How a Former Marketing Manager Ended Up Farming for Those in Need
Chip Paillex and his organization America’s Grow-a-Row have a simple mission: Grow food for the hungry.
JUL 16, 2015 Takepart.com
By Taylor Orci
Chip Paillex makes running nearly 300 acres of farmland sound easy. “I don’t think it’s extraordinary,” says Paillex, who started out with a small garden plot as a family project to do with his daughter. “I have a passion, and it serves a purpose. My passion is feeding people.”
He’s the head of America’s Grow-a-Row, an organization with a simple mission: Grow food for those in need. But a simple mission doesn’t mean Paillex relaxes in a hammock all day watching the crops grow. The secret to his success as a benevolent entrepreneur is hard work.
“One day, the corn was getting ready,” says Paillex (pronounced “PAY-lex”). “I had a nice block of it. Half of the garden was corn. That night, there was a massive thunderstorm. A microburst just blasted through. When I came outside, all the corn was lying down.” Any gardener, especially a newbie like Paillex was at that point, might throw up his hands and move on to a simpler hobby, but that was not an option for him.
“I went out there with a hand trowel. I repacked every single stalk. They all took.” Paillex doesn’t take too readily to praise regarding this intensive endeavor. He prefers to keep things in perspective. “Can you imagine what it’s like to have acres of corn and have that happen? This experience gave me a huge respect for farmers.”
The hard work didn’t stop there. When Paillex started his garden, he wasn’t in need of employment: “I had a good full-time job. But between my day job and the farming, I was clocking in 80-hour weeks. It got to where I was taking time off from my day job so I could tend to my garden.”
When Paillex got laid off, he went into farming full-time. He used the knowledge he gained in his former careers to help strengthen his business. Paillex networks with food banks and food pantries across New Jersey to deliver fresh produce in a way that creates the least amount of waste.
But his success goes beyond insight from personal experience. Paillex knows what it’s like to tap into savings, to ask himself, “If this doesn’t work out, what am I going to do?” That being said, he’s never been poor. This is not why he does what he does. Rather, it’s listening to people’s stories and experiences that propelled him into growing food for hungry people.
“The first time I went to the food pantry, I was surprised to find there was no produce. None. I had read something about this pantry accepting produce donations, so I dropped off my produce and left. A woman came running off after me. ‘Please promise me you will come back,’ she said. ‘I need this produce. I can’t keep eating this canned and processed food.’ ” Paillex knows the desire for fresh food goes beyond a simple preference.
“One woman last year,” he says, “she was a senior citizen. She passed out when she was in line. Turns out she passed out because she was a diabetic. She can’t afford the medication for diabetes. That’s way more than being hungry.”
It also reinforces the need for the work Paillex does. While his operation expands—when we spoke he was in the process of purchasing another farm—so does the desire from the community to volunteer. “Right now, we have over 4,000 volunteers. They range from folks who pick the food to folks who go out in the community and ask folks in the community what we should grow to folks who help educate kids about where their food comes from.” Paillex says volunteers have the satisfaction of helping others but also get insight into and understanding of needy folks whom they might otherwise dismiss as problem people.
Paillex remembers one such transformed volunteer. “He gets down there with his family. As soon as he starts talking to these people, handing food across the table, he’s completely changed. He asks me, ‘How can I help? I want to help.’ ”
There is a wait list to volunteer.
This sponsored story is presented as part of our “Grow to Give” campaign in collaboration with Ford, to celebrate Ford owner and founder of America’s Grow-a-Row, Chip Paillex, and the ways his organization is going further to help individuals facing food insecurity.