By Michelle Martin
Didn’t get a pay raise this year? Benefits were cut? What if your job offered you a garden plot, some seeds, and a smattering of coworkers to accompany your planting and weeding during the lunch hour — and let you reap part of the bounty when it popped out from the ground?
A New York Times article pointed out an emerging trend in the business world: company gardens. From corporations such as Google and PepsiCo to small businesses, employees are joining forces to grow food on the company grounds. The produce eventually goes home with employees who helped hoe and weed, ends up at a food bank, or serves a company purpose (such as providing food for Google’s café). Sometimes companies start these projects to foster a sense of community or simply to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone. Sometimes employees request and commandeer the gardens themselves.
Of course, the quality of the gardens varies quite a bit. Google’s garden is part of a complete food system including a Manager of Culinary Horticulture, who oversees the gardens. Meanwhile, PepsiCo’s garden, roughly the size of two tennis courts, dropped from more than 200 volunteer employees to 75 over the course of the year, and by mid-May few had even seeded their plots. Sometimes the initial morale drops as projects continue piling up on workers’ desks. And occasionally enthusiastic would-be-gardeners simply lose interest.
Our own editors, Shelley and Heidi, started a company garden for garden-willing employees of Ogden Publishers, which produces MOTHER EARTH NEWS. The gardeners started planning early about what design and plants everyone wanted. These employees agreed that the garden should be pretty, fun, colorful and full of edibles, and they used an approach called edible landscaping in which useful fruit and vegetable plants are beautifully arranged. (For more, check out our upcoming article on edible landscaping in our October/November 2010 issue.) Every day with suitable weather, all willing workers join together throughout the lunch hour to weed and water. So far, they have harvested lettuce, radishes, zucchini, peppers, herbs and even a few tomatoes!
A University of Essex study found that even five minutes a day of outdoor activity can substantially boost mood and self-esteem. Thus, maybe that half hour you or your employees spend tending the sprouts in the sunshine will become an investment in positivity that fuels healthy office interaction. Office gardeners also say that working alongside both superiors and inferiors has an equalizing effect on the corporate pecking order. “It takes the politics out of the job,” said Sheila Golden, a senior manager at PepsiCo, to the New York Times. “Everybody is on the same level in the garden.”
At the very least, a company-hosted community garden offers an easy and hands-on way for everyone to gain more awareness of healthy and sustainable choices. Gardens can also offer practical knowledge on how to produce one’s own food.
Plus: if you ever forget your lunch, just step outside for free nibbles! elements from the top bar.