If you have ever attended a recruitment training program facilitated by Paul Siker, you know that he has more than just a passing interest in blueberries. In fact, he facilitates an annual Blueberry Philanthropy project, the genesis of which is directly tied to his work in the talent acquisition arena. Much of Siker’s early recruiting career was focused on completing executive search assignments in the high technology market sector. Additionally, he has also completed a variety of searches in the non-profit arena, with a focus on leadership and fund-raising and development roles. Paul’s exposure to philanthropic organizations provided a keen sense for, “the power of a dollar to do good things in the world.”
“I’ve long believed that it’s incumbent upon businesses to be good corporate citizens. My companies, Advanced Recruiting Trends and The Artisan Group have regularly donated money to worthy causes, especially organizations focused on health research, disease prevention, and community-oriented mission work,” said Siker, “What I didn’t realize was that my interest in farming and agriculture would lead me to another channel via which I could contribute to charitable initiatives.”
In 2003, Siker elected to begin cultivating blueberries. “I had toyed around with the idea of growing grapes, but they require far more time and energy than I could accommodate. My initial exposure to blueberries occurred when I planted several bushes that were gifts to my sons from their grandparents. I discovered that the reasonably acidic soil on my property provided great growing conditions for blueberries. My interest in blueberries happened right at the point when nutritionists were highlighting blueberries as a “super-food,” rich in antioxidants. That’s when I started thinking more seriously about growing blueberries – a lot of them.”
Siker then stumbled upon a presentation that addressed the increasing demand for value-added and artisan foods. “I went to my community’s local July 4th celebration, which is a total throwback to what you might have seen or experienced in small-town America back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Kids riding on bikes, wagons, skates, and horses, and houses decorated with flags and bunting. The whole thing culminating in a community cookout. Each year, the organizers hosted a guest presenter. One year, the speaker was a local chili pepper farmer and salsa maker who talked about the fact that people would increasingly be willing to pay a premium for high-quality, artisan food products. The gist of his presentation stuck with me.”
Once he had committed to an initial planting of 180 blueberry bushes, Siker began to face questions about his farming aspirations. “My wife thought I had lost my mind. She asked: ‘What are you going to do with all those berries? Who’s going to pick them? What’s your plan?’ All I could say in response was that while I didn’t have all the answers, somehow it would all come together. As odd as it sounds, I just felt like this was something I was supposed to do.”
A bigger plan started to emerge on the same day that Siker began to actually plant the bushes. “A good friend of mine is a local farmer and while we were drilling rows of holes in the ground with his tractor, my sons, his sons, and some neighborhood boys appeared and voluntarily started doing all the blueberry planting. They were having a great time – I guess nothing goes better together than boys and dirt – but they really seemed to enjoy the work they had done, and clearly had a sense of accomplishment. That’s when it hit me: What if I started a youth philanthropy project that provided kids with an opportunity to learn a little about agriculture, a little about making a value-add food product (blueberry jam), and a little about giving to a worthy cause? I thought that it was a pretty good concept, so that’s what we set out to do.”
Today, Siker grows and maintains several hundred blueberry bushes on his property. Each year, harvested berries are processed into high-quality, small batch, blueberry jam and sold locally. The blueberry philanthropy proceeds have primarily been donated to Nothing But Nets, an organization that works in conjunction with the United Nations to provide insecticide-coated sleeping nets to families in Africa and other locations where mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria account for over 1600 deaths daily. The majority of those afflicted are children. Proceeds have also gone towards sending local kids on mission trips so that they can better learn and appreciate the value associated with helping others who are less fortunate.
Siker maintains that the blueberry philanthropy project has been a very worthwhile endeavor. “When the berries start to come in, I know that I’m in for about 6 weeks of craziness, but it’s worth it. Our berries are organic, and if the repeat orders and unsolicited feedback that I get about the quality and taste of the blueberry jam are to be believed, then we are doing something right, which is truly gratifying. We get to make something that people genuinely enjoy, and in exchange, we donate funds that help to save the lives of children. Not a bad trade, I’d say.”~ ~ Paul Siker is the CEO of Advanced Recruiting Trends, a recruitment and talent acquisition strategy, training, and consulting firm. He is also principal of The Artisan Group, an executive search firm. For more information, pleasecontact us.