Company Gardens and Community

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    root vegetablesApparently the community garden has made its way into the corporate world. In a May 11 article, The New York Times reported on the trend of companies, including PepsiCo, Best Buy and Google, jumping onto the growing popularity of community gardening by creating their own vegetable gardens at their office complexes. In most cases the push for agricultural green spaces came from the employees themselves who, after failing to receive raises during less than vibrant economic seasons, wanted the gardens as a concession that would offer healthier lunch options as well as provide a sense of meaningful interaction with the outdoor environment – an activity that is likely to be neglected at home with the chunk of time absorbed by the daily vehicular commute. Garden plots are cultivated from small parcels of the vast acreage of chemically-maintained green lawns that are the hallmark of office parks, offering a less invasive land-use alternative to that building typology but serving as a symbolic statement against the misuse of land that characterized earlier eras of corporate infrastructure.

    As I was reading this article, however, thoughts arose of the corporation or commercial entity as a form of community infrastructure. This is a highly variable typology in and of itself; services ranging from optometry to child care to psychiatric counseling have been offered for years in businesses such as discount retailer Walmart, software behemoth Microsoft, and the Brazilian luxury department store, Daslu. The shattering of traditional forms of community that capitalist enterprises have created through periodic restructuring due to technology and efficiency are, not surprisingly, reformed under the flag of commerce. As the community gardens sweep through virtually every municipality in the United States as a means to cultivate sociability among persons common to a particular geographic area – as well as reduce food’s carbon footprint, of course – its presence within the corporation reinforces a development over recent decades of business absorbing the infrastructural components of the traditional community to recreate the social bonds that characterized belonging in traditional communities. Hence, by re-enabling those relationships under the umbrella of for-profit enterprise, the corporation takes advantage of the social responsibilities and obligations to which humans would normally be subject in older forms of community.

    Even though there seems to be something a little “1990s” about this mode of corporate urbanism – offering services beyond the scope of work that help smooth the experience of daily life – it’s interesting to note that the structure of this and many other forms of community necessarily have [shareholder] profit as the underlying modus operandi of their existence. Is the company garden an example of the orchestration of socialization for the benefit of business? Possibly. But a likelier explanation may be that as human culture continues to catch up with its own modernization – a technological shift that progresses at a much faster pace than society – the reformation of social bonds occur wherever people find themselves, which is increasingly at the hands of private interests who only stand to gain from cultivating such relationships.