How Small Businesses Can Implement A ‘Corporate Garden’

What business doesn’t want better employee engagement, fewer employee sick and mental health days and lower healthcare insurance premiums? Companies like Timberland, HP, Pepsico, and The Ford Motor Company have been able to take advantage of these benefits due to the corporate gardens installed on their campuses.

When you think of corporate gardens, don’t just think dirt, flowers, and vegetables. Ford’s Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan is home to some 80,000 bees and Google has a swarm of about 5,000. Employees along with an amateur beekeeper tend to the hives and Google uses the honey in their campus dining rooms.

Small businesses, however, typically don’t get to enjoy the benefits of a ‘corporate garden’ due to lack of space and other obstacles. Here at PrettyWork, since we’re home-based for right now, we’re enjoying the benefits of having fresh fruit and vegetables growing in our backyard.

Why Spend Money on a Corporate Garden?

According to the Harvard Business Review, U.S. companies spend $720 million each year to improve employee engagement. That number includes team building activities (such as corporate gardens) and other employee perks and for good reason.

Kinesis CEO, Shawn Busse wrote, “engaged employees are more productive and motivated – they produce higher quality work, take fewer sick days, and stay with your company longer.” The truth is, “engaged employees mean more profitable, better-performing companies,” Busse continued.

What Ill Health Costs Employers

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that chronic illnesses and related lifestyle risk factors are the leading drivers of healthcare costs for employers. Their report also states that 86 percent of all full-time U.S. workers are overweight and have at least one chronic illness. This usually results in hundreds of millions of missed days of work each year costing over $153 billion in lost productivity each year.

The Benefits of Investing In A Corporate Garden

Better Communication Among Teams

When Elgin and I first decided to scale up and transition from vegetables in potted plants to raised flower beds, it took teamwork. We had to agree on a size for the raised beds, what to plant and a watering system. This was a valuable lesson in communication and negotiation. I wanted three beds, we settled on two. He wanted to plant the peach tree in the ground, we settled on keeping our fruit trees in large pots.

Personal photo: “Alexander Farm and Orchard”

The soil in our backyard is not suitable for anything save dandelions and dollar weeds. That meant we had to bring in soil suitable for planting things we could actually eat. So as a team, we found the best deal on dirt, organized delivery, negotiated a delivery charge and then slowly, one wheelbarrow at a time, moved the dirt from the front of the house to the garden bed.

Teamwork is what made the garden a reality and the communication between our two departments greatly improved.

Healthier Employees

Rodale Inc.—an American publisher—provides community gardens and is also seeing huge benefits. According to Forbes contributor, Michael Finkelstein, Rodale company executives reported, “reduced stress, and increased energy, physical activity, and consumption of fresh produce” among employees who participated in the program. The company also saw benefits in “employee relations, company productivity, and brand integrity.”

Incorporating Healthier Foods Into Diet Much Easier

corporate garden small business

Personal photo: Using what we grew.

Last summer we planted cucumbers for the first time and we were overflowing with them. We also had more okra than we knew what to do with so we sold okra by the bagfuls to a nearby restaurant. I gave plenty away to family and friends and I froze the rest. That summer we ate a lot of okra. Plus we were harvesting cucumbers almost every other day. Cucumbers were eaten by themselves, with tomatoes and infused into my eight glasses of water.

During the winter months, I realized that I wasn’t drinking nearly as much water. Without my daily trip to the garden for that days’ cucumbers, I stopped consuming. Meaning, when the fruit and veggies are readily accessible, we eat them.

So How Can Small Businesses Reap The Benefits of A Corporate Garden?

Karena Poke, master gardener, and creator of The Lettuce Live – Urban Farm Project had a few suggestions.

  1. Join a food co-op. If you’re renting space in an office building, your employees can still take advantage of fresh, locally grown food through a food co-op. Again, if healthier food choices are available, that food usually gets eaten. And that makes for healthier employees. You can expect your box to contain seasonal fruit and vegetables and Poke says some even include recipes.
  2. Locate an Existing Community Garden and Volunteer. This team building exercise has layered benefits. Yes it strengthens teams but the physical exercise also helps employees reduce stress and live less sedentary lives.
  3. Build Raised Garden Beds. If you have a bit of space and a willing property manager, raised garden beds or cart-style beds can be installed. Employees get the benefit of working the soil, planting the garden and reaping the harvest with their coworkers. Some property managers and owners are willing to forego traditional landscaping around their buildings and allow vegetables to be grown instead.

If your small business wants to install a ‘corporate garden,’contact Poke at Lettuce Live today. She can help you plan, implement and maintain your garden.

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