Food at Work: CORPORATE GARDEN

Farmers market

A corporate giving garden is a creative way for an organization and its employees to get healthy and give back to the community. Picture a plot of land that provides a bounty of seasonal, fresh produce from early season lettuce and sweet peas to fall squash. Beneficiaries of these tasty foods are typically local/regional food shelves and other local non-profits.

To ensure the garden’s vitality, it is best to have the garden located on the premises of the organization near a water supply. This close proximity and essential water source allows employee volunteers to easily fulfill the day-to-day responsibilities, including planning, planting, thinning, weeding, harvesting, delivery and fall clean-up. In addition, if the organization can enable a small group of staff to manage the garden during work hours (or volunteers outside of work hours) and help with general maintenance or equipment needs, then the garden will be set for success. Items such as tools, seeds, plants, soil amendments, stakes/trellises, fencing and sunscreen can be donated by employees or departments within an organization (an opportunity for non-gardeners to offer support).

Maintaining a corporate garden offers employee volunteers:

  • a great way to incorporate physical activity into daily routines.
  • a fulfilling volunteer experience that can benefit community members in need
  • the opportunity to make a positive impact within the community

The benefits for the organization include:

  • healthier employees, which can help better control health care costs
  • opportunities for team-building improved community relationships

garden at sun rise

A number of organizations have already experienced success and are willing to share their knowledge of starting and maintaining a yearly garden. One of those is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross), in Eagan, Minnesota. A few key measures for Blue Cross’ Community Giving Garden:

  • Started in 2008 with a plot size of 1,600 sq. ft., doubled to 3,200 sq. ft. in 2009
  • More than 500 pounds of food harvested annually (750+ pounds in 2010)
  • Harvests donated to Eagan Lewis House (women’s shelter) and Eagan Resource Center (food shelf)
  • More than 60 volunteers
  • More than 45 different annual and perennial crops
  • Promotes “adopt a crop” and “sow a row” to encourage employees to volunteer for a crop that has meaning for them

Proximity was a key factor in deciding where to donate the food. For the first year, Blue Cross selected Eagan Lewis House, where there had been a previous corporate volunteer relationship. When the garden produced so much more than Lewis House could use, one of the gardeners introduced the Community Giving Garden team to staff at Eagan Resource Center Food Shelf, which then also benefited from the bounty. Both recipients are just blocks from the garden, making it easy for volunteers to deliver the food. Volunteers appreciate the fact that delivering to locations close to the garden allows them to support the community in which they work.

Blue Cross actively partners with United Way and other organizations to promote corporate gardens. Contact communitygivinggarden@bluecrossmn.com for more information.

A green space in which employees could take a break from their work, a means of volunteerism at work and to be able to provide an experiential lab for heart health education were some key aspects in mind for the Hearts for Health GardenSM – Arden Hills. 

Boston Scientific Cardiology, Rhythm, and Vascular Technologies division (CRV) delivers innovative, therapeutic medical solutions of distinctive value for physicians, their patients and to healthcare systems around the world. A core team of CRV employees gathered to develop the Boston Scientific Hearts for Health GardenSM – Arden Hills, and they designed with community in mind. Little did the core team know though, as they first gathered and started sharing ideas, just what an undertaking was at hand. 

 Two CRV employees had attended a summer 2009 Twin Cities Giving Garden Discussion Group started by the Greater Twin Cities United Way in collaboration with Blue Cross. At that meeting, stories were shared of other corporate gardening triumphs. The two CRV employees were excited to take what they learned back to their own place of work. In December of 2009, an Employee Resource Group of Boston Scientific was approached for funding. With sound evidence of why community gardening at Boston Scientific was a good idea and $1200 in seed money in hand, the core team spent the next couple of months talking with facilities and legal counterparts to find a place for this dream to grow. 

The green space came in the form of a gravel parking area. With the planting season just weeks away, the core garden team leaped at the opportunity (despite the apparent obstacles of building a garden in that space). It was quickly realized that funding was insufficient. Initial irrigation routing alone would require $1,300. A leader emerged from within the core team and shared the dream and request for additional funding with the other five Employee Resource Groups and Community Relations within Boston Scientific CRV. With $6,000 secured (enough to cover the costs of an initial tier of raised beds, the irrigation system, some trellis and a shed), the core team was thrilled to break ground, creating the raised beds and planting just in the knick of time. The planting their first year would not have occurred on June 1st as it did, without the generous donation of over $2,000 in plant material from the local greenhouse and garden center. Other plant material (primarily annuals and decorative plants and shrubs) was secured through the $55 per year membership to Minnesota Green, a program of the Minnesota Horticultural Society.

The Greater Twin Cities’ United Way matched the Hearts for Health GardenSM – Arden Hills with a local shelter that served primarily minority populations that statistically are not as well-served in the healthcare system. The shelter submitted a list of desired produce, including okra, corn, tomatoes and more.

One of the core team members supplied connections to a local greenhouse and garden center retailer as well as to a local media outlet, two others supplied the schematics for a garden layout complete with driplines and square foot gardening methodology and others brought their personal gardening interest, project management experience and more. 

Forward to mid-August … the garden became a lunch spot for employees and a source of great pride for the company. And, by year’s end approximately 600 pounds of compostable plant material (roots, stalks, leaves) were provided to a pig farm that also rescues the cafeteria waste from the Arden Hills campus. An outdoor yoga class had been inspired by the presence of the garden, heart healthy cooking demos took place by the on-site cafeteria services, additional volunteer support was provided at the shelter in the form of interior décor makeover and there was the installation of a small garden at a nearby high school—those are just some of the many ripples that were the result of the first big garden splash that had occurred at Arden Hills.

All in all, despite the various obstacles including learning soil management, securing sufficient first year funding, weathering the weather and developing the garden into the fabric of culture at Boston Scientific in Arden Hills—the core team realized that a dream could become a reality, given room to grow. The core team expresses deep gratitude to everyone who took part. The second year (2011) looks to be another great growing year!

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Key end of first-year results

  • Despite limited growing season: Approximately 450 pounds of food was harvested for the needs of the shelter (including herbs, edible flowers, varieties of peppers and tomatoes, collard greens, purple and green cabbages, celery, assortment of bush and vine beans, eggplant and more)
  • Ended the year with 85 registered volunteers who expressed desire to be involved in 2011
  • Maintained same core planning team of seven individuals
  • Collectively exceeded 300 volunteer hours
  • Shelter residents were provided hands-on experience at the garden site as part of the open house, received a series of nutrition education workshops from Simply Good Eating, a program of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, that included preparing meals using garden produce and continue to receive heart health education by a BSC Heart Health Awareness Team volunteer
  • A second garden is now being planned at the Maple Grove campus!

For more information on the Hearts for Health GardenSM, contact the Arden Hills Team at HeartsforHealthGardenAH@bsci.com or (651) 582-4448 (dedicated phone line), or the Maple Grove Team at HeartsforHealthGardenMG@bsci.com

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