Catherine and Andy Burgess, leaders of the Burgess Group with Compass in Boulder, Colo., believe in corporate responsibility—so much that they even tilled their front yard to grow produce to help those in need. Then, during the pandemic, the couple decided to step up and do more to help the 46,000 people in their community facing food insecurity.
Their big venture included launching the Food Security Project in March. They approached the owners of an 80-acre farm listing they are representing. Founded in 1893, the property is owned by one of Boulder’s founding families, the McKenzies. Only about an acre of the historic fifth-generation farm was used during the growing season for the project, but that amount of land produced nearly 3,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and the Burgess Group donated an extra $15,000 in funds. They were able to provide 48,000 meals to people in need in the Boulder and Broomfield counties.
“The big idea behind this is to inspire others in their local communities to do what they can do,” says Catherine. “Our goal wasn’t to just grow X amount of food. The goal was and remains to spread the idea that anybody can do this kind of thing.”
Several members of the community have followed the Burgesses’ idea and plowed their own front or back yards, planted food, and then take their harvests to the food bank.
“Those in the city planted pots of tomatoes and donated those,” says Andy.
Now, Compass agents across the country are extending this idea into their communities. The Burgesses’ goal is to see the use of small farms, homeowners’ yards, or community gardens feed the hungry.
For the couple, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a revelation.
“A lot of agents did extremely well even though many people in our communities were struggling at the start of the pandemic,” Catherine says.
The Burgesses are no strangers to charitable contributions. For years, they have been donating a portion of their commissions to local organizations. But sharing with those who can’t get enough to eat has become their passion. However, getting the project off took some momentum.
Once the McKenzie family agreed to donate a one-acre parcel for six months, they had to figure out what food to grow, who would help them farm it, and what organizations they’d partner with to distribute the food.
They ended up working with the nonprofit Community Food Share, whose volunteers maintained and harvested the field alongside their contracted farmer, Katie Ketchum. Boundless Landscapes shared their farm tools, while the nonprofit Earth’s Table oversaw Ketchum’s work.
A survey by Community Food Share allowed the Food Security Project to plant all types of vegetables and fruits for people in need. The final crops included snow and snap peas, collard greens, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, bush beans, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, tomatillos, and garlic.
Community Food Share supports seniors, families, students, and others by providing nutritious food through its local partners with onsite and mobile pantries.
The McKenzie farm, which is still for sale and listed by The Burgess Group, had been farmed organically until severe flooding in 2013. The farm is in a process of growing regenerative crops to improve its organic quality. It includes natural wildlife habitat, 4,500 feet of the Four Mile Canyon Creek, a farmhouse, barn, greenhouse, produce cooling building, and more. The original farm was on a much larger parcel of land, but the family sold off pieces through the years to the county and city to make room for biking and hiking paths and more.
The Burgesses hope that even when the farm sells, the new owners will still allow the project to continue there.
For other brokers and agents across the country who are considering starting a project like this, the Burgesses are willing to talk with them and share their knowledge. Catherine also adds that the endeavor has become another way of gaining attention for a property while benefiting the community.
“It’s out-of-the-box thinking on the marketing side,” she says. “But we did this to be an example of what others can do. Even planting five tomato plants on your deck can make a difference to a food bank.”
To learn more about starting a similar project, please contact the Burgess Group Compass team at firstname.lastname@example.org.