What if? Inspiration for service learning opportunities

Published on: 
16 Sep 2015
Author: 
Steph Leonard

During the economic downturn, as business slowed, one company in Minnesota looked around and asked “what if?”

What if, in the face of uncertainty, we plant a garden within the abundance of green space at our corporate headquarters and donate the food to those in need in our community? Retail Construction Services, Inc. put that question into action and the Giving Garden was planted in 2009. RCS made their first donation of food to Valley Outreach Food Shelf in Stillwater, MN that July. Now a thriving part of their organization, the Giving Garden provides an opportunity for employees to give back, get fresh air, and connect with each other ultimately boosting employee satisfaction, and in turn, output - giving an unexpected jolt to business.

Beaming from the success of the garden, RCS Staff asked themselves how do we do more? The Giving Garden is now used as a full circle teaching tool; involving the children from across the St. Croix Valley. In the garden, kids learn about gardening and make a connection to our world by learning about where their food comes from, its impact on everything from fossil fuels to the collapse of the honey bee. Children learn valuable lessons about water conservation, food storage, harvesting seeds, and composting.  Above all, they experience first-hand the spirit of giving and community service. To date, the Giving Garden has donated almost 17,000 pounds of food and added a teaching kitchen to Valley Outreach Food Shelf to help community members have access to a facility for cooking lessons that promote the use of fresh produce

Impassioned by the students they’ve met while working in the garden RCS is continuing to grow the movement. “Every child has the right to know where their food comes from and how to grow it. Teach a man to fish… How about teach a child to garden?” says Joni Fletty, COO/VP Operations at RCS.

Joni remembers a day several years ago, when a struggling student from a local alternative school didn’t have any interest in stepping over the garden fence to join his classmates. He stayed just beyond the gardens edge, stoic. For several weeks he remained on the sidelines.  More and more the other kids opened up in the garden and began joking and sharing stories while they worked. One day a group of students were joking around about different foods, it sparked his attention, and soon he stepped over the fence and was unwittingly harvesting and sharing laughs alongside his classmates. From that day on he was one of the garden’s hardest workers, mentoring other younger students, and even calling Joni to ask to harvest for extra credit one day. Joni decided to join in him the garden that day. They worked and talked as they harvested. He told Joni that working in the garden had made a big difference in his life. A few years later, Joni received an update on this young man, and learned that he’s thriving.

Wanting to reach more students with hands-on learning and to inspire others, RCS has not only implemented youth lessons in the garden three days a week during the summer, but has partnered with USGBC-MN for the 2015 Green Apple Day of Service. Together they’re asking others - what if? What if local companies joined the effort and helped host a series of events featuring youth in service to our earth? What would the students learn from the hands-on service? What would the companies gain from the community involvement? What if you participated? What kind of difference could you make? 

We’re making it easy to get involved. Visit USGBC-MN’s Green Apple Day of Service page to learn how you can sponsor a gardening lesson for local students. 

Register your Green Apple Day of Service project now!