Growing Local Roots

Corporate Garden Gives Greens

 

By: Erin Gignac

 

Employees at a furniture design company in Holland, Mich. created a corporate garden last summer that garnered fresh produce for clients at a local domestic violence shelter and answered a call of crisis for help in more ways than one.

 

Escape. Go to a place the perpetrator will never think of going.

No relatives. No friends. No money.

Leave everything behind.   

 

Last year the Center for Women in Transition in Michigan answered 4,119 phone calls from their crisis line. Most of the calls were answered at night when victims used their phones in secret, said Sherry Martens, a volunteer services coordinator for the Center. Through government grants and private donors, the Center served 1,907 clients, including 965 walk-ins, according to their 2010 annual report.  

 

We’re an empowerment agency here,” Martens said. “We accept people at the door. They can pick and choose; it’s kind of a smorgasbord that way.”

The Center has become a smorgasbord of options for women in crisis in more ways than one.   Through a unique partnership with a local company that designs and sells furniture collections, the Center now empowers victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to make choices about nutrition for themselves and their families. The corporate garden at One Haworth Center provides clients at the Center with both fresh produce and a fresh opportunity.

 

They’ve been stripped [of] any kind of decision making or any kind of power,” Martens said. “Giving that back to them and empowering them to make their own decisions is a huge gift to them as well as learning tool.”

 

 Tomatoes, onions, spinach, potatoes, green beans, basil and four different types of peppers were some of the produce Haworth produced for the Center this summer in its on-site corporate garden. The Haworth garden yielded over 400 pounds of produce, said Katie Chapman, sustainability associate for Haworth.

 

 The raised beds were filled and seeds and sown in a “day of planting” in April, said Carol Moore, a product specialist for Haworth and participant in the garden. Every few days, members were assigned to gather boxfuls of produce for the Center.

 

The project was a natural collaboration. The corporate garden, originally planned solely for its members, fulfilled a need for sustainability and recovery, she said.

 

“It was gratifying to see stuff grow and know that food was being eaten,” Moore said. “People liked to donate it.”

 

 Haworth’s seven sustainability objectives include social responsibility and stakeholder engagement, which is where the idea to provide produce for the Center was rooted, said Chapman. Haworth employees found they could meet their objectives by inspiring members---and company executives---to get involved in the pilot year of their corporate garden.

 

This is really something to be proud of,” said Moore. “You felt good that it was being used.”

The clients said they enjoyed the fresh cucumbers on salads; the zucchini went into zucchini bread, according to an email Chapman received from the Center.

They also used the tomatoes for homemade salsa.  

 

“We grew a lot of the basics. We only had one zucchini plant, but it was unbelievable how much we got,” Chapman said. “We’ll be gone for a week, and the cucumber plant will have six cucumbers that are two feet long.”

With a tight weekly budget of $100 to feed nine families in the domestic violence shelter, the Center never has money to purchase fresh veggies, Martens said. But, produce from the Haworth gardens has provided healthy new options.

 

“If you wanted to put a salad together you had a lot of interesting organic things,” Martens said. “I can’t imagine that if you were on a really tight budget that you would ever get to explore or even try to experiment with.”

 

Most clients living in the domestic violence shelter are not from the greater Holland area because they’re in “flight,” Martens said. They have no money or possessions. Access to healthy food becomes difficult with little money and, sometimes, no transportation.

 

“Are you going to buy a whole bunch of fresh food and eggs and haul them in a backpack”? she said. “What are they going to look like by the time they get home, probably not good.”

 

 Fresh food is somewhat affordable, but all other variables have to match such as transportation, demographics and how often they can get to store, she said. The weight and volume of fresh food becomes an obstacle for public transit commutes on buses or trains.

 

When you’re talking about a population of people that are in crisis, the one thing they aren’t really worried about at that time is the fluff in life,” she said. “Fresh food is going to rot, and if they know they can only shop every other week, who’s going to buy fresh food?  Nobody. Processed food is packaged well.”

Programs for economically depressed families typically provide only basic foods like milk, eggs and butter before produce like tomatoes, spinach and onions.

 

 “Access to food is an issue,” said Gretchen Kauth, a registered dietician for the Sindecuse Health Center at Western Michigan University. “Certainly, there are people who don’t have enough access to healthy foods. Most of us have unending access to a lot of unhealthy foods.”

 

The corporate garden at Haworth, the Center was able to provide women and their families with additional healthy choices.The Center did not restrict the amount of vegetables their clients chose. No pre-packaged price tags, just empowerment through choice, Martens said.

Like everything we do here it might be the smallest of gesture, and it was the exact right thing at the right time for the right person and it made all the difference,” Marten said. “It’s that one time, that one if-they-only-knew-what-it-meant-to-me moment.”