Workplace bonds grow as garden blooms

Gardening is growing all kinds of benefits for the staff of Wightman & Associates, Inc.

Employees are connecting over eggplant blossoms, corn stalks, and marigolds under the lunchtime sky on the grounds of the company’s Benton Harbor office located at 2303 Pipestone Road in Benton Charter Township.

A workplace experiment in growing produce in raised beds has increased camaraderie among coworkers and fostered an atmosphere of sharing, the company reports. As the garden begins to yield tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, squash, watermelon, and other produce, the gardeners are sharing food with each other and other co-workers. Food for thought is also being shared, the company says.

It started with the idea that 16 staffers would tend eight raised bed gardens, surrounding a new picnic area. Now, co-workers interested in the progress of the crops and the team of workplace farmers all gather there during lunch breaks.

The GREEN team at Wightman & Associates, whose focus is on developing sustainable and environmentally conscious purchasing and operational practices within the company, came up with the idea for the workplace garden, believing it could be an educational tool for those interested in learning more about sustainable practices.

The team also anticipated the community garden could create new connections between employees, improve communication, and foster a greater sense of teamwork within the company.

Senior management approved the proposal and went on to purchase the materials to build the garden beds.

Eight, 4' x 8' raised garden beds, each to be shared by two employees, were planned.

"On a Friday evening this spring, we held a potluck and invited anyone who wanted to help us build the beds to join in. People brought their spouses and kids to help and it became a family activity. In three hours, the entire site was prepped, raised beds built and filled, the plot edged, and walkways mulched," says Ben Baker, landscape architect, and coordinator of the project. "I never dreamed we’d get it done so quickly."

Baker says they also put company skills to good use in creating the site. Landscape architects designed the plot, architects designed the raised beds, and members of the survey department staked the site to ensure the beds were in perfect alignment.

"We paired people who had no connection to raising food with those who are more experienced. We exchange information about companion plantings and gardening methods so everyone learns from the experience," Baker says. Employees work on the gardens before or after work, or during lunch breaks.

As food is being harvested, interest in the garden is increasing. More employees have asked to participate next year. The raised beds have even gained the attention of neighbors who stop to learn more about what the WAI team is doing.

With several weeks left in this growing season, there is already talk about expanding the project next year to include more employees and possibly provide each gardener with a larger garden plot.

"In the middle of this commercial corridor, there aren’t places for people to gather outside," says Baker. "Now almost every day, employees take their lunches outside and eat together. Even those without garden plots make use of it."

Source: Jamie Balkin, Wightman & Associates, Inc.
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