As a company, Baxter International in Deerfield has defined clear goals in reducing its carbon footprint and incorporating green principles into its company policies.
However, a group of its employees have taken it one step further: they've started a giving garden on the southwest corner of the company's sprawling campus, with the idea of raising enough vegetables to donate to area food pantries.
Andy Gore, a tax attorney and resident of Western Springs, came up with the idea, after reading about first lady Michelle Obama's vegetable garden at the White House.
"I mean we are a health-care company," Gore says, "and here we have identified our principles of health and sustainability. Growing our own food is just another way to carry that message out."
More than two-dozen employees - from a variety of departments - turned out on Earth Day in April to help plant the garden. Their intention, right from the start, was to donate all of its harvest to local food pantries.
Since the spring, a core of those employees - mostly from the finance division - have worked the 50-by-50-foot plot during lunch hours, after work and during time each week specifically endorsed by company officials for volunteerism.
Some three months later, they have harvested radishes, sugar snap peas, onions and sweet banana peppers, and donated them to agencies where employees live, including the Palatine Township Food Pantry and the Waukegan Food Bank.
Last week, they harvested their first tomato, but they know many more are coming from the 40 plants they've tended. Their corn crop also met the "knee-high by the 4th of July" adage, so they expect good things from those, as well.
"None of us are expert gardeners," says Jan Bluhm of Hoffman Estates, "but we're learning as we go along."
Master Gardeners from the Chicago Botanic Garden came out to talk to the group. Their advice was easy enough to follow: keep the variety of crops simple.
"We met as a group to decide what we wanted to plant, and we had all kinds of ideas," Bluhm says. "But in the end, we kept to the basics, like peas, onions, peppers and tomatoes."
Employees point to a variety of reasons why they keep heading outdoors to help with the tasks of gardening, which includes toiling under the hot summer sun.
"We work out a lot of stress, and solve a lot of problems," says Peggy Kofoed of Waukegan, a financial analyst in the company's treasury department.
Helena Klumpp, another tax attorney, remembers growing up with a vegetable garden in her backyard in Arlington Heights. Now living in Evanston, she no longer has room to cultivate her own vegetables.
"I missed it," Klumpp said. "This is a nice outlet."
Company grounds crews help with watering and they donated mulch and grass clippings to keep the weeds down. Cafeteria officials provided access to their compost pile they have been cultivating, which helped fertilize the plants.
"It's not just about promoting our green principles; we're feeding people," Kofoed adds. "We're able to give something back."
Since most of the donations hours at food pantries fall during the workday, most of the employees who toil in the dirt will never see where their hard work is going. But they know it is making a difference.
"These are hard times, and some families cannot afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables," Bluhm adds. "This is something we can do. It's been very satisfying."