Sharing the harvest
There are so many ways people can connect over food. For employees of the Bryson City FedEx Ground ffacility, ample land provided an opportunity to connect, starting from the ground up.
The station is located on a rather large property in Jackson Line community that was formerly a farm. When the FedEx Ground team wondered about how they could get involved locally, a garden seemed like a natural fit.
About 20 FedEx Ground employees solely through volunteer hours planned, implemented and harvest a garden on a ½ acre plot on the property. They harvested more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce that was donated to members of the community through a partnership with Restoration House. The company provided a grant that helped clear the plot and pay for gardening supplies.
“I feel that FedEx as a whole is committed to community service. At our specific station, it interprets into the garden itself and looking at a food challenged area and the fact that there’s not a lot of access for low-income families to get produce for free,” explained Joei Brodeur, senior manager at the FedEx Ground Bryson City facility, that employs about 35 full-time employees plus delivery workers.
“Last year was a huge learning opportunity as far as the amount of produce we planted, what we lost to the beetles and the deer,” she said.
The volunteers grew zucchini, squash, green bean, corn, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelons and pumpkins last year.
“This year, we may go a little smaller and plant more of fewer crops: zucchini, squash potatoes, okra,” Brodeur said. “We’re in the preliminary stages of getting all that together it will be plowed in the first part of May.”
Some of the lessons from the first year of gardening include recognizing someone has to be in the garden consistently to harvest everything, especially for crops like zucchini and squash.
“We learned about fertilizing and craft management in general and managing volunteer hours; it takes teamwork—that’s the bottom line,” Brodeur said.
Last year, the gardeners didn’t use any pesticides, for example. This year, they are considering looking at organic pesticides to address some of the issues they had last year.
Even with its challenges, the garden was hugely successful— with regular harvests coming to the Restoration House throughout the summer that was then made available to anyone in need.
For Brodeur and the other FedEx Ground employees involved, it’s just a great way to support the local community.
“I think being in a small community, especially one that has a lot of people that are living at or below poverty level and knowing we can contribute something positive, in that way it’s rewarding,” she said. “I’m grateful for my life and my job every day, and if I can share that with another human being, I think that’s pretty appropriate.”
Catherine Gannt with Restoration House, said the produce grown by the FedEx garden was a significant addition to the food relief the agency offers the community, which is one that struggles with food insecurity.
“Something like more than 65 percent of the kids in Swain County qualify for free or reduced lunch, so there is a significant amount of families that are food insecure,” Gannt said. “We have a Blessing Box for some non-perishables, but fresh vegetables can be even more nutritious.”
Restoration House has its own community garden on the property, located at 81 Academy Street. Through the help of volunteers, such as students with the alternative school and the local Girl Scouts troop and others, the garden produces about 500 pounds of fresh produce available for free to the public, no questions asked.
“It’s an excellent private public partnership,” Gantt said of the addition of working with FedEx Ground. “They have a garden, and we distribute the produce. Last year, we offered over 1,500 pounds of free vegetables off the porch. The FedEx folks did an excellent job with their crop. It was delivered to Restoration House, and it comes and goes pretty regularly.
We’re real excited about the possibilities of doing it again. Every year, we learn something new.”
One hope for the FedEx Ground garden’s second year is to increase the number of volunteers involved.
“If we can get more volunteers, it would be extremely helpful, and it would make it more manageable, that would be the most helpful,” Brodeur said.
Those interested in volunteering in the FedEx Ground community garden can contact she by calling 828-488-7330.