Teamwork & Luffa Gourds: Grow. Learn. Sell

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How the simple act of growing luffa gourds can instill mindful teamwork.

An undervalued character trait and organizational value these days is the concept of teamwork. Especially in smaller organizations, team members are expected to wear many hats, assist in interdepartmental functions that are not related to job descriptions, and to simply help out coworkers with various tasks to meet goals and objectives related to the central mission. Humans are social creatures, and we’re hardwired to help people when a common goal or result can be gleaned that brings mutual benefit.

At the very basic level, teamwork is a collaborative effort with a common goal at the forefront.  Teamwork also requires trust. Looking back at ongoing, successful streaks of teamwork that I’ve participated in, we always started out small with low risk tasks and incrementally raised the stakes until something great was accomplished such as a killer group project presentation or a well deserved rec league soccer game win.  Winning that game or delivering a fantastic product requires a sophisticated level of teamwork where all parties are operating at a higher plane: they are actively seeking out new ways of collaboration or efficiency; are highly aware of each other’s goals and objectives; and understands that the mutual and shared benefit is greater than working independently. One might call this mindful teamwork.

As a director of a public garden, each growing season presents a wonderful opportunity to try new concepts, methods, and types of plants in demonstration areas. My criteria for determining what to grow is inspired by the common rule in landscape design plant selection where a plant is only worth installing if it can provide three seasons of interest. In my formula, instead of focusing of three seasons as a criteria, I alternatively operate by the following needs:

Will this plant provide an educational component? Will this plant generate potential income? Is this plant in keeping with our mission?

By following this simple criteria, I immediately have set up a foundation for myself to collaborate and share common goals with a variety of staff in my organization including those in education, development, retail sales, and beyond. Its teamwork in action!

The one example of this process i’d like to share is our growing of luffa gourds in the 2019 season. Growing the luffa gourd offered many opportunities to the organization that could only be achieved through mindful teamwork. I was able to collaborate with development to design a tour and workshop as a member only event to help enhance member benefits. I was able to enrich tours given by the education department that focused on related themes in pollination and agriculture. Luffa gourds provide excellent product in the form of seed and luffa sponge, and I worked with the retail shop to devise a plan for merchandising, processing, and marketing. All of this could not be achieved as an organization without the practice of mindful teamwork.

Below see pictures of the luffa growing in action as well as the processing and merchandising artwork.

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Luffa gourd fruit displaying prominently on the property line to entice neighbors.
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Luffa gourd flower being pollinated.
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A batch of luffa after skins were removed and sponge was cleaned.
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Artwork created for seed packs and merchandising [credit: Kellie Cox]

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