Local businessman turns employees into gardeners

By: Aaron Luna Email
By: Aaron Luna Email

As work slowed down for one local business owner he was forced to make the choice of laying off his employees or finding them other work. Instead of sending them packing he sent them gardening.

From tomatoes to zucchini to peppers, Hans Schmoldt has his hands full. Schmoldt say, "They joy of seeing something that you've grown by yourself from a seed or small plant to something that's on your table is a treat." But he's not growing these fresh organic vegetables for himself, he's growing them for local soup kitchens.

Angela Walsh with Catholic Outreach says fresh veggies make all the difference. "We made a zucchini soup out of some of this stuff one day and that was really really good."

When the economy slowed, so did Schmoldt's business, Anode Systems, but instead of laying off employees he turned them into gardeners. "They work down here just like if they were at my office," says Schmoldt.

In fact, it's the first time the Botanical Gardens has actually had a, well, real vegetable garden. Elizabeth Neubauer with the Botanical Gardens says others have talked about it but nobody followed through. "I've never had anyone with the passion Hans has had with the commitment and the dedication to actually taking the project on and doing it," she says.

Right now four employees of Anode Systems work the garden, doing everything from watering to harvesting to pruning. They all keep track of their time and get paid the same amount they would at their real job. Schmoldt says letting them go was out of the question. "It doesn't help them, their families, we could afford to take a cut in pay so to speak at the office," says Schmoldt.

Hundreds of pounds of vegetables have been donated so far. Walsh says, "Of course everybody loves a homegrown tomato so its nice to have those to hand out."

And while it creeps closer to the end of the season, there are already plans for next year. Neubauer says, "I would love to continue it. Its great this has worked out in such a beautiful way."

Schmoldt thinks that's just fine, as long as he can keep the vermin out. "We see deer tracks down here and I think a skunk came by for a day or two," he says.

Local soup kitchens like the Catholic Outreach say they are happy to take vegetable donations from anyone's garden.

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