The Davis Community Engagement Team is comprised of employees from various divisions who wish to ensure that Limagrain’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts are being carried out at the local level. The team, who all volunteer time to this committee above and beyond their existing duties, helps facilitate cash and in-kind donations to organizations in the community that meet at least 2 of the following criteria:
- Contribute to the local community (Yolo County and Dixon)
- Support awareness of agriculture, seeds, or plant breeding
- Promote the name of HM.CLAUSE and the Harris Moran brand
- Help “feed the world” at the local level
- Originated from an HM.CLAUSE employee
This article focuses on Community Engagement Team members Emily Kwok: HM.CLAUSE Plant Breeding Research Assistant I-Melon, Research and Development, and Alex Camacho: HM.CLAUSE Executive Assistant for the Regional Vice President of Research and Development and their involvement with donations to the Yolo Food Bank.
How did the idea come about for donating food from our fields to the Yolo Food Bank?
Employees looked at the fields through the summer and they saw all this food out there but we only take a small percentage of it. So the question was what happens to the rest of it? We usually just plow it under and use it as compost to feed the next crop. New employees especially, wondered if there is something else could do with it. Rather than just plow it under, let’s find a way to get it to hungry people.
A group of employees got together and decided to reach out to the local food banks to see if there was any way they could donate our crops. It was brought about by concerned employees who wanted to share what we had.
I joined the CET about 2 years ago and at that time the food bank harvests were in their 2nd year. The project was launched by CET members as a way to give back to the community in recognition of the large sums of produce we create that never gets eaten. The effort originally started as 2-3 planned picks in which employees would volunteer some of their time to help harvest and make a donation.
The current iteration recognizes that trying to mobilize folks on pre-arranged dates was challenging – for both logistic and weather consideration. So, we (Emily) worked with the food bank to arrange a steady stream of volunteers to come out and pick each week. The idea was to supplement what was being done originally (handful of scheduled picks) with more frequent, albeit lower volume, harvests.
What role do you play?
I’m the primary liaison between the food bank, our breeding teams, our farm operations team, and other employees. I coordinate with the food bank to make sure they know when to come out and what to bring. I also coordinate with the food bank and HM.CLAUSE employees who volunteer. I organize the logistics, in terms of what we have to donate, what we will need, and if the amount of food that we have to donate exceeds our capacity to harvest it with the number of volunteers we have. I help determine whether we need to communicate with our labor coordinators to see if we can get some extra help harvesting produce and that the company can sponsor its employees to harvest for the food bank.
Our research team determines what species and varieties to put in the field just for the food bank. They plan the transplanting at a rate where there can be multiple harvests at different times of the year, and still have a really nice product to harvest, something that’s not overripe or under ripe, but right on target. And you know, its a good way to showcase what varieties we have. It’s not always the same variety, it’s a mixture.
I forget my actual role in the CET but for these foodbank harvests I, along with other CET members based at Cousteau (Davis, California office), really serve by trying to encourage other employees to make it out and volunteer their time. Mostly, we just have a good time, but we also entice with some great swag. This year, we’re giving an HMC hat to everyone who makes it out at least once and special CET shirt to those who make it out to all of our harvests (3-4, depending on weather, crop maturity, etc.)
Recognizing the lack of material we can contribute during the off (winter) season, the CET – in conjunction with the AMPA Communications Team and, I believe, the HR Department – has for the past 2 years also organized a winter canned food drive. To spark enthusiasm for this event, we framed the event as a competition between our Research Station off Mace Blvd. and the corporate offices here at Cousteau. It’s been pretty successful and I think framing the donation as a friendly competition really got folks excited to contribute – and irrespective of the actual winners, we were all winners at the end of the day because of the larger contributions we were able to make.
How many hours a week to you volunteer?
The harvest portion is two hours plus another hour setting up and breaking down. Then throughout the week, it’s texting, meeting with people and talking with them. I guess that would amount to maybe another hour over a week. I guess that comes out to four hours a week, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending.
At the beginning of the year when setting up the produce for harvest, the research teams plan ahead to plant things specifically for the food bank. They plan it out so that there can be multiple harvests, and that each plot is ready at a certain time for the perfect produce. For example, if there’s a little extra room here or there, they squeeze in a couple of more beds or a couple of more feet of extra plantings with the intention of donating it to the food bank. So it really depends on the crop and the team managing it. It’s hard to gauge how much time that is. Over time it doesn’t seem like that much. It’s really just takes a couple of extra minutes of thought.
Probably about an hour to two a week, at the most. It’s mostly when we are harvesting, then it’s about 3 hours a week.
And how do you coordinate with the food bank to explain to them what’s available?
By email, by texting, I coordinate with the food bank coordinator, Liz Blum extensively. In the beginning it was a lot of discussion about planning. The food bank wanted to know what they were getting, estimated tonnage and when it would be harvested. We had long discussions about what would be involved because we are a research facility and this donation is at our expense with materials and labor. We planned to have enough labor for each harvest so the only limiting factor is ripeness and whether or not we are still evaluating it.
How can others get involved?
Similar companies: I know that some companies will harvest crops themselves and donate to the food bank. Some companies donate seed. The food bank has a large variety of needs. Volunteers to help harvest and distribute produce, but also fields and labor donation from farmers are needed to grow crops for the food bank. They also have a need for fresh produce in the off season. This is when farmers can help by donating land and labor to grow crops specifically for the food bank. Winter crops like broccoli and kale are needed for fresh produce during the colder months. And as always, they can have their employees come out and volunteer.
HM.CLAUSE Employees: They can reach out to anyone on the Community Engagement Team to see what opportunities are available. We also send out regular emails to all the local staff when an event is coming up.
Similar Companies: I’m aware that other companies coordinate with the food banks but I’m unaware of any other engagement teams or volunteer networks at those organizations. Expanding on the above comment, I think it would be great for HMC and its competitors to organize a friendly harvest donation competition through the food bank – again, really aiming to get folks excited about donating their time, but ultimately making stronger efforts as an industry and community to give to those most in need. I’d encourage any engagement teams or the like at competitors to get in touch with anyone on the CET or myself, email@example.com directly to try coordinating this event for the next growing season!
HM.CLAUSE employees: HMC employees are more than welcome to reach out directly to any of the CET members. We’ve often taken up small projects (school garden donations, class visits, etc.) that have come directly from employees.
There’s a lot more they can do just besides picking crops, they can volunteer at the food bank itself, correct?
That’s right, they can volunteer to help sort produce, package donations, donate money, donate their time, seeds, food, a variety of things.
Any and all reading are welcome to reach out directly to the Yolo Food Bank (http://www.yolofoodbank.org/). Liz Blum (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a solid network and would be a great source for folks interested in signing up to volunteer any of their time. I’d imagine she be able to help point them in the direction of some other volunteer opportunities as well.
To learn more about the Yolo Food Bank and Volunteer Opportunities:
Other Community Engagement Team members,
- Sierra Scott: Internal Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Communications
- Jennifer Wan: Executive Assistant, Global VP Sales, Sales
- John Chiles: Research Station Maintenance, Operations