About six years ago, a third of an acre adjacent to Kipper Tool in Gainesville was just a piece of turf. But employee Randy Jeffers envisioned something more.
“It was called the orchard garden, because there were existing fruit trees there,” he said about the space off Murphy Boulevard. “But it was just turf. And we were using a lot of water on it.”
To cut down on the water usage, Jeffers and his employers, the Kippers, decided to transform the area into a vegetable garden. And now the Kipper Tool employees are reaping the benefits, literally.
“We (Jeffers and his assistant) come in here and harvest stuff once a week and take it in. (We) put it in the break room in the refrigerator,” he said, noting he usually picks 8 or 9 gallons of zip-close bags “full of greens” for employees each week.
Then the Kipper Tool employees can bring a piece of meat for lunch and add vegetable toppings or “grab some salad fixings,” he said.
And because Jeffers doesn’t use any chemicals, the produce is organic.
“You can pull it right here and eat it. It’s fresh, (and) it’s delicious,” he said as he snacked on sugar snap peas and lettuce from the garden.
Robin Halstead, who had seen the garden five years ago and was recently asked by Jeffers to come visit again, was impressed.
“It’s just a cool concept,” said Halstead, vice president of community development at Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t know of anybody who does that in the community, especially a business doing that for their employees. I’m just really impressed.”
Jeffers said the inspiration for creating such a garden was fairly simple. He and the Kippers wanted to efficiently use the green space and decrease its water usage at the same time.
Jeffers then asked “What if we just turn this into a vegetable garden?”
Next, he volunteered to rebuild the irrigation system to only water the garden when needed.
“It’ll make enough stuff out here and we’ll grow it organically,” he said, recounting his pitch to the Kipper family.
The idea soon became reality.
Not only has the garden cut the company’s water usage from 16,000 gallons a week to maybe 1,000 gallons every couple of months in that specific area, it supplies fresh produce for employees.
The garden has enough room to grow sugar snap peas, grapes, muscadines, asparagus, apples, figs, plums, cherries, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, peppers, squash, okra, cucumber, tomatoes and beans, as well as herbs such as basil, oregano, cilantro and rosemary.
“We maximize our space as much as possible, utilizing different methods of growing. And we look for spaces where plants can grow together,” Jeffers said.
Jeffers had the background to establish and maintain his proposed garden. He started working for a landscape company in Gainesville.
“Then (the Kippers) kept requiring more and more of my time,” Jeffers said. “Finally, I just went to work for them. I had 50-plus clients as a landscape manager for another company. Now I’ve just got one, but they keep me busy.”
As Kipper Tool’s horticulture manager, his work keeps him busy for 10 hours a day, five days a week.
“I just take care of things,” he said with a chuckle while admitting he doesn’t have an official title. “I take care of the Kippers’ garden here (at Kipper Tool) and at their home, and I have one assistant.”
Although the garden is abundant, Jeffers said it hasn’t required too much extra time.
“In this garden, we don’t spend a lot of time,” he said. “The primary concerns are the grounds here and the grounds at the Kippers’, but we spend enough time to keep the plants healthy and to keep them producing.”
But he said he probably spends four to five hours a week in the garden, which is about the same amount of time he spends in his personal garden, too.
“I grew up in a garden family,” he said. “I just always felt like gardening was one of the things everybody should know how to do.”
So whether he’s in his own garden, the Kipper family’s garden or the one at Kipper Tool, he spends most of his days outside doing what he loves.
And he actually reaps what he sows, which leads to his most enjoyable benefit of gardening: eating.
“And probably secondary to that, the satisfaction of helping plants to reach their potential,” he said.