When Merit Medical® Founder and CEO Fred Lampropoulos established the Merit Garden at our Salt Lake City global headquarters in 2016, he envisioned a place that improves employee health, boosts morale, and ensures team members have access to fresh and nutritional food. Since then, it has also become a place where sustainability and philanthropy intersect.

Each year, the Merit Garden Program undertakes a number of initiatives designed to benefit employee and community well-being. This harvest season, we compiled garden accomplishments into one exciting video. Join us as we take a look back.

Farm-to-Table Progress

For the past year, gardening at Merit has become an important part of the company’s collective sustainability plan to feed employees farm-to-table style with foods grown right on the premises, supplying healthier meals that contribute less to Merit’s overall carbon footprint.

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, the phrases “farm-to-table” or “farm-to-fork” seem to be popping up everywhere. Restaurants, school cafeterias, and now more and more corporate eating establishments are joining the movement that supports food systems, from production to consumption, that better the environmental, social, economic, and nutritional health of a particular place or community.1

Merit Medical - Farm-to-Table - Employee Experience - Corporate Sustainability“We sat down with the Merit Café team and estimated how much produce the café uses per week and then calculated how many plants we would need to at least cover a percentage of that produce,” says Laura Flower, Merit Garden Program Coordinator.

From late July to early October, the Merit Garden Program team harvests two to three times each week and delivers the produce to the Merit Café based on planned quantity goals. In 2019, 1,370 lb of produce from the Merit Garden was grown and used for healthy meals for our employees.

“By using our own produce, we lowered the amount we’d normally have to order from our food supplier, which saved money and was better quality, too,” says Lindy Whitley, Sous Chef at Merit Medical. “We used Merit Garden produce daily as part of an entrée or in soups. We’d turn tomatoes into fresh salsa. We also used the produce to make fresh veggie cups and to stock the salad bar. It feels good being able to cook with the best ingredients.”

Merit’s Chief Wellness Officer and on-site nutritionist have also joined the program, working with the Merit Café team to provide menu options that are both healthy and appealing. Home-grown garden items are clearly labeled with a Merit Garden sticker, so employees can easily identify them.

Merit Medical - Produce Farm-to-Table - Employee ExperienceBecause produce is harvested at peak maturity, it’s more nutritious than food trucked in from far away. Nutrients begin to break down as soon as a vegetable or fruit is harvested and continues to do so until the food is eaten.2 Throw in lengthy transit times, time spent on store display, and then in-home storage, and the nutrient levels of foods consumers buy can diminish significantly.3

What’s more, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that transportation is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making up 28.9% in 2017.4 Emissions from transportation, they write, largely come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes.4

“Only two percent of Utah’s vegetables and three percent of fruits are actually grown within the state,” Ms. Flower says. “Adding this component to our garden has allowed us to invite employees to participate in urban agriculture, an effective way to keep food local and sustainable while reinvigorating the community and economy.”

Looking Forward

With one year under their belt, the Merit Garden and Merit Café teams are now fine-tuning the program by growing more of what the kitchen needs and planting a greater diversity of produce—in essence, dedicating every last inch of garden space to feeding people and striving for zero food loss.

Merit Medical - U-Pick Program 2019 - Employee ParticipationNew this season, the Merit Garden Program team has dedicated a portion of growing space to a U-Pick section, where employees can exchange a bit of weeding for a basket of produce. “It allows employees who do not have time for a garden box to still enjoy the garden and receive free produce in exchange for weeding,” Ms. Flower says.

This year, there were more than 200 visits to the U-Pick Garden, with more than 1,100 lb of produce taken home by employees to share with family and friends. “We’re excited to make the garden more accessible to the greatest number of people here at Merit,” Ms. Flower says.

Feeding the Community

With a zero food-loss policy, leftover produce isn’t ever a problem. “We donate surplus produce to a local mobile farm stand that helps senior centers and feeds the larger community,” Ms. Flower continues. This year, 400 lb of produce was donated to local low-income senior centers.

In addition, 120 lb of significantly damaged or inedible produce was donated to a local animal rescue facility to help feed resident farm animals.

“We’re hoping these practices all will have a great ripple effect,” Ms. Flower says.

Helping Fellow Employees

Merit Medical - Plant Sales - Christmas PoinsettiasPlant sales occur throughout the year at Merit. These include a summer and autumn sale as well as one dedicated to holiday poinsettias. All proceeds from these sales and other fundraising opportunities benefit Merit’s Candy Cane Program, which helps employees in need during the holiday season. So far this year, we’ve raised $8,800 with a goal of reaching nearly $10,000 by the end of 2019.

Other Noteworthy Merit Garden Program Accomplishments

  • 796 Total Merit Gardeners | Since its start in 2016, the Merit Garden has had a total of 796 employees participate, with 38% returning each year and 62% new to the garden. Out of the approximately 2,000 employees at Merit Salt Lake City, 25% of employees have taken advantage of this benefit.
  • 20 Workshops/Cooking Classes Offered | The Merit Garden Program offers monthly educational gardening workshops and cooking classes to employees. Topics include fruit tree pruning, patio gardening, food preservation techniques, healthy cooking skills, and more. In 2019, we hosted nearly 20 workshops and cooking classes.
  • 80 Flower Arrangements Prepared | The Merit Garden Program also grows many decorative plants for employees to enjoy. In 2019, 80 flower arrangements were prepared for employees to purchase and put in their offices, take home, and give as gifts.
  • 700 Plants Grown for Campus Flower Beds | Hundreds of plants are grown each year to help keep our Salt Lake City facility beautiful. This year, the Merit Garden Program grew 700 plants specifically for campus flowerbeds.
  • 7,500 Plants Grown in the Greenhouse | All of the plants at the Merit Garden start in the on-site, state-of-the-art greenhouse. From produce for employees and senior centers to plants for our annual sales, 7,500 plants were grown in the Merit greenhouse this year.

The Merit Garden Program is one more way we put employee health and happiness first. Visit our Employee Wellness, Health & Safety page to learn more about how we care for our team.

REFERENCES

  1. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. (n.d.). From farm to fork. Retrieved from https://njaes.rutgers.edu/food-nutrition-health/farm-to-fork.php
  2. Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. (2000). Retrieved from http://www2.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/factshts/FN-SSB.006.PDF
  3. Barrett, D. M. (n.d.). Maximizing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. Retrieved from http://www.fruitandvegetable.ucdavis.edu/files/197179.pdf
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions