PepsiCo, Google, Yahoo!, and dozens of other major firms are adding organic vegetable gardens to the menu of benefits they provide employees, writes The New York Times. At PepisCo’s headquarters, employees can now leave for lunch and cart back produce they’ve grown. Given that firms have less to spend on raises, health benefits, and other perks, organic gardens seem more and more like a cost-effective benefit. While the growth in corporate gardens demonstrates “a growing interest in sustainability” and gardening, it also reflects “an economy that calls for creative ways to build workers’ morale and health.” Human Resource Executive magazine sees the idea as a positive model and listed it as a “top five benefits ideas of the year.”
In Silicon Valley, where household composting and other residential green behaviors is common practice, Google, Yahoo and Sunset magazine, have started organic gardens. Google’s garden features a special “self-watering earth box” container system. It wasn’t clear whether Google employees were actually gardening, but many were seen taking produce back to their desks, says The New York Times.
But the trend is also bigger than Silicon Valley: in Milwaukee, Kohl’s department store headquarters has a organic garden that produces food both for employees and local food banks. The corporation’s garden is tied in with the company’s child care center. Toyoto’s plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, features “abundant crops of pumpkins and tomatoes.” At Aveda’s headquarters near Minneapolis, some 700 employees are able to go to the garden and take home fresh produce. In this model, work in the garden is optional, and employees need to pay $10 for the season.
In some cases, employees have asked for the gardens. In others, managers have been behind them, using plots as team-building activities. Sheila Golden, a senior manager at PepsiCo, who manages one tomato-planting team, said: “It takes the politics out of the job. Everybody is on the same level in the garden.”
Some of the obstacles to expanding the use of corporate gardens include costs, health and safety concerns, and a lack of arid soil. A small plot can cost around a $1,000 to install, but large-scale farms can cost up to $500,000. Corporate executives may be concerned about the health of fresh produce. Also, arable land is hard to find in urban areas, and often needs to be trucked in.
Lastly, dedicated staff may be needed to manage the farms, which adds to the overall costs. According to The New York Times, the plots at PepsiCo were mostly “weedy and empty.” Also, while there was great interest in the beginning, volunteers have decreased from 200 to around 75 in a year. Food service staff are now playing a role in cleaning up other volunteers’ derelict plots.
Image credit: Google headquarters’ organic vegetable garden. Audubon magazine / Google