Company’s Employees Skip Holiday Party For Largest-Ever Service Event


Last weekend NVIDIA’s employees chose hammers and shovels over hors d’oeuvres and Champagne, forgoing a holiday party and instead taking part in one of Silicon Valley’s largest-ever employee volunteer service events.

About 1,500 employees, their families, and other volunteers descended on the nonprofit Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale Friday and Saturday to saw wood, swing hammers, shovel dirt, paint and more. The result was a huge boost to the farm’s ability to provide nutrition education to students and fresh produce to the community.

On Saturday morning about 1,000 grownups, teens and children were busily tilling soil, building new structures and planters, and painting murals on the 11-acre farm located on land leased from the Santa Clara Unified School District.

“I think parties are kind of selfish and this is selfless,” said Chris Pedersen, a content developer for NVIDIA, who was busy digging raised beds with his wife and two kids on Saturday. “I think it’s awesome; you always go home with a really good feeling.”

The technology company stopped having holiday parties 11 years ago, and had been doing annual community service on a smaller scale, until 5 years ago when employees organized under the banner Project Inspire, said spokesperson Tonie Hansen.

The Project Inspire events started with about 500 employees and other volunteers, but over the years has continued to grow, peaking at this year’s 1,500 participants.

Last year the employees partnered with Schmahl Science Workshops in San Jose to build a greenhouse and create several community garden beds at History San Jose, so that local low-income families and youth could engage in healthy eating.

Other past projects included helping local high schools upgrade facilities and programs in science education. The company estimates Project Inspire has contributed about $1.7 million in grants and volunteer hours over the last five years to Silicon Valley communities.

This year’s event at Full Circle Farm included building a demonstration teaching area where students will learn about the science of food and how to prepare healthy meals, improving the storage and packing facilities for produce that is sold to restaurants, schools and the community, upgrading the on-site retail location, and expanding the farm production capacity.

Wolfram Alderson, the farm’s executive director, said in a statement that the project “will fast-track Full Circle Farm’s ability to reach sustainability and fulfill its mission to transform how Silicon Valley thinks about food, nutrition and health.”

He expects the improvements will allow the farm to engage three times more students than it has previously.

Marshaling 1,500 people in a two-day service event is no small feat. For the past three years the company has worked with City Year to organize the operations. Hansen said the nonprofit acts as a general contractor for Project Inspire, organizing the materials needed so that there’s plenty for volunteers to do once they arrive at the site.

The planning for the annual holiday event begins in May, when an employee committee working with NVIDIA President and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang sends out requests for proposals to local nonprofits. The group visits sites in the summer and picks the project that will provide significant impact and provide a good all-day experience for volunteers, Hansen said.

The last couple of months of preparation “are intense,” Hansen said. This year presented a new challenge: getting building permits from the City of Sunnyvale for the new structures built over the weekend. The city, she said, was gracious in helping the company secure the permits.

Also new this year, the company reduced the age of participation from 7 to 3. Small children got their hands dirty creating “seed bombs”, balls of thick mud loaded with seeds. The clumps are dried and later thrown for planting. Children also helped build and paint 1-foot square planters for people in the community to use in their backyards, as well as paint signs for the farm.

Older children and teens were hard at work either in the fields, building tables and benches, and painting murals.

Despite all the physical labor going on, it was still very much a party atmosphere, with the sound of pop music blaring through speakers throughout the farm to join the thick sound of hammers and saws.

Do the employees miss having a holiday party? Hansen said she doesn’t think so. Annual employee surveys show a 91 percent approval rating for NVIDIA’s philanthropic contributions to the community.

“It’s nice to work for a company willing to fund this,” said Pedersen. “It shows the company cares about the community.”

This story is featured in the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook! Order your copy today!








  1. […] Nvidia’s Project Inspire Set to Transform San Jose Urban Farm December 4, 2012 By Pam Marino Leave a Comment The largest employee service event in Silicon Valley, Nvidia’s Project Inspire, is set totally transform the urban farm Veggielution this coming weekend, Dec. 7-8, similar to a major urban farm project the group undertook last year at Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale… […]