Gardening in office backyard, vegetables near workplace, vegetable growing, IBM, garden plots,Embassy Services
For Subramanyam D., an IBM employee, tea breaks have become more interesting. Over the past month, the 35-year-old has been going to a small garden plot next to his office building where he’s growing spinach and tomato. In the same block, there are 70 other garden plots, each measuring 16-30 sq. ft. During lunch hours and tea breaks, IBM employees mill around their plots, busy weeding, watering or harvesting their produce. All this is happening in one of Bengaluru’s busiest tech parks—the Embassy Manyata Business Park. There are over 700 such plots spread across the one-acre tech park.
An initiative of Embassy Services, an arm of real estate developer Embassy Group, Urban Green was introduced two years ago and has since become popular among people who work in the area. Till date, over 2,000 people have registered to be owners of gardening plots, which are allocated, for three months, on first-come, first-serve basis. No fees charged and the plots are rotated among the users.
A trend in the making?
In the West, corporate-backed employee gardens are quite popular. Companies like Google, Yahoo and PepsiCo encourage employees to engage in gardening as a way to boost their mood and productivity.
Research has also shown that gardening helps fight fatigue, stress, promotes healthy eating choices and increases productivity.
While majority of Indian corporates and startups are yet to wake up to the benefits of gardening, workers are enjoying the perks of spending time with plants. “I always spend about 10 minutes during the day at my plot. It’s a break from work and a good way to unwind instead of checking your phone or just chatting,” says Suresh Krishna, 29, a network engineer with HCL in Bengaluru, who has a plot inside the Manyata campus where he grows brinjal and coriander.
Productivity and well-being are not the only positives, though. For those like Subramanyam, who come from an agricultural background or have grown up in homes with gardens, taking time out from work during middle of the day is a way to connect with their roots. “My father is a farmer from Nagpur and he was grooming me to follow in his footsteps. When I moved to Bengaluru, I always wanted some land to cultivate but that’s not easy to do. With this plot, I am able to grow two types of vegetables at a time and there is some satisfaction in consuming what you grow,” says Subramanyam. He often barters his spinach for some coriander from his colleague, Lakshmi Narayana, who also grows carrots in his plot. “I get three-four palak bunches at a time. So I share it with colleagues,” Subramanyam says.
A block away from their plots is Krishna’s piece of land. A few days ago, he harvested a crop of methi (fenugreek). “In my hometown (Telangana), we had a garden where we grew bitter gourd, bottle gourd and other vegetables. I was always keen on gardening so I enjoy doing this,” says Krishna.
With the success of the Bengaluru model, Embassy introduced workplace gardening at Embassy TechZone in Pune as well last year. At present, there are more than 3,000 users across 800-plus plots in Embassy’s Bengaluru and Pune tech parks.
Gayatree Joshi, facility manager at Pune’s real estate company CBRE, has been gardening at the Pune tech park for close to a year now. “From tomatoes to chillies and green peas, I have been growing a number of vegetables,” says 37-year-old, who also has a terrace garden at home.
Since the employees may not always be able to tend to their plots on a daily basis, Embassy has created an ecosystem to support them. Seeds and saplings are provided to employees at no cost, and a horticultural team is always available to help with the daily upkeep of the plots. There are also vermicomposting pits at designated points where grass trimmings and dry leaves are composted and used as fertilizer.
Among the few companies that actively support workplace gardening is Bengaluru’s Sasken Technologies. Next to its office building, the company has a 1.5 acre organic farm. Sunil Dath, head (facilities and IT), says, “Based on our CFO’s (chief financial officer) recommendation, we decided to convert this barren land into a green space. Apart from growing vegetables such as corn, tomato, spinach, methi, beetroot, drumstick and papaya, we have pledged to plant 4,000 seed balls (seeds embedded inside a ball-shaped mixture of mud and manure, and then dried) every year.” He adds, “Employees take part in making these seed balls which are later distributed among them as well as neighbouring schools. With a 40% higher chance of germination, these can be scattered on barren landscapes or empty plots during the monsoons.”
While the farm is looked after by a team of gardeners, employees are encouraged to volunteer. Shailendra Patil, assistant facility manager who has been dubbed the “green man of Sasken”, says, “Every time a crop is harvested, employees come down to help clear the plot and sow seeds. Also, a lot of us just like to walk around the farm which is like a green oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle,” says Patil. They even sell the produce harvested to employees at nominal rates. “Every alternate weekend, a mandi is set up in the canteen and we send mailers informing everyone,” says Patil, adding that they sold about 800kg of produce last year.
Suresh Hedge, who is also part of the facility team, enjoys spending part of his lunch or tea break strolling through the farm. “We treat the garden as our own and it has also given a chance to bond with people across different departments when we come together for any gardening activity,” says Hedge.
While offices like Sasken have the luxury of space to set up gardens, many corporate establishments have to rely on indoor plants. At the Indian Autism Centre in Kolkata, employees haven’t let the lack of outdoor gardening space deter them from going green. The office has about 500 plants spread across the workspace. What’s more, the employees are given a desk plant when they join the organization. Sakhi Singhi, project coordinator at the centre, has three desk plants—aloe vera, aglaonema and dracena. “When I come in to work, I water my plants and clear dried leaves instead going over WhatsApp messages. I think it just helps clear your mind having this greenery around and prepares you better for the day ahead.”