Linda Michniewicz runs her hands over a Thai lemon basil plant and admires the lettuce that’s growing in the garden at her office in Barton, where she’s the program director for Northeast Kingdom Community Action Head Start and Early Head Start. Their central office is on a residential street, and the backyard of their building gives the eight-person staff enough space to try out gardening at work.
"We have a small backyard, maybe a medium backyard. And in our garden, what we decided to do was a raised bed garden," says Michniewicz. The garden is shaped like a large horse-shoe, which makes it easy to reach all the plants, and the entire raised garden bed is three-and-a half feet off the ground, so there’s no stooping over to pick vegetables or pull weeds.
So far this summer, Michniewicz and her officemates have enjoyed lots of leafy greens. "We wanted a garden that was a salad garden so we could basically come down at lunchtime and pick our lunch," she says. "So we wanted lots of mixed greens. But with the generous grant we got, we also got a lot of seeds too, and we didn’t want those to go to waste.”
The grant was from the Vermont Community Garden Network’s “Green Thumbs At Work Program.” Seven small businesses received grants this year to start employee gardens. Michniewicz’s office received $500 toward the supplies to build the garden, a gift certificate to Gardener’s Supply for tools, a donation of seeds to plant, and lots of technical advice. Add to that the garden expertise that her staff already had, and Michniewicz says they have a lot going on in the garden. "Cucumbers, carrots, beets," she says, scanning the bed to remember what's planted there. "Pea pods and peas, radishes, onions, celery. I've never tried planting celery before."
But the produce itself is only part of the benefit of employee gardens. A few of the staff of NEKCA Head Start sit at the table in their office where they normally eat lunch. The garden is is also an outlet for stress, says Lynne Forcier. "You know, you go down there and it's just like, everything that was bothering you when you were upstairs has gone. Because you're playing in the garden, you're pulling weeds, you're picking vegetables and looking at how things are growing," Forcier says. "And it makes you forget about all the stresses that are going on in side the building."
Julie Lamoureux is the lucky one whose second-floor office window overlooks the backyard garden. But Forcier says that doesn’t stop everyone else from checking out the view. "The majority of the people that work here, the first thing they do [in the morning] is they go to Julie's office and walk to the window and see what the garden looks like this morning," Forcier says, as Julie laughs and nods in agreement. "So it's like a daily ritual, everyone goes to the window to see what the garden's doing!"
Building and tending the employee garden has one other benefit, too. "I think it gives us something more to talk about other than work," says Forcier. Lamoureux agrees adding, "What an awesome to bring us all together to and to have a common thing to work on together."
At mid-summer, more and more vegetables are ripening every week. But this office is already thinking about how to overwinter their employee garden and keep it going for seasons to come.