Health & WellnessLifestyles

Changing the mindset

CG Atlantic Zest Wellness through its workspace garden aims to change the way food is conceptualized by staff and foster an appreciation for homegrown produce

The benefits of backyard gardening can mean an improvement in health, with the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables; you can save money on groceries; get in some outdoor exercise as gardening is a physical activity as well as mental exercise; and it is a natural stress reliever as being outside in the fresh air and sunshine can improve a person’s mood and they can feel a sense of accomplishment at the success they achieve in growing their own produce.

Then, there’s also the fact that there is no comparison between the taste of a garden-fresh fruit or vegetable grown in your backyard to the one purchased at the grocery store. While growing your own produce can seem overwhelming, at Colonial Group, the parent company of CG Atlantic, they impress upon staff the beneficial takeaways of backyard gardening, and through its Zest Wellness Garden Society, have led the way in standing behind their beliefs with a backyard garden at their office from which all members of staff are able to avail themselves of the fresh produce grown during harvest time.

The garden initiative was introduced in 2019 as a way for their 100-plus staff complement from its New Providence and Grand Bahama offices to be educated about sustainability and becoming self-sufficient by using resources available to them and, at the same time, improve their food quality, as well as being cognizant of the type of food they are consuming and having the knowledge and ability to modify for healthier alternatives.

“We are trying to change the mindset of people,” said Donovan Ingraham, corporate wellness manager at CG Atlantic. “For me, the most important thing is seeing a healthier Bahamian population and a reduction in obesity. As a company, we want to educate people on ways to protect themselves and the generation that will follow them. Through this garden, our goal is to change the mindset of Bahamians in the way they conceptualize food, and to appreciate produce and food. Creating this garden space is a step forward in identifying food for lifestyle changes.”

During harvest periods, staff are presented with goodie bags with an assortment of items from the garden inclusive of vegetables, herbs and fruits.

A nutritionist, Ingraham said through the garden, and the various events held around it, they interact with their peers to conceptualize easier ways to be healthy, and to send a message of holistic lifestyle changes.

“We create initiatives through which we encourage staff to utilize the goodie bags to showcase their meals, whether utilizing the thyme or rosemary they received to create a chicken dish, or adding herbs to add to a soup.”

To date, the garden has yielded crop that has included tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, radishes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, butternut squash, rosemary… and even eggplant – also known as aubergine – a vegetable CG Atlantic employee DaeVanda Adams never thought she would ever eat for the simple reason, she did not have any knowledge about how to prepare it. She has since learned to cook eggplant after receiving it during a previous harvest.

Plants coming in, in a bed at CG Atlantic’s backyard farm. Donovan Ingraham, corporate wellness manager at CG Atlantic, anticipates their next harvest will take place late January or early February.

“During that particular harvest, we got a recipe book that showed how to make eggplant different ways. Now I know how to cook it, and I do.”

While Adams does not engage in backyard gardening at home, she likes the program, and said she does take the time to visit the garden to see what is growing. She is looking forward to their next harvest.

Ingraham anticipates their next harvest will take place late January or early February.

Adams and her peers will be able to reap the rewards of an Italian-themed harvest. The produce yield will feature rosemary, dill, basil, chard, bok choi, chives, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, and cucumber.

This will be CG Zest Wellness’ first themed harvest.

“Before, it was random selection. But this harvest, the drive is to have a series of recipes or education sessions around recipes,” said Ingraham. “We want to change the mindset of people just being stuck in the Bahamian diet, and introduce products they can incorporate into their diet.”

And he said employees not only reap the reward from the harvest, but they are also able to participate in backyard garden tutorials led by the CG Wellness team through which they receive the skills to expand the garden space, not just at work, but at home and in their communities.

“We are trying to build on what Eleanor Roosevelt did during World War II (1941-1945), which meant people were still able to eat healthily and affordably.”

In 1943, with the war underway, the United States’ first lady had a victory garden planted on the front lawn of the White House. The message: abundant yields were possible for any aspiring gardener. By May 1943, victory gardens supplied 40 percent of the produce in America, according to Smithsonian Libraries.

Janay Hanna, corporate wellness coordinator, CG Atlantic, checks on crops. To date, the garden has yielded crops that has included tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, butternut squash, rosemary and eggplant.

Victory gardens (originally called war gardens or liberty gardens) made their first appearance during World War 1 (1914-1918). President Woodrow Wilson called on Americans to plant vegetable gardens to ward off the possible threat of food shortages.

During both wars, millions of Americans helped the war effort by turning front yards, backyards, schoolyards, and vacant lots into vegetable gardens.

The garden, which is located at CG Atlantic’s head office, 2nd Terrace, Collins Avenue, at the rear entrance parking lot, was created by CG’s Zest Wellness team and based across several jurisdictions. The Bahamas team was the first jurisdiction to create its garden space which is three feet by seven, across two plots.

Ingraham said they can harvest crops up to three times per year before they have to be replaced. In the summer months, which is a tough growing period, due to the heat, they allow the garden’s soil to be replenished, so that it remains healthy, so that they can continue to provide healthy vegetables for their staff.

“We have employees who are gung-ho about learning gardening techniques, some who have their own gardens, and some have started growing just one item. We have persons who talk in excitement about transforming a standard recipe using herbs and produce they grew. It’s a sense of joy for them to grow vegetables and herbs and consume it. Growing it is great, but they also get to benefit from something they take a delight in growing.”

The corporate wellness manager said it is his vision to see their garden grow to the point where they can have a growing experience with clients they work with. He also wants to see them not only have garden spaces at their offices, but everyone engaging in a barter operation across the offices in a form of a farmer’s market and they share what they grow.

Through their garden, Ingraham said the ultimate goal of Zest Wellness is to decrease food insecurity and improve community health, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen food supply chain disruptions.

Ingraham said the ultimate goal of CG is to change the perception and increase the awareness that gardening is good for many things – good for a person’s health, as it can be a good way to relieve stress, for a person to set goals for themselves, and that growing their own produce can lead to becoming more sustainable. Persons wanting to start their own backyard/community garden can also take inspiration from the blog at www.cgzestwellnessblog.com.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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