Giving Back with Giving Gardens
In 2008, three associates at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota had a simple yet innovative idea: plant a garden on the grounds of the company’s Eagan campus and donate the crops to local food shelves.
To pitch the idea to their leaders, they boasted of the convenience of having a volunteer project right on the company grounds. Even more attractive, this nearby activity supplied employees with an opportunity to get some fresh air and physical activity. In addition, employees can work on team building, perhaps learn a new hobby and connect with the community where they work. Thus, the concept of the Blue Cross Giving Garden was born.
Giving Gardens at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have played an important role in addressing food security by providing Minnesota food shelves with fresh, locally-grown produce. Associates volunteer their time and talents by working in the garden to plant, care for and harvest produce. This produce is then donated to a variety of organizations, including The Open Door Pantry in Eagan, Interfaith Action’s Department of Indian Work in St. Paul and Quad Cities Food Shelf on the Iron Range.
In 2020, Giving Garden organizers made several changes to adapt to COVID-19 safety guidelines while still providing this important service to the community. This includes limiting the number of volunteers in the garden to five at one time [a number determined based on the garden’s square footage], staggering volunteer shifts, wearing masks in the garden and while delivering produce, spacing out crops in the garden, growing lower-maintenance crops and being ready to adapt to any changes should state or federal officials institute new guidelines related to COVID-19.
“The Giving Garden matters more than ever, and I’m thrilled to have the support of our leadership and a passionate group of associates that are committed to making the garden a success while at the same time being safe and thoughtful about associates’ health and well-being,” says Magda Surrisi, director of strategic execution and implementation at Blue Cross and one of the Giving Garden founders.
Accessing healthy food affects all aspects of a person’s life, including physical and emotional health. In Minnesota, 1 out of 10 people are food insecure, which means they don’t have access to nutritious foods. That could be due to a variety of factors – they may not be able to financially afford it, it may not be readily available near their home, they may have physical limitations or they don’t have adequate transportation to get to and from a store or food shelf.
Gardens are located on Blue Cross campuses in Eagan and Virginia, MN. Over the past 12 seasons, an average of 600-1,000 pounds of produce has been donated to local food shelves each year. In addition, organizers hold bi-annual garden summits, sharing knowledge, tips and successes with other companies on starting and maintaining their own corporate garden projects.
“The mission behind Giving Gardens— to feed hungry neighbors— is stronger than ever,” says Susan Schuster, principal community relations consultant at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “In addition, the desire to give back in a meaningful way is more powerful than ever. Together, this makes for a successful project.”