not sure who said it was okay to tear up the lawn, but the next thing you know, we’ve got hammered-together raised beds of vegetables arranged in neat array on the lawn next to our day care center.  And during the winter, the beds sit there, forlorn and shivering.  But come summer, if you are at the window early enough, you can see the action flowing.  Seeds being sown.  Citizen servants from sales and finance, puttering about.  And then, boom — vegetables.  There’s a cart in the front where the employee entrance is, where the volunteers hawk the fresh produce — zucchini as long as my arm, Swiss chard by the basket, and just this week the first ripe tomatoes.  Every penny goes to the local food pantry; given all the downsizing and pain in the economy — some of which has rippled in our building — the food pantries are struggling to keep pace.  And so our team tends the raised beds.

I don’t miss the sound of the lawn mowers from the maintenance crew.  I don’t miss the carbon emissions from those engines nor the cost of operating them.  And some mornings, when it is hard to feel okay in this economy and this world, the sight of Timberland folks weeding and harvesting is the strength I need to do my bit to make things work again.

But more than our small example — I wonder.  What would keep victory gardens, run by employee volunteers on company time, from filling food pantry larders all over our office park … all over our state?  How much civic energy could be channeled, painlessly, from civic purpose and corporate pride and joy, just by raising up victory gardens in office parks across the country?  Stop mowing, start growing.  Don’t need the Congress, even the UN can’t mess this up – it doesn’t require mad skills or deep strategy — just a little bit of employee pitch in, and who knows?  During World War II, victory gardens produced 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in America – 40 percent! – and 20 million gardens helped to empower and reward people in a time when they desperately needed it.  America is hungry again — figuratively and physically.  For just a tiny bit of oomph, good for the company, good for the community … stop mowing and start growing.

I’d be hard pressed to find a better view.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

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