In the last few years we’ve become aware of a small but enthusiastic trend of companies cultivating something new: employee gardens.
Why do they do this? The leaders of the three firms that follow point to an increased level of employee engagement, camaraderie and healthy behavior that impacts their bottom line in the form of better performing and more highly satisfied staff, and lower employee turnover and absenteeism.
Lundberg Family Farms
Notable among these firms is 2008 Top Small Workplace Lundberg Family Farms. Staffing Coordinator Michelle Jackson, who is informally known as the “garden guru” at Lundberg, explains that her VP of administration saw it as a natural extension of their already successful wellness program. Lundberg has gained national recognition for its multifaceted approach to employee wellness, which includes regularly organized fitness events at their Richvale, CA headquarters.
The construction and caretaking of their garden began about a year ago, with the costs of the project justified by the company through the yield of fresh, organic vegetables, and the prospect of a “family garden” in which staff could work and relax. Jackson says that the initial costs totaled approximately $1,700 for the installation of beds, mulch and a drip irrigation system. At a company known for its family-like culture, these initial steps offered a means for people to come together as they brought in their contributions from home gardens to get the project started.
“We had an outpouring of starter plants and seeds,” says Jackson, who adds that many of their 182 employees continue contribute to the garden in order to reap the harvest. Their appreciation for the garden was further validated in a wellness questionnaire the company sent out.
“It has been a learning experience for employees, and some are going to put a garden in their own yard based on what they observed or learned,” Jackson says.
The vegetables that are cultivated are distributed to all shifts in all departments, as are the employee-made zucchini bread, cucumber salad, and salsa. Many employees also use Lundberg’s garden space to walk during lunch breaks and it has even been used for media presentations.
Meanwhile, west of Richvale toward the California coast is another business that boasts one of the rarer employee gardens in their industry. Linda MacElwee has been the primary gardener at Handley Cellars, a small producer of sparkling, red and white wines, for several years and has enjoyed watching their garden evolve. “It’s very progressive as far as what it brings in to benefit the company,” she says.
Although the company started the garden 15 years ago to help them cater events on site, it has always produced more than was needed by the company, and employees took to tending the plot in return for the surplus. Their big Harvest Lunch in October, held for the company’s dedicated staff toward the end of the vineyard’s busiest season, is famous in the region. MacElwee says it has become a microscope for their community of Philo to see how the company gives back to employees.
She also appreciates the opportunity it offers staff to learn about a garden and the value it adds in terms keeping employees healthy. “Some can’t have a garden, or don’t have experience or are too busy at home and at work,” she says. “And it’s all organic, so that’s a huge savings to employees, who would otherwise be spending a pretty penny at the market, if they can even find organics.”
As far as the bottom line, MacElwee says the company does it because of the return in the form of healthy, happy employees. “You give them good, wholesome vegetables and that’s showing a commitment to nourishment beyond just what they’re eating,” she says.
Employee gardens are a phenomenon across this nation, and in Evanston, IL, industrial lubricants manufacturer IRMCO is another proud member of this growing trend. Often recognized for their dedication to employee development and use of open book management, 94-year-old IRMCO has also maintained a garden since 2006.
According to Vice President Brad Jeffery, “Since the first year the garden has grown three times in size with 100 percent of the produce going to the Good News Kitchen in Chicago.” A small group does the planting, maintaining and harvesting, but Jeffery says it is supported by just about everyone as a worthwhile endeavor, as it is simply “a refection of the IRMCO culture of giving to others.” Last year’s costs amounted to about $500, but Jeffery points to the strengthening of group bonds and corporate culture in justifying the expenditure, as well as the market value of the produce itself.