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Corporate Gardens?

May 27, 2010

In yesterday’s Grand Rapids Press there was a story in the business section headlined, “Why West Michigan firms say corporate gardening is good for business.”

The article features two local businesses that have decided to grow a garden that employees will take care of. One of the businesses is Progressive AE, a company that does design and consulting work for private businesses and government agencies. The idea to do a garden came about at one staff meeting and they hope gardening will be a community building exercise.

The other business is a restaurant in Grand Rapids called The Winchester. The employees will also be doing the garden work and what they harvest will end up in the menu.

At one level it seems like a positive thing when people get together and grow a garden. However, when one reads the rest of the article it raises questions about is behind corporate gardening and why this is news at all.

The Press article cites a New York Times story about larger corporations who have recently begun setting up gardens at their business facilities around the country. The Press even includes a side-bar in the article, which lists the corporations involved in gardening – PepsiCo, Google, Yahoo, Sunset magazine, Kohl’s, Toyota, Aveda and Best Buy.

These are all multi-million or multi-billion dollar corporations which have made huge profits and in some cases exploiting people and the planet. PepsiCo products (soft drinks and snack foods) have contributed negatively to public health and as well as exploitation of natural resources. Google and Yahoo have made billions off the Internet, a system, which was funded by public money during its research and development period.

Best Buy sells high-end electronics, which have not only contributed to making people less engaged in civil society, but has contributed to serious environmental destruction through the production and distribution of such products. Toyota produces cars, which is a major source of carbon emissions and has a history of labor abuses.

This quick look at these companies should lead us to ask what real good is being done by having a few employees grow a garden? Is their decision to have corporate gardens another form of greenwashing, where businesses attempt to distract the public from their inherently destructive practices by adopting something that can be perceived as being green? At one point it is important for journalists (and all of us) to ask why we should salute a company like PepsiCo for starting an employee vegetable garden, when they are trying to get the rest of us to eat unhealthy food products.

These contradictions are further illustrated in the Press article when they cite a study done by the National Gardening Association (NGA), a study funded by Scotts Miracle Grow Co. Miracle Grow is known to be toxic for the soil and for plants that humans will eat, which obviously does not support healthy, organic gardening practices. Not only did Scotts Miracle Grow fund the garden study the article cites, they are one of the NGAs major corporate sponsors.

If the Press really wanted to present information on the real benefits to gardening they could have cited the Rodale Institute, which advocates organic gardening in a truly sustainable model or City Farmer News, which highlights a variety of urban gardening/farming projects across the country.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 27, 2010 11:02 pm

    One of the questions I had about the Press article is what the various companies are doing with their produce from corporate gardens. Are they contributing to some sort of food justice organization, a food bank or a community co-op? In the case of the two Grand Rapids examples, the Progressive one seems clear: employees work voluntarily; the produce will be used for meals for them and/or contributions to food banks. But what about at the Winchester? Here, the produce is used to boost restaurant profits–the business gets cheap vegetables, lowering their own cost, and still offers them via meals at tremendous mark-ups. Are wait staff paid for their gardening time? Do they have to choice whether to participate or not? As usual, the Press creates more questions than answers.

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