Employee spotlight: Danelle Fischer leads CHS Giving Garden
Danelle Fischer leads a group of about a dozen employees who maintain a vegetable garden at the Inver Grove Heights office and donate the produce to a nearby food shelf.
By Amy Sitze
Tucked between the CHS Inver Grove Heights headquarters and the pond on Cenex Drive is a tidy row of wooden raised beds. Peek outside on a spring or summer weekday and you might see CHS employees weeding and watering onions, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables – and harvesting the produce to give to neighbors in need.
They’re part of the CHS Giving Garden, an initiative that made a reappearance this spring after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Danelle Fischer, an accountant with Country Operations and Animal Nutrition who’s worked at CHS for 10 years, leads a group of about a dozen employees who take turns maintaining the garden and packaging the produce for Neighbors Inc. Based in South St. Paul, Minn., the local non-profit provides emergency assistance and essential services – including a food shelf – to low-income community members in northern Dakota County.
At CHS, eligible full-time employees receive 16 hours of paid volunteer time per year. Working in the Giving Garden is one of many ways employees can use those hours.
“I love that we’re encouraged to volunteer at CHS,” says Fischer, who also helped assemble bikes for families in need as part of CHS Spirit of Service Days in June. “The company doesn’t just talk about our value of cooperative spirit – they put actions behind their words.”
Fischer stepped up to rekindle the garden initiative this year, organizing CHS volunteers, planting all of the beds during a June weekend and bringing in produce from her own garden to add to the Giving Garden harvest. She appreciated the work that previous leaders had put into the garden, she says, and didn’t want their hard work to go to waste. “I thought, ‘I just have to get it started again.’ It was hard at first, because I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I started asking questions and doing the legwork.”
She discovered that CHS has a budget for plants and garden tools and that a spigot on the side of the building provides water for the garden. She also learned that food shelves like Neighbors Inc. are especially low on fresh produce this year, partly because economic hardship has increased community need and also because the pandemic threw so many corporate giving gardens into disarray – and some never restarted. “It makes me feel connected to the community to know that we’re helping those around us,” says Fischer. “It’s something we can do fairly easily to help our neighbors.”
Next year, she hopes to grow the number of volunteers, find ways for employees to donate produce from their home gardens, and learn from what worked and didn’t work in the garden this year.