Veggie Tales

Sherri Stigler

Who knew that a small patch of dirt and some seeds could bring so much joy? For those of you who are gardeners, you completely understand the unique and powerful peace that growing your own food can bring. A community garden for dispatchers is not only a source of healthy food options for staff, but it has also promoted mental health and wellness as they work together toward a common goal—growing goodness in the midst of a sometimes stressful and negative work environment.

It started earlier this spring during a recent stroll through our break room. There were colorful signs posted on the bulletin board encouraging our folks to make good choices and to eat healthy! I turned and chuckled to myself as I saw three empty pizza boxes perched atop the trash bin. And then I peered out at the patch of grass growing right outside our back patio at the dispatch center. It was a perfect spot to grow a garden. It could be a way to encourage healthy eating and could even double as a stress reducing opportunity for staff!

As we moved through the growing season, staff talked excitedly about the little green tomatoes that were visible and the fact that the beans were nearly ready to pick. The garden journey was so positive for our center in many ways, and I encourage other agencies to consider following the same path. Here are a few tips to get you started.

How does your garden grow?

Select your green thumbs

It is always good to seek out those with the most knowledge about planting and appoint them as “garden managers.” These folks were key in deciding what we were going to plant and were the point people for the garden management and upkeep.

Invest

We enlisted our county parks division who was more than happy to assist in preparing the soil and placing a small fence around the garden. Comm. center management bought the seeds and plants, and they worked with the garden manager to do the planting.

Start small

Select a location close to the building. In our case, we planted the garden close to the back patio, where people enjoy the outdoors on their breaks. This encourages them to help by picking a few weeds or watering for a few minutes. After all, it is a center-wide initiative!

Weed and water

The garden had lots of helping hands who used their break times to weed and water. The garden managers made sure it got done and directed staff when needed/necessary. Everyone took the responsibility of shooing rogue bunnies away when they were found sneaking in to nibble on our plants. Honestly, this was not a significant workload, and with so many helping hands, the upkeep was manageable and minimal.

Bountiful harvest

As we watched the green grow in the garden and saw the baby veggies coming to life, we could almost taste the fresh salads! Our staff shared the harvest, and we decided to bring some of the excess harvest to local shelters and/or food pantries.

We all know that dispatching can be stressful and understand the importance of having our folks simply step away from the madness if only for a few minutes. The community garden is pleasing to both the eye and to the palate. It provides a positive outlet; it’s an opportunity to be part of the cycle of planting, nurturing, and harvesting. It helps us to take a moment to breathe.

As May Sarton so eloquently quoted, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sherri Stigler is the Training and Operations Manager for Waukesha County Communications, Wisconsin, USA, a combined dispatch center in southeastern Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee, a land where the beer runs freely and locals proudly stack cheese on just about everything and call it great.

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