Live United: A time of sharing the blooms and strengthening the roots

Published 8:45 pm Friday, June 9, 2023

Live United by Erin Haag

A year ago, my daughter started talking about growing strawberries. We have a large garden in the back of the house, but she had a plan and she proposed it to her daddy. She asked to create a strawberry patch in the side yard, right next to her sandbox. We were a little impressed with how carefully she had thought it out, talking about the sunlight at different times of the day, and why this spot might be the spot to make it successful. When we said so, she said, “oh yeah, I’ve been talking it through with Randy.” Who’s Randy? I was stumped, trying to remember where she had a Randy in her life. “My bus driver. I sit in the front seat, and we talk gardening. He has a yard with big trees like we do, so we’ve been talking about ways to make this work.” I love this image of my little girl, riding the bus to school, chatting away happily about all things gardening with her bus driver.

Erin Haag

A friend had some raised flowerbed boxes they were giving away, so they were put together and filled with dirt. Her daddy took her down to the Albert Lea Seed House and they picked out her strawberry plants. She carefully planted them and tended to them all summer long. She studied and talked to people. One of her best buds is also interested in gardening, and between the two of them, they collected lots of information. She watched carefully for the first buds. When they arrived, she quickly pinched them off. Her little brother was a little upset that she pinched them off. She explained that you were supposed to pinch them off so they could grow stronger.

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This year, she has been going out to watch those strawberries everyday. When the first buds appeared, she quickly pinched them off. We tried not to laugh when we explained to her that her information was missing a little bit of context — that she only needed to do that the first year. It was OK to let them grow this year. So grow they did, and then she was getting very stressed that she didn’t have a protective net over them yet, so those birds wouldn’t swoop in and take her strawberries. Daddy made a trip to Bomgaars and now her beloved strawberries have a protective net over them, and she’s got thirteen little berries growing away.

In the early morning hours, while my children are still sleeping off their hot summer days, I work in my little office at home. It’s a three-season porch, and I love looking out over my yard while I answer emails or make plans for the day. My little girl likes to come in, give me a snuggle and then she’s off, and I’ll see her walking across the yard to check on those strawberries, and say good morning to her chickens. Our elderly dog is usually walking alongside her.

I think about her pinching off the strawberries a lot. Plants aren’t good at rooting and fruiting at the same time. In early 2023, the executive committee met, and we talked about our goals for the year. There was one central theme that came up, and it was stabilization. We have grown so much, so fast as an organization, and we’re all looking to stabilize. The growth was needed, both as an organization and for our community, but now is the time to protect that growth.

We’ve been rooting, doing the foundational work. With the move to our new offices in early May, we’ve got some blooms coming. It’s been an amazing experience to watch this transformation of a vacant space into something bright, cheerful and purposeful. Now’s the time to cultivate, to make sure those roots don’t become rotted, and to get stronger. It’s always a longer process than I want it to be, always a longer list, always a longer day.

Our biggest asset to growth is our volunteers. Nikolle’s foundational work has been developing new processes for this change in volunteer needs. She’s excited to share it with everyone at the Volunteer Open House we’re hosting on Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. It’s open house style, and you only need to come to one date. Volunteers will get a sneak peek at the Welcome Pantry and our offices, learn about the list of things we have left to do, learn about the new website that Nikolle has set up for being able to sign up for shifts and see what the needs are. We’d love to have you join us!

Coming up, we also have our official United Way Welcome Reception and Ribbon Cutting at 10 a.m. on June 21. The following day, we have a Resource Fair from 3 to 6 p.m. on June 22. I’ll write more details on both next week, but save the date!

The Welcome Pantry opens for shoppers on June 26. We’ll be open Mondays and Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. and the third Saturday of the month starting in July from 9 a.m. to noon.

Our new offices are located in the old Streater building, at 411 First Ave. S., Suite A. Our mailing address has not changed — please use PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007 for anything USPS. Our phone number has not changed — it’s still 507-373-8670.

We look forward to sharing the blooms of our work, and sharing how you can help us root stronger. If you’re not able to make either of our volunteer open houses, give us a call!

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.