Grow in Your Job

4 tips to help you start a community garden at work

February 28, 2011

Although the Nature’s Path garden was initiated by the company’s president, workplace gardens don’t have to start at the top. If you are an employee who enjoys gardening, ask for the green light to set up a community garden at your workplace. Here are four tips “from the top” to help make it a success.

1. Begin small and establish a convenient garden site.
Ideally, the garden should be on company property—whether on adjacent land, in containers on a deck, or even on the company roof. It that’s not possible, look into renting space from a local community garden. Last year, Independent School Management, a private school management consulting firm in Wilmington, Delaware, put in three raised beds and a high trellis for vertical gardening on company land. The staff planted only vegetables that could be handpicked, that didn’t require cooking, and that would produce abundantly—such as tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, small melons, radishes, and greens and herbs, reasoning that employees could easily harvest ripe vegetables and eat them minutes later in the lunchroom. CEO Roxanne Higgins says that the garden is seen as an extension of ISM’s wellness program.


2. Have an experienced gardener spearhead the program.
Key to your garden’s success is having someone knowledgeable about vegetable gardening who can prioritize tasks and lead the other employees. You can often find someone on staff who is qualified. If not, hire someone to at least launch your program. “In 2009, we invested in hiring a farm manager to take us from zero to a working garden,” says Eric Henry, president of TS Designs, a T-shirt manufacturing and design company in Burlington, North Carolina. “We took over the garden ourselves last year.”

3. Get organized (and determine your resources).
Will the company provide gardening materials (e.g., tools, soil, mulch), or will employees be expected to “pitch in”? Will you start your own plants from seed, or purchase them? How will gardening time be scheduled, and who will maintain the calendar and chore chart? A little organizing up front will help ensure a successful program. At TS Designs, all employees are required to work in the garden 30 minutes a week, paid. The harvest is set out on a table for the employees to share. Eric Henry creates a work board in the company break room, and employees put their names next to the chores they want to do each week.

4. Make it fun.
Share recipes. Experiment with different varieties to try new things. Post photos on the company website. At the Subaru of America headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, six teams of employees maintain six 13-by-20-foot garden plots in the Share the Love Garden. All the garden harvest is donated to the New Vision Homeless Day Center in Camden. “Make sure you have buy-in from the employees,” says Sandra Capell, community services manager, “and that they understand their role in caring for the garden. It makes it easier to get the project off the ground.”