Nick Webb and Colleen Lange help tend the Giving Garden on AEG's grounds.
The vegetables are given to local food pantries.

AEG joins the fight against food insecurity with its corporate giving garden

Food insecurity in Iowa continues to rise, increasing the demand for food pantries. With this issue in mind and the desire to continuously offer its employees new ways to help the community, American Enterprise Group (AEG) launched its corporate giving garden program.

A giving garden is a designated space in or near a company’s office building where employees grow fruits and vegetables and donate them to a community food pantry.

Nick Webb, senior counsel at AEG, said the idea for a giving garden came in late 2019 through AEG’s volunteer committee. Webb had a connection to the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), a local food pantry, and knew about their growing network of corporate giving gardens. He realized not only did AEG have the space and the resources to plant a garden, but it also could provide employees a new way to use their volunteer time off (VTO) on site to help the community. A giving garden would also be an ideal addition to AEG’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) program.

Being in an urban downtown office building often restricts businesses from contributing to the “E” of ESG on site, and they’re usually limited to donating money or reducing paper use. But a giving garden could fulfill the “E” and also the “S” by allowing employees to go outside, socialize, and tend to the plants throughout the day.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AEG’s giving garden initiative didn’t start to take shape until late 2020 since most employees were working from home. However, the pandemic only increased the number of people suffering from food insecurity. So once employees began returning to the office, an impromptu committee formed, and the giving garden idea started coming to life.

AEG’s giving garden was planted outside of the Des Moines headquarters. Beets, onions, tomatoes, various peppers, and cantaloupes are growing in raised boxes beside AEG’s sculpture garden and on the second-floor patio. As of late summer 2021, AEG has donated more than 225 pounds of produce to DMARC’s food pantry to help fight hunger in the Des Moines community.