Employee Garden Grows Vegetables, Knowledge, and Friendships

Black Hills Surgical Hospital LogoBlack Hills Surgical Hospital is a physician-owned hospital located in Rapid City. Their mission is to be the leader in providing the highest quality healthcare, recovery care, and diagnostic imaging services in an environment that is safe, convenient, and comfortable for the patients, their families, employees, and the healthcare practitioners who use the facilities. Black Hills Surgical Hospital applied for and received a WorkWell Mini-Grant through the South Dakota Department of Health. The goal of the grant is to provide South Dakota worksites with funding and resources to send a positive, supportive message and promote healthy lifestyles by preventing, reducing, and managing chronic disease through workplace environment and/or policy change.

The following is Black Hills Surgical Hospital’s success story about their employee garden:

The focus of our WorkWell Grant was to develop an employee garden to encourage healthy eating by allowing our employees the opportunity to grow fresh herbs and vegetables and provide them to their families. The whole thing was a learning experience for everyone involved. From building the above-ground plots, to plowing for the in-ground plots, learning how to plant and what to plant together, and how to take care of the garden through the growing season.

We had a small committee that helped build the gardens and a few master gardeners that took the time to help those less comfortable with gardening. The project started in January with planning the design and determining when and how to build. We came up with designs and two possible locations. One in-ground and one above-ground plot. Luckily, our executives agreed to match the grant funds we received and we were able to do both locations.

We first designed the above-ground gardens and figured out what supplies we needed and then what was needed for the in-ground gardens. We purchased the wood and started building the above-ground gardens at our main hospital location. At the same time, a couple employees with big tillers started tilling up the area where the in-ground gardens would be at our business office. Once construction was done, we laid out the plots.

Employees could sign-up for a designated plot in the garden. At our main location (above-ground plots), employees could get a 4’x5’ plot and do plants that weren’t “viney” (squash, cucumbers, beans, etc). At our business office (in-ground plots), employees could have a 10’x10’ plot and could plant anything they wanted. Employees were asked to sign a simple contract with their plot as a form of accountability. We easily filled up all but 3 of our in-ground plots and those were going to be used by the company to plant pumpkins to use for staff at Halloween. Planting begun by employees who also brought their families out to learn and grow things.

The project was done in May in time for planting and grew all summer. The committee met frequently in the beginning to plan and prepare, but only a couple of times during the growing season. Employees with gardening knowledge stepped up to help out in a huge way. From giving advice to new gardeners and putting on classes, to recommending the best way to do fencing and water. Not many employees offer free garden plots to employees to grow their own food. Having our CEO and CFO behind us and encouraging us was a huge help! Employees loved the opportunity and we have many more that want to join in.

Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden

Our biggest barrier was getting water to the business office plot, but our employer was gracious enough to provide this at no cost for us. Other barriers were issues with animals that got in and ate the vegetation or employees that left during the growing season. Next year we will make some advancements to the in-ground plots to keep the animals out.

Our plots have been a huge success. One of the most exciting deliverables was the crops we had grown! We were able to produce pumpkins, corn, peppers, zucchini, squash, and the tomatoes were abundant. The pumpkins were used at our Urgent Cares for kids who came in close to Halloween. They were able to pick out a pumpkin and take it home.

Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden Picture of Black Hills Surgical Hospitals worksite garden

It was incredibly gratifying watching employees soak in the knowledge from our master gardeners and the excitement when they picked their crops and shared the photos. Our executive group had fun watching the crops grow outside of their windows and taste testing fresh veggies right from the vine. We are blessed to have a company that not only allowed us to start this project but also supplied the water for us to use.

We will continue our employee garden each year and plan on expanding the in-ground garden next year. We are excited to see how it turns out!

Our advise for other businesses…
“If you are thinking about starting a garden, just do it! Employees will be grateful and the gratification from seeing the crops grow and eating the fresh food is immense.”
~Kathy Lees, Black Hills Surgical Hospital Wellness Coordinator