Tucked away in the urban sprawl of Oklahoma City, surrounded by steel beams and concrete trucks, there grows a secret garden.
Just east of its corporate campus, almost 300 employees of Chesapeake Energy have carved out their own urban wilderness. The Chesapeake Employee Garden is a full city block of perennials, vegetables, herbs, beehives, berries and more. Four gardening quadrants share a common area, including restrooms, a grape arbor, a patio and drinking fountains. Each quadrant has a tool shed, a produce-cleaning area and compost bins for that area’s teams. In short, it is the perfect oasis to shelter employees and their families from the bustle of city life. But this is a paradise with a purpose.
According to Employee Garden coordinator Kat Goodwin, the garden provides produce not only for family members of Chesapeake Energy employees; it also produced 500 pounds of fresh, sustainably grown vegetables for local food pantries during its first year. Moving into the garden’s second year, volunteers already are planning two additional food pantry production plots for 2011. In addition, more than 1,500 pounds of kitchen waste from restaurants on the Chesapeake campus were converted into compost for the garden. And with the health of both employees and the environment in mind, gardeners are thoroughly trained in sustainable growing practices and utilize a water-conserving drip irrigation system.
But the garden does more than just provide sustenance and eliminate waste. It is rapidly proving to be a favorite team-building exercise among Chesapeake employees, who are required to work together in groups, fostering ties not only within departments, but also across the entire campus.
The project, Goodwin says, was inspired by Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey K. McClendon, who took a shine to a similar undertaking while visiting a company in Canada.
“We have a strong tradition of attractive and detailed landscape design on our campus,” McClendon commented. “Artistically designed and meticulously maintained landscaping contributes to the beauty of our community and also creates an inspiring workplace where our employees and guests can enjoy and respect the outdoors.
“Our employee garden is a very welcoming place for family and friends to gather together to share, trade and donate their produce. I see our garden as an opportunity for our employees and their families to learn a greater understanding and respect for nature and the outdoors, while finding a greater appreciation for the community around us.”