Mecklenburg County Health Department
249 Billingsley Road
Charlotte, NC 28211
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You may be surprised by what lurks down the hallway and around the corner at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office. In a sunny outdoor courtyard grows a container garden that has provided the office’s employees with a healthy harvest of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other summer treats.
In 2010, Business Manager Peggy McCoy and Investigator Carol Cormier conceived of the idea of starting an office garden. This year, that vision became a reality under the provisions of the County’s Environmental Plan. Under the Plan, County employees are [required] to complete 26 [environmental-related] volunteer hours per year. The office garden fit the bill and the participating gardeners will each earn one hour toward their requirement.
More than just checking off a requirement, the garden has created a sense of community and provided the office’s employees with a host of other benefits. “To me, it’s therapeutic,” said Cormier. She added that she often visits the garden when she needs a quick break from the stress of her job. In addition, employees have a readily accessible source of food for lunch or a snack. It’s easy to throw together a vegetable salad or build a sandwich with a warm-from-the-sun tomato when there’s a garden right outside the office door.
How They Did It
Five of the thirteen full-time employees at the Medical Examiner’s Office have taken part in the garden this year. Each was in charge of building his or her own containers. McCoy estimates that each container cost about $20 to construct, inclusive of the plants, the soil, and the container itself. Some saved money by using containers they already had, with one gardener repurposing his old red recycling bin for the task.
While the gardeners have their own containers, the garden is still very much a community effort. “Everyone looks out for each other’s plants,” said McCoy. She mentioned that gardeners who vacation during the summer shouldn't worry about their plants while out of town because the other gardeners will take care of them.
Two of the participating gardeners are in charge of watering, using a spigot located close to the plants. With a summer as hot as 2011’s has been, that means watering almost every day. But the cost of all that water is a non-issue. The LEED Gold-certified office building, which opened in December 2008, uses a rainwater containment system that provides enough water for the garden and the rest of the facility.
McCoy and Cormier both had previous experience with home gardening, but they say experience is not a requirement for starting a container garden. “We learn from each other as we go along,” said Cormier. For example, they learned this year that planting cucumbers and gourds in close proximity is probably not a great idea unless one wants a harvest of “cucumb-ourds.”
An office garden provides the perfect venue for employees who may not have the space at home, who want to add homegrown vegetables to their daily diets, or who simply want to build a sense of community among their coworkers. “It’s very rewarding,” said McCoy.
For help getting started with your own office garden, please contact Julie Jackman, Working Toward Wellness Co-Chair, at 704-432-4526.