As hungry workers nationwide kiss moral-boosting bonuses and office parties goodbye, at least one Minnesota employer is adding rather than subtracting a perk for his people: an organic vegetable garden for enjoying the fruits of their labor.
The Dude Ranch in Delano, Minn. (30 minutes outside downtown Minneapolis) is the brainchild of Fred and Sarah Haberman, Co-Founders of Haberman Public Relations. Based on a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, the plot is a working garden that has replaced the water cooler as the employee gathering place. But instead of spreading gossip, salaried locavores are spreading seeds, hoeing, raking and fertilizing fresh tomatoes, onions, potatoes, peppers, peas, green beans, herbs, broccoli, cabbage and beets.
“At the end of the day, it’s an experiment but one that is reaping incredible rewards,” a passionate Haberman tells me. “People are coming out to the farm, relaxing, learning where their food comes from and what it looks like when it is in the earth.”
Among the staff nurturing greener pastures are urban apartment dwellers in downtown Minneapolis who have never done any gardening or spent time in the country. This includes public relations executives representing Haberman clients like Organic Valley, Annie’s Homegrown, Country Choice Organics, NCGA (National Coop Grocers Assoc), and the Organic Trade Association, to name a sustainable few.
“It’s our mission to tell the stories of food pioneers in the organic and sustainable agriculture realm and working the garden lets us learn as much as possible about what our clients go through as they grow food so we can walk our talk, so to speak,” says Haberman.
That talk naturally includes corporate speak, such as “team-building opportunities” and “economic incentives” which are motivators for Haberman in landing this back-to-nature account for his underlings.
In terms of the big picture, he’d like to inspire other businesses to adopt his farm model and replace health care memberships and other perks with a field of dreamy crops. Hey, if the White House can do it, why not Pepsi?
“The idea of creating a movement, getting other companies to adopt this new employee benefit really excited me because so many good things happen,” he says. ” You create an opportunity for people to buy foods without pesticides; you get families meeting each other in a calm rural setting; and allow more conscious food choices.”
Haberman staffers, aided by a few experienced gardeners, will spend the summer and fall planting, tending and harvesting their own produce. Minneapolis is known for its big chills and strong weather patterns, and Haberman says he and the staff have been learning more about how that effects the crops as they play farmer on days off.
“The ground in the beginning of this year was so dry it was like concrete, three inches below the surface,” Haberman remembers. “Today it rained and all I could think was ‘thank God!’ You open your eyes and snap out of your urban bubble and understand what small farmers are going through. Their income is largely based upon the weather.”
But what if it turns out to be like Green Acres and the city folks decide to leave their concrete jungle for the rural paradise?
“I guess we’ll just have to change our business model,” jokes Haberman, who adds he many workers are now heading out to the garden without his directing the activities. “I put something in motion and it’s exciting as it takes hold.”
Meantime, the company is planning its first Dude Stock at the ranch this fall, a party to celebrate the harvest. Haberman put the concept on the web and the community is responding enthusiastically, including a chef from the organic restaurant, Corner Table, who has offered to come cook at the event.
“A lot of us are cooking what we are growing, but this guy is head and shoulders above the rest.”
Images: Haberman Modern Storytellers