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The corporate garden: good CSR, or cheap employee benefit?

It turns out colleges aren’t the only ones jumping into the community garden craze: according to yesterday’s New York Times, companies from PepsiCo to Best Buy to Kohl’s are putting in gardening spaces for employees to use.

So, what’s driving this movement towards corporate gardens? A push from employees? Sometimes. A desire for fresh food for the company cafeteria? Occasionally. But the big motivator? “As companies have less to spend on raises, health benefits and passes to the water park, a fashionable new perk is emerging: all the carrots and zucchini employees can grow.”

Remember when Rebecca offered Woody a title instead of a raise on Cheers (c’mon, now… show your age)? Looks like garden plots are the new titles…

Now, don’t get me wrong… I love the idea of community garden plots at workplaces. And the NYT article notes all sorts of good things that come from these gardens in some cases: food donations to local pantries and shelters, temporary elimination of office hierarchies, and even cheap produce for the employees themselves.

In order for those benefits to accrue, however, employees have to want to garden. At Pepsi, for instance, that doesn’t seem to be the case: “…most of the plots are still weedy and empty.” Even at very green Aveda, supervisors have create “chore calendars” for the gardens, because employees aren’t going out to take turns at weeding on their own.

I have no doubt that “community garden” appears in these companies’ corporate social responsibility reports… and I applaud those companies who’ve created gardening space (and even time to tend it) in response to employee requests. But I’m not sure how “green” or “responsible” a gardening program is that comes out of the benefits department…

Does your company have a community garden? If so, where did the idea originate? And are people actually using it? Love to hear your insights…

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42647587@N06/ / CC BY 2.0 (and, for the record, this is not a corporate garden… but you get the idea)