Garden Planning

There are many ways to grow food on corporate campuses. Popular methods include:

  • Container Gardens: These gardens may include windowsill boxes, hanging baskets, and stand-alone planters with soil.
  • Raised Bed Gardens: Raised beds are higher than ground level, with the soil mounded or surrounded by a frame to keep it in place.
  • In-Ground Garden: The “typical” garden—a plot is dug or tilled to remove plant matter and amendments are added to the soil.
  • Hydroponic Gardens:  Hydroponic gardens use water and nutrient-rich solutions as a growing medium instead of soil. Leafy greens and herbs grow especially well in these environments.

The available space on campus, your desired crops, and staff capacity will inform what kind of garden to grow. For example, if a small indoor space is available, consider a hydroponic system or growing containers of herbs. If your dream is to harvest hundreds of pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers to feature in the onsite café, try a raised bed garden or an in-ground garden managed by an outside grower. And if the vision is to have a community garden where associates tend their own crops, consider a collection of small raised beds.

Whichever type of garden you choose, it is easiest to start out with a small growing space and then add additional components as time allows. Consider starting with a pilot project and then taking a step back to assess its time and energy requirements. Scaling up is always easier than scaling down.


Additional Resources:

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith

Hydroponics for the Home Gardener by Stewart Kenyon

Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew

Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Elliot Coleman


The desired size and mission of the corporate campus farm or garden will inform who should be involved with its day-to-day management and in what capacity. A small garden with a few containers of herbs can be managed by a couple of dedicated volunteers or perhaps a food service team. Typically, these gardens serve an educational purpose and aim to enhance the quality of campus environment over maximizing quantity of product produced. The Cafe Target Garden is an example of a small garden managed by a food service team.

If the goal is to create a larger garden that yields greater quantities of produce to be featured in a campus café or other venue, additional stakeholders will likely need to be involved.  Hiring a part-time gardener or consultant for even a couple of hours a week to keep the plants pruned, weeded, and watered can make all the difference. Or maybe an onsite associate is passionate about coordinating the garden efforts and can include it in his or her job description. For these larger growing spaces, also consider consulting the Grounds or Facilities Departments if applicable. These staff members may be able to keep tabs on the garden or water during weekends when others may not be present. (If you pursue this possibility, be aware that caring for a garden is different than landscaping and the grounds crew may need hands-on instruction.) The Kohl’s Garden is an examples of a garden managed with the assistance of part-time consultants or onsite associates.

As more groups and parties get involved with the garden, remember that team management is a task in and of itself. Collaborative projects require frequent communication to ensure all are working towards a collective vision and know their roles.


Garden Design and Management Partners:

Grow Your Lunch:  Based in San Francisco, CA, Grow Your Lunch offers capacity building workshops and on-site professional development for corporate campus farms and gardens across the country.

Freight Farms: Freight Farms uses up-cycled freight container to create hydroponic growing systems. The company is based in Boston, MA.

Cityblooms: Based in Santa Cruz, CA, Cityblooms creates “modular micro-farms” that use hydroponic systems to grow fresh produce in under-utilized urban space such as rooftops, parking lots, and patios. 

StartOrganic: StartOrganic is a Bay Area company which specializes in building and maintaining organic vegetables gardens in homes and local companies.

Securing Space

If your company has a Facilities or Grounds Department, start there. Facilities managers usually know what land is open, if it is earmarked for any particular use or new construction, the site history, and whether there is access to water and power. If there are not any outdoor spaces available, consider growing food indoors in containers or hydroponically. You will need to find a space with enough light (natural or artificial) and adequate temperatures to support plant growth.

When deciding between potential locations, keep in mind factors such as corporate campus aesthetics and transportation to and from your space.  Unlike a manicured lawn, a garden will evolve throughout the seasons and may not look neat and tidy all of the time. While a high profile position on campus may maximize the number of people who see and interact with the garden, these positions may also come with constraints. It is essential to understand how a garden fits into the corporate campus’s overall look and feel before breaking ground. In addition, consider how people and produce will get to and from the garden. If the food service team is managing the space, the closer you can locate it to the kitchen the better. When the garden is constantly in sight, the garden team will be more likely to remember to harvest that mesclun mix for the salad bar at lunch.

Soil Health

Contaminated land can be a serious issue on vacant property. Before performing your own soil test, check with the Facilities or Grounds Department to see if a soil test for the space has already been conducted. If one has not been done recently, inexpensive soil tests can be conducted via mail at several labs across the country. Your state’s Cooperative Extension office may offer free testing or have additional resources. If soil contamination is an issue on your campus, consider raised beds lined with landscaping cloth, hydroponic systems, or container gardening.

For new growers without much technical background, amending soil with nutrients can be a helpful but intimidating task. From lime to fish emulsion and bone meal, there are many options to choose from and gardeners each have their own preferences. The good news is that most nutrient deficiencies can be fixed with the addition of healthy compost. Check out the resources below for some how-to guides for amending your own soil.


Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Elliot Coleman

The Rodale Book of Composting by Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin

Deciding what to Grow

Make the most of the garden by growing varieties of produce that can be easily utilized by the end user and are adapted to your climate’s growing conditions. A campus garden will typically not produce enough onions or potatoes to make a dent in an onsite café’s needs, so why not grow something new and exciting?

A few ideas include:

  • Special varieties of mint and basil for agua fresca
  • Lesser known vegetables like kohlrabi and chicory to expose associates to new flavor profiles
  • Italian herbs for sauces and stocks
  • Easy to grow crops for the beginning gardener


The Farmer’s Almanac—In print and online, the almanac contains planting dates for various vegetables based on geographic location.

Kitchen Garden Planner—Try out this free, user friendly garden planning program from the Gardener’s Supply Company.  Contains sample plans for raised bed gardens.

Organic Gardening MagazineCheck out the online site for helpful hints about growing specific plants.

Growing Community

For big projects such as getting your spring crops in the ground (or in the container), consider making it a team-building event. Put up announcements around the office and get a dozen associates together for a lunch-time planting event with refreshments each spring. It’s an opportunity to work together collaboratively in a different setting and spruce up the garden in the process.

Other outreach ideas include:

  • Garden workshop series: Host educational workshops for your fellow associates on topics such as garden planning, composting, cooking with garden produce, and preserving the harvest.
  • Host a monthly workday and potluck, and have a list of farm tasks that can be done by beginning gardeners.
  • Coffee breaks: Host short meetings and breaks in the garden to let associates know about this workplace resource.