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PLANET Community Stewardship Award Winner: The Mustard Seed

July 2, 2014 -  By
The Mustard Seed is an annual contributor to the Carver (Minn.) County Fair.

The Mustard Seed is an annual contributor to the Carver (Minn.) County Fair.

At The Mustard Seed, altruism is deeply rooted. 

Sometimes it takes letting go of the past to see the promise of one’s future.

Long haunted by a childhood tragedy, Mark Halla couldn’t let go for decades. But all that changed when Halla himself changed.

“If we’re really honest with ourselves, our nature is very selfish,” says the founder of The Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Centers in Chaska, Minn. “You have to say, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter how it impacts me. Let’s just go with the flow and see what God brings from this.’”

For Halla, “going with the flow” meant focusing less on himself and more on the needs of others, something he’s achieved since founding The Mustard Seed in 2003. Halla and his team have outwardly devoted countless hours, services and dollars to enriching the Chaska community from end to end.

The company’s efforts can be seen on six miles of a trash-free Minnesota highway and in the farmer’s market the company launched in 2009 to support area growers.

They can be found in the company’s youth classes about healthy eating and the environment, in auction items at area fundraisers and in 4-H trophies via the company’s purchases for the Carver County Fair. But that’s just the start.

“We have to show the whole world that even a teeny tiny little company can make a difference,” Halla says. “As you’re serving people who are in need, you always end up having a happier, healthier attitude about the world. That’s because you’re thinking about them instead of yourself.”

Polly Wright, major gifts officer at hunger charity Feed My Starving Children, says her nonprofit has benefited from The Mustard Seed’s generosity many times.

In 2012 alone, The Mustard Seed donated more than $20,000 worth of gift certificates to Feed My Starving Children’s 25th anniversary fundraiser. It also sponsored the event and donated a patio for the live auction, she says.

The Mustard Seed hosts free field trips with stations on animals, horticulture and beekeeping, among others.

The Mustard Seed hosts free field trips with stations on animals, horticulture and beekeeping, among others.

“They’ve been very supportive, and they care about starving kids,” Wright says. “They’re committed to the cause. They’re good businesspeople and good people.”

In line with the company’s faith-based mission, The Mustard Seed employees are required to donate at least one full day (with pay) to a charity of their choice every year.

It doesn’t take much coaxing. Altruism is ingrained deeply in the company’s culture, and many projects end up being group efforts.

Halla feels most attached to the environmentally focused, complimentary field trips the company hosts for local children. The 1,200 youth who partook in 2013’s lineup learned about things like horticulture, renewable energy and composting.

“With all these things, we can make a difference with future generations,” Halla says. “I think I feel attached to the field trips because anything like this you do with kids has rewards down the road.”

The Mustard Seed employees are leaving their mark on the road, too—through the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Adopt a Highway Program. Since 2005, volunteers from The Mustard Seed have spent a few days picking up trash along the same section of highway twice a year. In all, they’ve collected more than 18 tons of trash.

Meanwhile, for Earth Day the company partnered with the chamber of commerce and others to shred paper from local residents and businesses. The immense interest in the event came as a shock to organizers, as cars lined up for half a mile and waited an hour and a half to have their paper shredded for free.

“It was so successful that it was really stressful for us,” Halla says. “We shredded 20,000 pounds of paper in three hours.”

Through a partnership with the nonprofit Grow. Eat. Share., The Mustard Seed helps fight childhood obesity by housing a garden where children can learn about gardening and health.

Through a partnership with the nonprofit Grow. Eat. Share., The Mustard Seed helps fight childhood obesity by housing a garden where children can learn about gardening and health.

Smart marketing

Just as others and the planet have benefited from The Mustard Seed’s local contributions, so too has The Mustard Seed. Its years of service have increased its visibility in the community and given it a solid reputation as a business that cares about others.

“They are people you trust, and they’re well respected here,” Wright says. “I think when you’re doing business in an honest way and then do good work, that’s somebody you want to work with on a regular basis.”

The more than $10,000 the company donates to fundraisers and auctions annually—often through gift certificates—has had a particularly strong return on investment, Halla says.

“That person is likely going to come in and spend their money with us,” he says. “So I don’t see that so much as giving as smart marketing.”

Halla’s reputation as an honest businessman has served him and The Mustard Seed well. “You definitely reap rewards when you have relationships with people,” he says. “That’s one of the benefits of stewardship.”


At a Glance

Company: The Mustard Seed Landscaping & Garden Centers
Headquarters: Chaska, Minn.
President, CEO and steward: Mark Halla
SELECT PROJECT LISTING
▶ Grow. Eat. Share.
Since 2010, The Mustard Seed has partnered with this gardening project to help fight childhood obesity. At its garden center, The Mustard Seed created a garden where kids learn about gardening and health. In the company’s kitchen, they also cook fresh vegetables for lunch.
Field trips
Since 2008, the firm has offered free field trips to local students, churches and organizations, educating youth about the importance of caring for natural resources.
▶ Donations to auctions and fundraisers
The Mustard Seed donates more than $10,000 annually to fundraisers and auctions.
▶ Carver County Fair
The company has long supported the fair as a sponsor, donating $1,500 a year since 2010. From 2014 to 2017, the company also will sponsor the 4-H Horse Trophy Program, buying four years’ worth of trophies in advance.

Photos: The Mustard Seed

About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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