Want to keep employee morale up during tough economic times? Consider planting some seeds.
According to Rose Hayden-Smith, master gardener adviser/University of California Cooperative Extension and Ventura County farm adviser, the potential benefits that can be reaped from a credit union garden can range from increased loyalty to reduced absenteeism and greater productivity.
"Credit unions are precisely the kind of institutions that should be doing this sort of program," said Hayden-Smith. "At a time when staffers are working harder for less, whether due to furloughs or an across the board pay cut, providing a garden can help you build company loyalty by demonstrating to employees that their sacrifices and effort are valued."
She said in addition to the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, a workplace garden can serve as a rallying point where staffers can interact and bring their families.
Hayden-Smith added, "You don't have to go overboard. If your credit union is in an urban area or space is limited, try container gardens. You would be amazed at the amount of food that can be grown."
Since 2007, Philadelphia Federal Credit Union has been making use of a large parcel of land surrounding its operations center to provide produce to staffers and the local nonprofit organization Aid for Friends.
"From the beginning we thought of this as a team-building project that would empower our employees to take on a group project and realize the benefits from the fruits of their labor," said PFCU Communications Specialist Karen Eavis. "We also thought we could donate the fruits and vegetables to help Aid for Friends in their mission to prepare and provide meals for elderly shut-ins."
Eavis said it was decided that departments would plant their own individual gardens and would designate employees to tend to the fruits and vegetables. For the first year, it was a trial run and most departments planted tomatoes, peppers and herbs because of the space restrictions. Garden plots have expanded to now include cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, corn and even watermelon.
The initial investment consisted of purchasing and installing a fence to prevent any pests from invading, and to kick off the project the HR department, presented each department with a basket of tools to help with planting. A PFCU employee donated a tiller to prepare the plots, and each department was given a budget to purchase supplies such as stakes or fertilizer and plants for their garden.
Eavis says employee participation can range from actually planting the garden, harvesting the crops or if they aren't hands-on, purchasing the fruits and vegetables from the PFCU Farmers Market at its operations center.
"We also try to make the experience fun. For example, we had a watermelon raffle where employees had to guess the weight of a watermelon from the garden to win a prize. What's great is the proceeds from each year's crops has been matched by the PFCU board and donated to Aids for Friends."
"It is a very rewarding experience to have our garden recognized by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society especially when you know that meals are being prepared for the elderly shut-ins and that a donation was also being made as a result of our efforts," said Eavis. "Employees have benefited from the experience of working alongside their co-workers to plant seedlings and nurture them until it's time to harvest."
Hayden-Smith said credit unions interested in creating their own employee garden should start with a small committee of staffers who are interested in gardening. From there, determine what type of garden would best meet employees' needs. She said it doesn't have to be high-end, as raised beds can be constructed within minutes and are available for less than $50.
"What I do in my own garden is use self-watering grow boxes that cost about $30 each, and it can be packed to produce enough food to feed a family," said Hayden-Smith. "An employee garden can not only provide a place of relaxation while promoting teamwork and building loyalty, but it can actually add value and add a benefit in a way that is really meaningful."