Woman picking produce

Urban farms give employee engagement and wellbeing a sustainable boost

This article was first published on the personal LinkedIn account of Cyril Viéville, Open Innovation Manager for Sodexo

What if your day at the office included moments spent reconnecting with nature? What if you were encouraged, quite literally, to stop and smell the flowers? What if you felt you belonged to an engaged community?   

For the growing number of businesses with urban farm installations, this is the workday they’re building for their employees. At Sodexo, we believe that urban farms are the “green key” to giving employee engagement and wellbeing a sustainable boost.  

Our clients often ask us how to innovate their employee meal offer. They’re searching for ways to make food a differentiator that will strengthen their employer brand and help them attract and retain top talent. In parallel, many of them are also looking for ways to play a more active and sustainable role in their local communities. 

In our experience, we’ve found that urban farming has a lot to offer on both fronts. 

Raising Awareness: Urban Farming as a Learning Opportunity

Urban farming brings both traditional and non-traditional food production into the city. To maximize production on smaller plots of land or on rooftops, they employ cutting-edge productions methods like hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaponics. To reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides, they rely on centuries-old traditional farming practices. For daily care and harvesting, they depend on community involvement. 

In brief, urban farms at the office are a fantastic learning opportunity for employees and for the entire community! 

First, they address our growing disconnect from food sources by transforming passive consumers into active producers. Individuals get to discover the flavor of ultra-fresh, seasonal and local heirloom fruits and vegetables – and appreciate how they compare to the varieties most commonly available at supermarkets.  

They also help build the community’s understanding of health and nutrition. Individuals gain hands-on knowledge of how fresh, organic fruits and vegetables are the foundations of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, studies have shown that urban farms even help change consumer habits.  

Finally, they raise awareness on critical environmental issues. Urban farms give individuals first-hand knowledge on the effects of food waste and the carbon impact of a non-local diet. They even provide the venue for workshops and other activities to engage and educate local residents, students, seniors, and school children on these issues. 

Enhancing Engagement: Urban Farming as a Lever to Increase Collaboration

Just as they bring individuals together to learn about and participate in shared experience, urban farms build a sense of community. They provide a shared space and experience for employees from every echelon of the corporate hierarchy. And they help every employee feel they’re truly a participatory member of their local community. 

Studies have shown that inclusive work environments, like the ones supported by urban farming installations, improve employee innovation and creativity. When employees from varied backgrounds come together, they bring different perspectives, ideas and solutions. And when they’re given the opportunity to contribute to a sustainable ecosystem, they feel a boost of motivation.  

Increasing Wellbeing: Urban Farming and Personal Growth

Actively gardening, or even just passively enjoying green spaces as a place to relax, have been linked to stress reduction. So, one of the biggest benefits of an urban farm at the office is a less stressed – and thus more productive workforce. 

But by providing a space for social interaction and learning, urban farms also create an environment where employees learn new skills, gain new experiences, and contribute to their own self-development. They feel proud in their sense of accomplishment and personal growth.

Home-Grown Expertise

Sodexo’s urban farming expertise first started to grow in our own “backyard” at the Sodexo Headquarters in Issy-les-Moulineaux. We’ve led by example, hosting a 150 square-meter rooftop vegetable garden, supplying our corporate restaurant with fresh produce, and engaging almost 25% of on-site staff.  We’ve nourished that expertise by building relationships with innovative startups like Vaversa in the Netherlands and Urbainculteurs in Canada. Most importantly, we’ve cultivated our urban farming expertise working hand-in-hand with clients like GSK, who’ve used their urban farming installations to educate about preserving our natural environment.

“In a world where sustainability preoccupies policy makers and private citizens alike, where the divide between personal and professional lives continues to blur, this experience gives us a competitive advantage and adds credibility to our position as an innovative, forward-thinking player in the food services industry.” Enorig Lasserre, Sales Development Manager, Sodexo

At Sodexo, we believe that urban farms are a catalyst for building a happier, healthier, and more engaged workforce.

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