Some companies strive to provide healthy snacks for employees, but Minneapolis-based Haberman & Associates goes about 10 steps further, with an employee garden that abounds with organically grown vegetables.
Started in 2009, the plot of land in Delano — nicknamed The Dude Ranch — allows any staff members and their families to work the soil and harvest the bounty, with vegetables distributed free. (check out SGT's previous coverage here).
How do they keep it going strong, particularly when many employee gardens suffer from dwindling interest and budget cuts? Here's a handful of reasons:
1. There's a bigger agenda. Growing organic vegetables helps to promote healthier eating and wellness, but corporate communications manager Jennifer Weismann notes that there's more to the garden than just weeding and more weeding. She says, "The reinvention of the food system is a key part of our agency's mission, as we work with clients to limit escalating health care costs, and to support food access and security, child nutrition, community development, and personal health."
2. It goes beyond team building. Retreats and corporate strategy workshops may have their place, but if you really want to bond with your colleagues, try harvesting carrots together (spoiler: it's harder than it looks). "It's great for team building, and helps families to get to know each other," says company founder Fred Haberman.
3. Giving is part of the equation. Although employees have plenty of fresh food choices as a result of the garden, Haberman makes sure that at least part of the harvests are donated. Not only do employees feel happy about growing their own dinner, but they also feel great about providing meals for others, too.
4. They share advice as well as veggies. Employee gardens boast enormous benefits, and it's not surprising that Haberman — a man who dubbed his company "modern storytellers" — would work to spread the word to other organizations. He created a site, Employer Sponsored Gardens, which encourages other companies to share stories about their gardens, and offers tips on getting started.
5. Employees have changed their lifestyles. Creating a company garden is a lovely idea, but if no one uses the produce, momentum wanes. At Haberman, participation keeps increasing, because employees have found that they cook more as a result of the fresh food, and that leads to some serious recipe swapping, healthy meal discussion, and enthusiasm for wellness. Without deep employee involvement, the community-type garden would likely turn into a pet project destined to wither. But the love for fresh food and rich soil keeps going strong, Weismann says (and it doesn't hurt that the office recently got two huge buckets of homegrown, unpopped popcorn).
Haberman's dream of changing the food system, one healthy bite at a time, seems to be taking root, and he's ready for many more seasons of weeding, cultivating, and eating. "We see this as our passion, as part of our purpose, and who we are," he says, then breaks out into a smile. "Plus, we get tomatoes."
Elizabeth Millard is the editor of Simple, Good and Tasty and has worked as a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities for 15 years. Got a lead on some favorite local products, cafe owners, or farmers? Reach her at email@example.com