Dude! Gardening Rocks

Forty-five minutes west of Haberman's Minneapolis headquarters, nestled in the lush flatlands of Delano, Minn., is a big piece of the brand public relations firm's soul: the Dude Ranch – its very own organic garden.

Named after the company's totemic storytelling icon, the Dude, and started in 2009, the Dude Ranch yielded impressive harvests, including more than 450 pounds of tomatoes, 300 pounds of green beans, 350 peppers in a variety of shapes and sizes, bags and bags of lettuce, and too many zucchini.

Approximately 80 percent of Haberman's 30 employees worked in the garden and received first dibs on veggies that were distributed to everyone at the company. Extra produce was donated to those in need throughout the Twin Cities or given to clients and new business prospects as gifts.

Part experiment, part education, part employee benefit, the Dude Ranch is a channel for Haberman's own passion for health and wellness, sustainable agriculture and increased accessibility to natural, organic foods. Haberman's vision is for employers across the nation to join them in the movement to transform their workplaces, health care and the planet for the better through employer-sponsored gardens.

The Eat Local Movement at Work

Google prides itself on serving free locally grown food at Café 150, its cafeteria that features dishes made with ingredients grown from within 150 miles of its headquarters. The company has its own organic garden in its main courtyard, along with a weekly seasonal farmers market with local vendors.

Why offer this green employee benefit? “It’s one of those things that keeps our people coming to work,” said Café 150’s executive chef Nate Keller. “We have some of the most passionate people in the world who work here, and we like to keep that passion going with our passion for food and cooking.”

Hear more from Keller and others on the Café 150 team on YouTube.

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

PepsiCo’s organic, employee-run garden at its world headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., is staffed by approximately 225 PepsiCo associates who plant and care for 58 plots of herbs and vegetables, fertilized with used coffee grinds from the building's cafeteria and coffee stations. When the project began in May 2009, they set out to grow about 25 different vegetables and nearly 30 different herbs for their own use and/or donation to the Westchester Food Bank in Millwood, N.Y.

“We're bringing home the idea of thinking globally and acting locally,” said PepsiCo Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi. “Our employees envisioned this garden as a catalyst to integrate healthful, locally grown herbs and vegetables into their everyday lives. I believe that it will also be a source of inspiration for innovation in our products and operations.”

PepsiCo and its employees plan to open more organic gardens at the company's campuses all around the world. These on-site nurseries will allow employees to grow more plants from seed to shelf and to distribute the food more extensively in the communities in which the company operates.

Gardening - the Next Health and Wellness Benefit

Lundberg Family Farms, a provider of organic and eco-farmed rice with 182 employees, started its garden one year ago. The garden is a natural extension of Lundberg's already successful wellness programs and benefits. 

Tim Schultz, vice president of administration, credits the garden and all of the company's wellness programs with improving employees' health, reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity, strengthening loyalty and lowering healthcare costs. “We've heard a lot of really positive testimony from employees in terms of how it's improved their health,” said Schultz.

Gardening in the Windy City

Uncommon Ground operates a community-based restaurant and advocates the principles of local, sustainable and organically-produced food. Its Rooftop Farm, Chicago’s first certified organic roof top farm, is a long-term organic gardening program that they hope will be used as a model for other roof top gardens and farms in comparable environments. It is 2,500 square feet and rises 30 feet above Devon Avenue on the north side of Chicago.

The Rooftop Farm features 28 raised bed planter boxes that hold a total of 640 square feet of organic soil (nearly 6 tons), growing ingredients for the restaurant, including Nardello Peppers to Black Prince Tomatoes . The planter boxes rest on top of a deck that is made entirely out of a recycled plastic and wood composite material, making it durable to the daily duties of farming.

Not only do Uncommon Ground staff grow vegetables on the roof, they also employ five solar panels that heat up to 50 percent of the water for the restaurant, house four beehives that will eventually produce over 200 pounds of honey, and teach urban agriculture classes to local school groups of all ages, ranging from grade school to grad school.


Breaking New and Important Ground

The White House started an organic kitchen garden in March 2009. The garden will provide food for the Obamas’ meals and formal dinners and help teach children and communities about the benefits of growing and eating locally grown fruit and vegetables.

According to the New York Times, the first lady said the idea for a garden came from her experiences as a working mother trying to feed her daughters a good diet. Eating out three times a week, ordering a pizza, having a sandwich for dinner all took their toll in added weight on the girls, whose pediatrician told Mrs. Obama that she needed to be thinking about nutrition.

Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an organic restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., that grows many of its own ingredients, said: “The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”


Giving the gift of health

In 2008, more than 65 employees spent 360 volunteer hours tilling, fertilizing and planting a 1,600 square foot garden on Blue Cross Blue Shield’s property in Eagan, Minn., to provide 500 pounds of vegetables for Lewis House, a local shelter and safe place for women in abusive relationships.
Employees hope that their efforts will inspire other corporations to start their own giving gardens.

Reflection of Culture - A Giving Garden

IRMCO, an industrial lubricants manufacturer in Evanston, Ill., has maintained a garden since 2006 and watched it triple in size. A small group does the planting, maintaining and harvesting, and 100 percent of the produce goes to the Good News Kitchen in Chicago.

Often recognized for its dedication to employee development and use of open book management, 94-year-old IRMCO counts the garden as a "a refection of the IRMCO culture of giving to others," according to Vice President Brad Jeffery.

Last year's costs amounted to about $500. 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.

Mission-Driven Garden

In 2009, the Common Roots Café in Minneapolis turned its two backyards – previously covered in asphalt – into a garden with vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes, and more. Even more impressive: the Common Roots garden yielded more than 1,500 pounds of produce its first year.

The garden is a natural extension of the café’s mission. For Common Roots, “local” is not just a buzzword. The restaurant works hard to keep dollars in surrounding communities, to lessen its environmental impact, and to make food that tastes great, using ingredients from farmers they know.

The Common Roots’ garden provides the café with the freshest possible produce – and much more. Owner Danny Schwartzman says the “primary focus of the garden is educational,” demonstrating to neighbors and café customers how food and flowers are grown. This classroom has no boundaries — it’s unfenced, visible from the street and entirely accessible. Paths invite people to wander between the beds, where each type of plant is labeled.

Healthy Food in Health Care

A garden may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hennepin County Medical Center, but the busy downtown Minneapolis Level One Trauma Center is home for a rooftop organic garden where fresh, locally and organically grown herb and peppers are grown to use in recipes for patients, visitors and staff.

In 2009 the medical center received funds from the City of Minneapolis Climate Change Grant to create its rooftop organic garden. According to Lisa Nadeau, Food Service Operations Manager, “The main purpose was to provide the freshest ingredients possible for our recipes. We also hope to set an example and encourage HCMC staff and even visitors to consider planting similar gardens at home."

Hennepin signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, showing its commitment to sustainable food purchasing and practices, an underlying principle of the Health Care Without Harm campaign.

Triple Bottom Line: Teamwork, Healthy Eating, Exercise

Nearly every employee at Organix-South, the world’s largest manufacturer of certified-organic Neem products, works in the company’s garden grown next to the company’s parking lot in an industrial park. They work together as a team once per week and take home the fresh vegetables they’ve helped to grow.

Organix-South believes the impact of gardens can be very significant in a corporate setting.

“The benefits of community vegetable gardens have been proven in urban neighborhoods across the country,” said Autumn Blum, CEO of Organix-South. “We think that impact can be even more significant in a corporate setting. It builds a corporate culture that focuses on teamwork, healthy eating and exercise - plus it helps our employees save money and minimize their carbon footprints.”

Bettering the Business and Employees’ Lives

Handley Cellars, a small producer of sparkling, red and white wines in Philo, Calif., started their garden 15 years ago to help cater events on site. The garden produces more than what is needed by the company, so employees take care of the plot in return for the surplus.

Linda MacElwee, the primary gardener at Handley Cellars for several years, has enjoyed watching the company’s garden evolve. "It's very progressive as far as what it brings in to benefit the company," MacElwee said.

Having healthy, happy employees is meaningful and important to Handley's bottom line. "You give them good, wholesome vegetables and that's showing a commitment to nourishment beyond just what they're eating.”

Company Garden is Next Step on Path to Health

Employees at Quantum Controls, Inc. in Chanhassen, Minn., started a vegetable garden outside their back door in 2009, carefully tending their 35 X 75 plot on breaks and after work.

“The garden is a huge hit,” said HR Manager Wendy Eggers. “Everyone pitches in with the watering and helps with the weeding. There is a lot of pride, sharing of information and garden tips, as a result of our garden. We even have vendors who ask to see the garden progress when they come here.”

The garden is a continuation of other steps Quantum has taken to eat healthy in the workplace. The winter prior to starting its garden, Quantum participated in a four-week Fruit and Veggie Challenge, coordinated by its county public health department. Employees tried new produce and increased their daily intake of raw fruits and vegetables. Out of 22 competing worksites, Quantum placed in the top three for highest average points earned among participating employees.

From Landscaped Bed to Garden Plot

In 2008, the Ballard (Crown Hill) branch of HomeStreet Bank in Seattle, Wash., turned a landscaped bed next to the drive-through lane into an employee garden. During their off hours, employees work in the plot, which is about the size of two parking spaces.

This year HomeStreet expanded its garden to a planting strip that is
now full of squash and corn. Extra produce will be donated to the
Ballard Food Bank.

One Acre - Hundreds of Lives Transformed

In 2003, Avista Utilities, Spokane, Wash., transformed an acre of company property into a community garden. That year they donated more than a ton of food to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The garden has since yielded food for a local retirement community and the Women & Children’s Free Restaurant.

Orgs to Know

A recent shout-out from Holly Hirshberg of The Dinner Garden, an organization that gives away free fruit and vegetable seeds to anyone in the nation who wants to start a garden, introduced us to three more organizations worth knowing.




World Food Garden provides exact planting times for your zip code and free gardening tutorials, and helps connect you with gardening mentors. If you have extra produce on your hands, Ample Harvest
connects gardeners with the closest food pantry accepting donations.
Encourage food shelves in your neighborhood to register with Ample
Harvest so other gardeners can find them and share food.


And, Micro Garden Missions helps people install community gardens all over the country.

Thanks for the introductions, Holly. Keep ‘em coming.