Sometimes, in the midst of a crisis, a beautiful idea blooms.
When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the Santa Clara County Master Garden- ers’ massive Spring Garden Market, master gardener Rebecca Jepsen worried about the thousands of tomato and pepper plants that were seeded up and ready to sell.
“I thought, I have to find
a way to help,” she says. “I couldn’t bear the thought of any of those plants finding their way into a compost pile!”
So Jepsen, a real estate agent with Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty in Los Gatos, hatched a plan to purchase more than 200 of the plants and donate them
to a garden that supports the safety-net organizations that help feed the homeless and those who are food-insecure.
The only problem? She couldn’t find a garden explicitly devoted to that cause. So, she decided to create one herself.
Jepsen phoned her friend AJ Anderson, the director of facili- ties and real estate for Uplift Family Services, a nonprofit that provides mental and behavioral health treatment, crisis intervention, and hous- ing services to at-risk individu- als and families. Uplift’s Los Gatos campus contains a small garden that Jepsen thought might have space for most of the plants.
To Jepsen’s delight, Ander- son agreed to help. “I thought it was fantastic; there’s nothing like being able to give back to families in need,” says Ander- son, who calls Jepsen “one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.”
With a facility secured, Jepsen called on her network
of friends, clients, and master gardeners, asking for assistance. And on May 2, a dozen people gathered, in masks, to plant some 150 tomato and pepper plants, plus 14 pollinator plants (lavender and salvias), on the roughly 120-square-foot plot.
Jepsen intends to harvest them and then drive the produce, in her husband’s
pickup truck, to various food banks all season long. And she emphasizes that anyone who has the desire and the means can do the same.
“For less than $1,000, I can grow a substantial amount of food to help feed the home- less,” she says. “If I can do this, anybody can do this.”
That includes businesses. With employees of Bay Area technology companies work- ing from home indefinitely, most corporate parking lots
sit empty. Says Jepsen: “If [companies] wanted to dedi- cate five parking stalls, they could go get five-gallon pots, a couple of yards of planting mix, and they could grow tomatoes, peppers, and seasonal produce all year round — as long as you have an irrigation source or people who promise to show up and water.”
This isn’t the first time Jepsen has launched a community-service project, either. Last year, she assem- bled a team of volunteers to rebuild, repair, and beautify the Uplift Family Services campus. And in her home garden, she grows way more produce than she needs and gives the excess to her neigh- bors, friends, and clients.
So, what drives her altruism?
“My dad taught me that if you’ve done well, you need to do good. That’s my guiding light, my true north,” Jepsen says. “A huge part of my life is about giving back,” she adds, “and finding ways to build commu- nity and bring people together.”
That philosophy informs her business, too. “I see real estate as a way to give back to people and to serve people,” she explains.
Indeed, Jepsen devotes the same level of effort to
her clients that she does
to her service projects.
She has personally helped senior clients downsize their belongings and move, and stays connected with them well after the sale. And
while property showings are permitted during the COVID- 19 crisis, she refuses to let prospective buyers enter the homes of high-risk residents. (“If it takes longer to sell, that’s OK,” she says. “The health, safety, and best inter- ests of my clients is the most important part.”)
Thanks to her former career in high-tech sales and market- ing, Jepsen is also an expert negotiator with a long history of getting sellers the highest price in their neighborhood in the shortest amount of time. “It matters that I do the very best job I possibly can for each and every one of my buyers and sellers,” she insists. “It lights me up — just like creat- ing community does.”
As for the garden, Jepsen intends to use it to provide fresh, nutritious produce to food-insecure populations for as long as she can — and she encourages others to do the same. In fact, she’s planning
to launch a nonprofit, called Growing2Shine, which will create gardens where commu- nities can grow food, harvest, and even share meals together.
“I want to be a catalyst. I want to show others that they can make a difference; it’s really
not hard,” she says. “If anybody wants to do a similar project
at their company, church, or in their own backyard, just call me — I am here to help!”
Rebecca Jepsen: 408-357- 3990, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.rebeccajepsen.com, www. growing2shine.com.