The Leader Magazine

DEC 2017

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focus with fresh, organic produce on café menu a ccess to healthier meals at lower overall costs Chef Sarrah Ponce de Leon of the Epicurean Group runs the VF Café and is tasked with feeding 600 employees daily. Luckily, she has a garden capable of growing 1,000 lbs. of produce annually right outside her back door. Her staff receives tubs full of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, melons and fresh herbs every week from their garden. Strawberries and blueberries round out the weekly harvest, and lemons and limes will come into production this fall and winter. Both chef and farmer coordinate crops twice a year to make sure the thriving produce ends up on the menu. The response from VF staff has been great; Chef Ponce de Leon stated, "(Employees) say it's awesome because they know where the vegetables come from." Farmscape first contracted with VF Outdoor in spring of 2017. The garden had already been installed but maintaining it was not an easy feat, as it's not something that traditional commercial landscapers had the skill or know-how for; hence, the reason for VF Outdoor hiring Farmscape. City organic growing has become an art perfected over the course of Farmscape's 700 successful food gardens, including projects for other Bay Area sustainability leaders such as Levi's Stadium, Bon Appétit Management Company, Oracle, and AT&T Park. Many Farmscape staffers launch careers working on rural organic farms, learning the ins and outs of organic produce development before tackling something as tricky as growing tomatoes in the San Francisco Bay. Summer crops need regular attention, as the moist air and fog from the marine layer make it easy for pests and fungus to thrive. To tend to this organically, staffers remove pests by hand and follow up with OMRI- approved treatments like insecticidal soap. Companion plantings, like marigolds and alyssum, are also used to deter pest communities from taking root. e nvironmentally friendly production Farmscape helps VF Outdoor maintain its sustainability goals by reducing water consumption, waste and the overall carbon footprint of the facility. Water-wise drip irrigation reduces water usage in the garden by up to 70 percent versus traditional spray-head sprinkler systems. Plus, the pathways of the garden are made with decomposed granite, a permeable surface that allows water to slowly percolate into the ground; all the water used gets consumed in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmscape uses an absorptive soil blend paired with Biochar, a soil additive that helps retain water and nutrients, enrich good bacterial communities, and sequester carbon in the soil. Growing vegetables on site also helps companies reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating the trip from farm to fork. Food arrives fresh from their gardens without having to be processed, packed and distributed by trucks along the Bay Area's extremely congested freeway system. At peak points in the season, companies now no longer need to outsource items like tomatoes and basil. Plus, it's a more pleasant cost- and time-effective method for chefs to accumulate produce than ordering off a spreadsheet. Says Ponce de Leon, "I walk to the garden every morning to pick my herbs and it's like my happy-place playground." For kitchen staff that spend hours indoors, the garden becomes the place to be inspired, recharge and de-stress from the steaming kitchen while they're breathing fresh air in their own edible garden. r educing employee stress levels Once the food is plated and employees have been served, many VF Outdoor employees find their way back outside to the Adirondack chairs in the garden or the oversized picnic tables. For Bay Area staffers, spending their lunch hour in the garden is a welcome respite. While the farmer is regularly maintaining the vegetable beds, many stop by with questions about specific seasonal crops or ask for tips on how to maintain their own patio tomatoes and herbs. During breaks, employees regularly pitch in, working with the farmer to pull carrots or plant radish seeds. It's a way for them to mentally separate from work stress for a while and to chat with colleagues they'd usually never interact with. As for VF Outdoor, a company that's passionate about sustainable supply chains, it gets to demonstrate its values in these interactions by allowing the staff to know their farmer, and by partnering with Farmscape, which shares a commitment to living-wage jobs up and down the supply chain. r ewarding work By Friday afternoon, Farmer Murillo is back at his desk at Farmscape's headquarters, ordering crops for the next season. For the next quarter, Chef Ponce de Leon has opted for scallions, broccoli, heirloom mustards and lettuces for the salad bar. Lucas's next task comes with laying out these crops and optimally switching over the garden for the next few months so the harvest isn't interrupted. For a passionate urban farmer, this is the fun part and the reward is a great meal at the VF Café to literally taste the fruits of his labor. Says Farmer Murillo, "It's incredibly easy to work hard for a company that shares our values of producing great, fresh produce right on their doorstep." Lara Hermanson is co-founder and principal at Farmscape, an urban-farming company that provides direct access to farm produce in cities while working to create living-wage jobs for today's urban farmers. th E l E a DER DECEMBER 2017 21

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