Bell Nursery Is An Advocate For Outreach In Its Communities

Susan Summers government relations director Bell Nursery
Susan Summers, government relations director, Bell Nursery

Bell Nursery leaders recognized many years ago that participating in the political process and educating legislators and their staff, while being open to being educated, needed to be a priority to succeed in business. Advocacy efforts are making a difference within and outside the political arena.

“Traditionally many of us complain about the position we find ourselves in, with or as a result of politicians,” says Gary Mangum, CEO and president of Bell Nursery, based in Burtonsville, Md. “We took this seriously and decided that communicating was much better than complaining. We need to advocate for ourselves, our profession and our beliefs.”

So over the last few years, Mangum began spending more time deciphering the challenges facing his agricultural business and getting to know the legislators and officials making critical decisions that affected them. He made personal visits, attended fundraisers and invited lawmakers to his nursery.

As time went on, Mangum recognized the value of working with a lobbying firm, and engaged Manis & Canning who had provided advocacy services for Bell in its early years. While connecting with members of the legislature, Mangum’s long-time philanthropic efforts continued.

“We were recognized as good corporate citizens who were committed to making a difference,” he says. “It wasn’t just about dollars and party affiliation, it was about people engagement. We’ve had terrific face-to-face conversations built on trust and common sense. Mutual respect and staying away from name calling under any circumstance has served us well.”

A Quickfire Education In The Political Process

By February of 2014, Mangum found himself fully entrenched in the Maryland gubernatorial race. Mangum and his wife invited the then newly announced Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan to the Maryland Agriculture Dinner as their guest. The candidate was the first to arrive and the last to leave.

“Most impressive was how much he listened when meeting Maryland’s ag community assembled that cold February evening,” Mangum says. “During his campaign, he became known throughout the state for his punctuality and for actually listening to people and their struggles.”

Mangum knew it would be an uphill battle for Hogan to get elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, but after using a common sense, bipartisan approach to the issues and endless hours of meeting with constituents, Governor Larry Hogan took office in January 2015.

Mangum was with Hogan on the campaign trail many days. He was known for supporting Hogan on social media and most everywhere he went — and he built some new relationships himself.

“Some of my most vivid memories were our visits to some Baltimore City neighborhoods,” he says. “The sincere conversations the candidate had with those community leaders and residents have led to some of the most productive and touching outreach projects for our business. Thanks to the leadership of our governor and the team he’s put in place, our associates appreciate the opportunities to help others with more frequency, and volunteer and charitable activities among our friends have never been stronger. Hogan told those communities, ‘we will be back,’ and he really meant it.”

The election was just the beginning for Mangum.

“We are in a better position to help bridge the gap on many issues,” he says. “We have the opportunity to help accomplish some important goals and be participants in an open dialogue at the table. There’s much to do.”

Bell Nursery reaches out by supporting projects that help children connect with plants
Bell Nursery reaches out by supporting projects that help children connect with plants.

Community Outreach Supports Advocacy

Mangum says he believes that plants and people can make an impact socially and economically, and it’s not always about business.

“Plants are smile-makers and stress relievers and we want to share them,” he says. “For years we have given out annuals to participants in the Believe in Tomorrow spring 5K run, and we’ve provided the landscape material for three special homes the organization has in Ocean City, Md. Among other things, the organization provides respite housing for families with critically ill children.”

Bell also provides plants for the annual Maryland Agriculture Dinner, an event that gathers state legislators with agricultural community leaders.

One of the largest benefactors of Bell Nursery’s commitment to others is The Home Depot Foundation. In addition to substantial annual financial contributions, Mangum says Bell Nursery has expanded its support by various methods, including helping to build homes for veterans as part of an annual outing and working on various projects with The Home Depot associates.

“We worked with the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives and The Home Depot to build raised-bed gardens in west Baltimore,” he says. “Neighbors jumped in to help and maintain the gardens while enjoying hundreds of pounds of produce all summer long.”

More than 150 volunteers came together for the project, including Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford. Beyond associates, The Home Depot invested more than $30,000 to renovate and re-roof BIGGY’S Community Center.

Later in the summer, Mangum and the Bell training team, headed by “Coach” Andy Moore, took 18 Baltimore youth and several community and faith leaders to visit a produce farm. During a three-hour boat ride to the produce farm, Moore shared lessons on how students could make an impact in their families, schools and communities, and a memorable lesson on leadership and resisting peer pressure. Feedback has been very positive and numerous members of the legislature have reached out to the Bell team as a result of this particular effort.

The Mangums and close friends also support the severely combat wounded based at nearby Walter Reed Medical Center (Warrior Transition Brigade).

“We love inviting these long-term care patients to our place to enjoy some fresh air and activities away from the city,” he says.

“We have been so blessed to have met these heroes that have given so much of themselves. My parents spent time helping others as we were growing up, and that’s helped mold our approach, especially as the business has grown.”

Lessons Learned

Advocating is nothing new to Bell Nursery. Mangum says he learned a lot from his father, Bob, who took great pride in his involvement with the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.

“Through the Bureau’s policy development program, he helped see to it that greenhouses were clearly defined in the county and state as farms,” Mangum says. “That was an important move because of county zoning issues, and we are still benefitting from that today.”

While keeping his pulse on politics, his head in the business and his heart with the community and the people he works with and for, Mangum will continue to be an active advocate.

“The key for me has always been to love what you do every day,” he says. “We’re blessed to have a really good team of people at Bell.” he says.

What Can You Do?

Be informed. There are so many sources for updates; digital information sources are Gary Mangum’s favorite after the monthly industry magazines.
Speak up on social media. Don’t be afraid to advocate but stay reasonable.
Get to know your representatives and those beyond your specific boundaries.
Invest monetary support or give time to help candidates who best represent your views.
Get involved with professional trade association issues and establish a financial commitment to support the organizations that can best help your business.
Write to your representatives. When there’s a call to weigh in. Form letters may be counted but real thoughts mailed and eMailed make a better impression.
Vote and encourage others to vote.

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