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Michael Kelly’s top tips for putting food and food growing at the centre of your workplace

Food growing is a simple, practical way to really engage employees, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

WHEN I HEARD that my friend Kitty Scully was leaving her role as Head Gardener at Airfield in Dundrum, I assumed she was going to move on to manage an equally sublime garden estate elsewhere.

So it came as a surprise to hear that instead she was taking up a job as horticulturalist-in-residence at a Cork-based IT company called Voxpro. A horticulturalist in an IT company…  say what now?

Food-growing project

Some years ago an employee called David Humber convinced Voxpro to establish a food-growing project at their site near Mahon Point in Cork. The idea was to give workers something a little more creative and interesting to do at lunch time, and since lots of research shows that engaging with nature is good for mind, body and soul the veg garden forms a central pillar in the company’s employee wellness plan.

The project started with the building of a geodome (sort of a trendier version of a polytunnel) which acts both as somewhere to grow heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and hops, but also as the ultimate in bespoke meeting spaces.

Alongside the geodome are raised beds for growing edible flowers, a pizza oven and most recently, some laying hens. Kitty’s role is to expand the project further, with more and more of the idle green space on the site to be dedicated to growing and a whispered ambition to make the company canteen almost self-sufficient in veg.

At a time when the value of food is constantly under threat, I find it incredibly exciting that an IT company is putting home-grown food centre stage to the extent that they’ve hired their own food grower.

Voxpro aren’t on their own. Over the last few years we’ve noticed a massive increase in companies looking to establish GIY@Work initiatives. These initiatives can be as simple as helping employees to grow some grub on their desk (we call it ‘al-desko’ growing – perfect for quick growing salad leaves or a little chilli-pepper plant); putting in a bespoke veg patch in the workplace or connecting employees with local food growing projects in schools or community gardens.

So why the resurgent interest? 

Well, I think it’s because food growing is a simple, practical way to really engage employees in what can often be rather dry/aloof employee wellness or sustainability programmes. Food growing connects people with their food in a really meaningful way, and interacting with nature at work centres and grounds them.

Above all, it is a profoundly optimistic, purposeful and hopeful activity that takes you out of your head and in to your hands. God knows, we could all do with a bit more of that at work.

National Workplace Wellbeing Day takes place on Friday 13 April. For further details and ongoing support for getting healthier at work see: GIY.ie. GIY is a not-for-profit social enterprise supporting people to grow their own food for a healthier, happier and more sustainable life.

The Basics – A Healthy Workplace

Here are Michael Kelly’s top tips for putting food and food growing at the centre of your workplace.

1. Eat Together – Studies are suggesting that employees who don’t talk about topics other than work and eat at their desks may have poorer mental health than those who do. Supporting healthy eating is fantastic, but encouraging employees to take their lunch breaks and eat together is even better.
2. Get More plants – Research shows that certain plants act as air purifiers and also release oxygen into the atmosphere. This significantly improves indoor air quality and employee cognition. Good plants for indoors spaces include kale, mint, coriander, jade, bamboo and snake plants
3. Let’s Go Outside – Like plants, humans need regular exposure to UV light to encourage production of Vitamin D and elevate levels of serotonin in the body. This makes us feel happier and more content. Allowing for a few minutes of outside time during the day can dramatically increase employee wellbeing, particularly if there’s some nature involved (trees, plants, grass).
4. GROW Food -  Growing food is a mindful, hopeful, purposeful activity that reconnects you with food and health and can even be done your desk (we call it al-desko growing). Some of our partner companies have put in veg gardens where employees can do some food growing on their breaks – getting your hands in the soil is known to boost serotonin levels and gives employees access to delicious, seasonal, organic food.
5. Encourage volunteering – One guaranteed way to increase productivity in your office is to create a sense of purpose and belonging. Encouraging employees to contribute to something meaningful in the community, like a community garden, through paid staff leave, in or outside of normal working hours, is a fantastic way to develop organisational pride and improve employee morale.

Recipe of the Week – Rhubarb Cake

shutterstock_622372793 Source: Shutterstock/juefraphoto

Rhubarb is abundant at this time of year and this cracking recipe from The Cake Shelf turns it in to a lovely moist cake.

Ingredients

  • 400g rhubarb – washed and cut in to 2-inch pieces
  • 250g butter
  • 150g of ready to use custard
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsps of baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 300g caster sugar

Heat the oven to 180C and butter a 23cm cake tin. Add a layer of grease proof paper to the base and sides of your tin.

Place the rhubarb in a baking tray and coat with 50g caster sugar – cover with foil and pop in the oven for 20 mins. Meanwhile beat the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and baking powder together and then mix in the custard (save a little for later).

When the rhubarb has cooled pour your cake mix in to the cake tin and add your rhubarb to the top. Add the rest of the custard in rough dots over the surface.

Bake for 40 minutes – then add a layer of foil and bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown and spongy to the touch. Eat warm, served with custard.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. The GIY TV series GROW COOK EAT is on Wednesdays on RTE 1, presented by Michael Kelly and Karen O’Donohoe, growcookeat.ie.

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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