In September 2014, M3 (aka the Mission, Messaging and Media Department) invited fellow employee, Jason Lepke, and me to represent Organic Valley at In Good Company’s South Bronx Project. In Good Company is a partnership of like-minded businesses that join together to make a positive difference through hands-on action.

Jason Lepke and me

Jason Lepke and me

After meeting the other volunteers, settling into our camp-like accommodations (a large Victorian home set up with air mattresses in shared rooms), and being given an outline for the week ahead we really got to work on Sunday morning upon our first arrival at Taqwa Community Garden. Walking onto the overgrown garden approximately ½ acre in size, witnessing the skewed playground equipment, the rusty tables, broken wheelbarrows and piles of junk and litter that scattered the garden was a bit overwhelming.  Add to the first impression of the garden 22 strangers from across the United States, we had to wonder: how were we going to accomplish all the work that lay ahead of us?  That first day we all pitched in to start removal of the garbage that littered the garden.

Getting rid of the trash.

Getting rid of the trash, but where is the dumpster?

The dumpster.

And the dumpster finally arrived.

After that quick clean-up session, we boarded a bus for a brief orientation to the Bronx-reportedly the poorest congressional district in the US until 2013 when redistricting took place. It was during the tour that we first witnessed how much of an issue access to whole, fresh food this community faced and knew that connecting this neighborhood to the Taqwa Community Garden would not only bring access to food, it also provides a respite and the opportunity to connect with the Earth, to which many urban folks do not have access.

As we continued our work throughout the week, I couldn’t help but hear the phrase “many hands make light work” run on repeat through my head.  And now, looking back on the week, I think what we accomplished is remarkable: we logged 990 hours, removed 20 yards of debris, moved 25 cubic yards of compost, 12 cubic yards of mulch, pruned 15 trees, planted 180 garlic bulbs, refurbished one green house and one tool shed, laid two brick pathways, renewed three compost bins and one playground, built a chicken coop for 30 hens and created a children’s garden!

There was something about that week of digging my hands into the dirt, helping refresh an oasis for the community that I feel, in some ways, was more therapeutic for me than the good we provided any of the folks that will visit and work at Taqwa. Building a community through a common goal with the other volunteers and gardeners reaffirmed how important it is to work together in order to leave the world a better place than we found it. It reaffirmed how impactful small acts can be on other people, how those small acts can be a force that unites people across their differences. The eight days I spent with strangers in the South Bronx is handedly one of the best experiences of my life.

Before the garden and greenhouse.

Before garden and greenhouse.

After the garden and greenhouse.

AFTER garden and greenhouse.

After Greenhouse 2

After greenhouse.

Baseboard for the chicken coop.

Preparing for the chicken coop, aka The Ladies Palace.

Chicken coop.

The Ladies’ Palace.