From Office to Table: A Design Firm’s Urban Garden

This firm’s office garden is a reflection of its company culture, as well as the shared passions and values of the employees.

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A Sasaki summer BBQ. Image courtesy of Sasaki.

Two years ago, we started an urban garden on Sasaki’s patio in Watertown, Mass. With some help from local urban gardening experts, Green City Growers, our agriculture initiative continues to grow. What began as a few raised garden beds has blossomed into over a hundred milk crates-turned-planters, three egg-laying hens, a hot pink chicken coop, the beginnings of a pollinator garden, a composting initiative, and plans to house honey bees on the roof.

The Sasaki Garden is a reflection of our office culture, and the passions and values of the people we work with. As an interdisciplinary design firm, much of our work revolves around designing healthy, sustainable buildings and places that bring people together. When some of our avid gardeners and urban agriculture enthusiasts suggested we start a garden, we thought it would be a great way to create one of those places for our own office.

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The chicken coop. Images courtesy of Sasaki.

We used the knowledge and skills from our diverse, collaborative practice, to grow our garden. Landscape architects, urban planners, and life-long gardeners shared their professional and personal experience, and even supplied some chickens from their own gardens, to get this initiative off the ground. Some of our architects even got a chance to design and build a chicken coop for the hens — Heidi, Gretel, and Gertrude — who joined us this summer.

In the past two years, the Sasaki Garden has produced many benefits for our office, and it hasn’t just been the delicious fruits and vegetables we’ve harvested. Our agricultural initiative brings some of the food we eat everyday closer to the table, and brings our office closer together in the process. The best part? It’s all from simple ingredients — soil, seeds, and re-purposed milk crates — that any office can access.

Growing a vibrant workplace

The Sasaki Garden cultivates community and inclusion in our office. During the summer, the garden and patio area is the heart of the office — a green space which hosts happy hours, lively lunches, outdoor meetings, and even summer movie nights for staff, family, and friends. We have an open office plan, with some gathering spaces like a hoteling space, flexible open areas, and traditional conference rooms, but much of our floor plan is dedicated to individual desks. The garden, especially vibrant at the height of summer, offers the perfect space to gather for both work and play.

In addition to providing a shared space, gardening is a shared activity that we enjoy together. Anyone, from principals to landscape architects to web developers, can sign up to have a plot in the garden or take care of the chickens. This year, 76 of us signed up to participate, embracing an opportunity to interact with our office mates in a new way. The urban farm brings life to our office — both through the plants and animals we care for and the activity, conversation, and community it creates.

Isabel Zempel checks out the chickens. Image courtesy of Sasaki.

Isabel Zempel checks out the chickens. Image courtesy of Sasaki.

The garden also has the added benefit of taking some stress out of the workday. Having a garden encourages people to take a few moments out of their day and tend to the plants or feed the chickens, returning to their work feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, and more productive. Some people even host meetings or bring their laptops to the patio to work outside in the garden. The chance to relax, even for a few moments, and try a new hobby we might not otherwise have time or space for at home, helps relieve tension and blurs the boundaries between work and life.

How to bring food closer to the table? Grow it at the office!

As a design firm, we are committed to sustainability both in our project work and in our daily lives. We promote urban agriculture in many of our projects, such as our master plan for Ananas, a new community in the Philippines, where every resident will have access to an agricultural plot within a two-minute walk. Amid the burgeoning movement to create access to local and sustainable food, we have seen firsthand that change happens on both the large scale, such as our master planning work, as well as a smaller scale, like our office garden.

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Images courtesy of Sasaki.

Our urban garden brings our food closer to the table. And, it has given many of us at Sasaki the opportunity to take an active role in our own food systems by learning how to grow green beans, or how to care for chickens, or how much better that salad tastes when you grew the ingredients yourself. We believe that through design advocacy, education, and getting our hands dirty we can continue to make a difference — on scales both large and small.

Advice from our garden to yours

Our office and our urban garden are certainly unique in some ways; we’re guessing that there aren’t many homegrown, hot pink chicken coops out there. However, if you and your office want to grow some veggies to add to your lunch, it’s easy to make it happen.

Here are our top pieces of advice for starting a successful office garden:

  1. Make space

We’re lucky our office had room to grow a garden, but you can make space for an urban garden almost anywhere. Consider planting inside your office via hydroponic garden systems, outdoors on a deck like ours, in a small courtyard, on top of a safe and accessible roof, or even in a couple of reclaimed parking spots.

  1. Find a partner

While much of our urban agriculture initiative is DIY, Green City Growers got the ball rolling by setting up our gardening infrastructure, and training Sasaki staff in gardening techniques.

  1. Harvest talent

Some of the people most involved in the Sasaki Garden are agriculture enthusiasts and life-long gardeners who have helped teach newer gardeners about proper techniques. You’ll probably find out along the way that your office has some previously unknown experts.

  1. Cultivate green thumbs

Get people excited about the garden through educational events, lunchtime talks, and planting programs.

  1. Be responsible about the environment

Having an urban garden is great for the environment, but consider furthering your impact by composting, planting bee-friendly plant varieties, and seeking out environmentally conscious pesticides and fertilizers.

  1. Get into the nitty gritty

Farming is about getting your hands dirty, but it also involves research. Get in the know about best planting techniques, and requirements for animal-keeping (such as any local permits required) if your office wants to raise animals.

  1. Have fun!

Enjoy the time you spend in your garden, and especially enjoy the delicious veggies you’ll grow!

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