Out of the Office

This workplace garden in Richmond, British Columbia, offers employees the chance to get outside and play in the dirt.

February 28, 2011

For decades, I have experienced immense gratification in transforming barren places into fertile gardens. The company I founded, Nature’s Path, with its humble beginnings in 1967, is now a third-generation enterprise offering breakfast foods and snacks made from certified-organic ingredients. The business is based on an “always organic” commitment and a triple bottom line: social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and financial viability. As Nature’s Path grew, the number of employees, known as team members, increased into the hundreds. Perhaps it’s our urban culture, but the connection between healthy soil, sun and rain, and good food isn’t always obvious to people. So I encourage team members to learn firsthand how healthy food comes from living soil.

Six years ago, we built a garden for the staff on company property. Located at the back of our head office, it measures about 2,400 square feet. Participation is open to the approximately 100 people who work here. To build it, we brought in a backhoe to remove a bramble and weed patch, installed a culvert, covered a ditch, and installed raised beds filled with fertile soil, compost, and manure—all organic, of course.


We also built a three-compartment compost bin, each section 5 feet square and lined with wire mesh. All kitchen scraps, vegetable matter, and leaves end up there, providing food for the earthworm population and microbial life. Once fully digested, the rich compost is added to the vegetable beds, which with each passing year improve their yields. Peas, beans, lettuce, peppers, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes (of course), and even raspberries fill the plots. This year, we will introduce a beehive and plant a cover crop of red clover to encourage the bees to hang around the garden.

Once up and running, the garden was turned over to the staff to organize and maintain; each department—sales and marketing, finance, human resources, operations, IT and technical services—is responsible for its own bed. Nature’s Path supplies tools, seeds, and plants, and the staff is welcome to take produce home. Participation is greatest on garden cleanup days; in between, about 25 hard-working team members keep the garden humming along.

Today, the garden is abundant and beautiful. And we’ve gotten better at gardening collectively in the process. That’s what community and experience is all about. At our Blaine, Washington, plant, the 150 to 200 team members have also put in a community garden on spare land, and are starting to get the hang of it. Our Wisconsin operation plans to put in a garden, also. This is all on top of the two large organic grain farms we own and operate cooperatively with local farmers in Saskatchewan. I’m glad to see my son Arjan and daughter Jyoti, who work in the company, also passionately gardening.

Apart from the organic produce each person enjoys, gardening is one of the healthiest exercises known. When we turn compost, till the soil, weed, and water, we benefit: We leave the soil better than we found it; we breathe fresh air and move to the rhythms of gardening; we enjoy community spirit; we watch firsthand the cycle of nature—from seed to mature plant, to harvest and the sharing of bounty. Having a company organic garden is a group effort, though much of the work inevitably falls on a few shoulders. To garden, we have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and get our boots dirty. For me, the company gardens are a natural extension of a love for nature and its wonderful bounties, as well as, in the words of the Persian poet Saadi, “a delight to the eye and a solace for the soul.”