Cultivating an experience

August 19, 2015 -  By
The Farm, a 5,500-square-foot organic garden, proves Gachina “walks the talk.”

The Farm, a 5,500-square-foot organic garden, proves Gachina “walks the talk.”

A landscape firm’s large garden serves its staff and the community.

Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, Calif., has practiced sustainable gardening as part of some of its maintenance contracts for nearly a decade. It naturally parlayed those skills into its own project: a large garden area it calls The Farm.

The Farm, launched in January 2014, is located about three blocks away from Gachina’s headquarters. The one-acre lot is divvied up into company parking, a supply holding yard and the 5,500-square-foot farm. This project hasn’t only been an employee learning experience, it’s also been an excellent community outreach opportunity.

“As stewards of the environment, we felt the necessity to nurture and protect local and migratory wildlife in our daily practices,” says Stacie Callaghan, customer experience and marketing manager. “This approach has been performed in our own vegetable garden as well as promoted through our large clientele.”

Those efforts have included developing this site without the use of any pesticides to control insects, diseases or weeds. It’s been an opportunity to train employees on the use of organic practices, while also “respecting the natural habitat and the existing wildlife.”

Of course, not being able to apply any herbicide for weed control has posed challenges, such as a lot of hand pulling, says Callaghan. But volunteers’ enthusiasm about cultivating an organic site has made it doable.

Volunteers include students from JobTrain, a vocational training program from which Gachina rents space for The Farm. Three salaried and four hourly Gachina employees also support the garden, to the tune of about 20 man-hours per week.

“We were able to reclaim the weeded lot by sheet mulching the entire site,” says Callaghan. “This had reduced weeding by 80 percent. We then brought in organic garden soil and compost to build beds on top of the cardboard. The unplanted areas were then mulched with recycled arbor mulch. All of this has helped to reduce weeds and conserve water.”

LM0815-gachinaAnother challenge has been the lack of automated irrigation, which caused some of the plants to die prematurely.

“The volunteers on this project stepped in,” says Callaghan. “Currently we’re installing an easy-to-move-around drip system, which allows us to seasonally change crops.”

Callaghan acknowledges there has been a learning curve for many employees, as they get more comfortable with organic practices.

“My compost pile disappeared twice because they had ‘cleaned up,’” Callaghan says, laughing. “I also had some guys help with the artichoke division, and they took out my mature plants and left only the little starters. But it’s all a learning experience.”

Callaghan says that in addition to being a learning opportunity for employees, The Farm has given the company a chance to show clients that the company truly “walks the talk.” She adds that The Farm has helped increase clients’ confidence and they have a physical site to show future clients who are interested in this kind of work. 
The company spends about $3,000 per month in labor and materials 
on the garden.

“Clients are looking to us to provide them with cutting edge solutions and options when it comes to a lower carbon footprint,” Callaghan says. “We now have a physical site to practice and develop some of those solutions.”

Gachina has also partnered with a local culinary class. Every Monday, the students harvest the vegetables/fruits with a chef. Volunteers also harvest produce, which is delivered to three of the company’s branch locations to be distributed to employees. Extras go to the volunteers.

“They are getting a first-hand learning experience,” says Callaghan. “Overall, it’s been a great experience for everyone involved.”

Photo: Gachina Landscape Management

About the Author:

Payton is a freelance writer with eight years of experience writing about the landscape industry.

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