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Will “Company Gardens” Catch On? What Can They Influence?

| Thursday June 3rd, 2010 | 7 Comments

PSFK pointed me to a great article in the NYtimes from last month entitled “The Rise of Company Gardens.” At corporate office parks around the globe, companies are turning lawns over to carrots and cucumbers, all in the name of encouraging employee health and happiness, and perhaps earning some green street cred along the way. Best Buy, Google, Kohl’s, Pepsico, and many lesser known brands are among the companies experimenting with the practice.

The trend comes along with a general rise in awareness about the benefits of fresh vegetables, an interest in organics, and the “back to the earth” aesthetic that gardening theoretically brings. Employees can literally pick a salad for lunch at some facilities, and at others, according to the Times, fresh greens are passed around at board meetings. Audubon magazine suggests that the trend could even improve mental health among employees while they encourage each other to watch and tend crops at break time. I suppose it beats “trust falls” at the ropes course.

It’s ironic that a company like PepsiCo, which sells mostly processed junk food, would so enthusiastically jump on the bandwagon. But can we fault them for trying? Is there a chance that the presence of corporate gardening could seep deeper into the consciousness of the organization and into the edibles it produces?

Who knows exactly how seriously anyone at the top level takes this beyond symbolism and human resources. Still, companies have to be applauded for putting some thought outside the box. It’s likely that some employees will take the garden idea home to their own backyards, and be ever slightly more conscious about what they eat and where their food comes from. It would be hard to ignore that influence later on when workplace decisions on ingredients and sourcing are underway.

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  • tkovach

    At COSE, employees have access to a similar benefit. We are able to take part in a CSA program through the company that owns our office building. This allows us to have farm-fresh produce delivered to the office on a weekly or biweekly basis. It's an excellent model and one that other businesses and commercial real estate owners may want to consider following; it is a particularly good idea for businesses that do not own their buildings or who have limited access to green space.

    COSE has also dedicated itself to providing wellness programs to our small business members, because we know that personal wellness is an excellent way to reduce health care expenses and promote well-being in the workplace. For instance, we have several mini-grants available for members who dedicate themselves to implementing a wellness program in the workplace; the mini-grants help to offset the costs of putting the program into place, and we are also available to provide guidance and assistance as they work through this process.

    Hopefully more businesses will begin to take advantage of opportunities like this, because it is clearly beneficial for employees and the business as a whole. Reduced stress and greater sense of well being can positively affect productivity and output, which is great for the bottom line.

    Tim Kovach
    Product Coordinator, COSE
    http://www.cose.org/blog
    http://www.twitter.com/COSEenergy

  • http://progressivetimes.wordpress.com T. Caine

    I would have to say that I share your degree of skepticism. As a way to give a push to employee moral and educate people about farming food, sure I think it's a nice idea, but I do not know how much of a difference it actually makes.

    We would get a lot further if we could encourage companies to do away with the lawns all together by moving away from suburban/exurban office parks and strip malls. Condensing the buildings and commuting practices of these companies around cities and towns would make a huge impact–then take the gardens and put them on the roof. Now we're talking!

  • Robin Giampa

    Great post, Nick!

    Our CEO, Jeff Swartz, did a piece on the subject last year that describes why Timberland has a garden, and how it works (our version includes selling the produce to employees and donating the money to the local food bank). Feel free to check it out here:
    http://www.earthkeeper.com/blog/corporate-socia

    Robin Giampa
    Timberland

  • Bill S

    It's a great idea, but hopefully the companies test the soil first. There are quite a few environmental toxins that accumulate in the soil. Leaded gasoline was outlawed decades ago but the lead is still in the soil. And, many office parks are brownfield developments.

  • Farmer Herb

    I established a container herb garden at a previous employer and ran it for 5 years. Each year the garden got bigger. The purpose was 3-fold: to encourage interest in gardening, to provide fresh herbs, and to give me a place to putter during lunch hour. A group of showed how to use herbs, making basil-butter, salsa, mint tea, and cinnamon-basil sorbets. Some co-workers added basil or oregano to their frozen dinners or sandwiches.

  • Farmer Herb

    I established a container herb garden at a previous employer and ran it for 5 years. Each year the garden got bigger. The purpose was 3-fold: to encourage interest in gardening, to provide fresh herbs, and to give me a place to putter during lunch hour. A group of showed how to use herbs, making basil-butter, salsa, mint tea, and cinnamon-basil sorbets. Some co-workers added basil or oregano to their frozen dinners or sandwiches.

  • http://www.MyHerbGardening.com Debra

    I think it’s wonderful that large corporations are taking an interest in employee health to the point they are willing to allow gardens on their sites. This obviously makes the office party pot luck a simpler process. Donating the excess to local food banks is also wonderful to hear. Thanks for this awesome post.

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