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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


County employees garden for their health

Summary

Land that stood vacant last week is now a temporary demonstration garden that county employees will use to teach each other how to grow healthy food. Made entirely of scavenged or donated items, the garden was initiated by employees in a workplace culture that promotes good health as a way to reduce rising health care costs.

Story

Land that stood vacant last week is now a temporary demonstration garden that county employees will use to teach each other how to grow healthy food. Made entirely of scavenged or donated items, the garden was initiated by employees in a workplace culture that promotes good health as a way to reduce rising health care costs.

“County employees basically turned trash into a treasure,” said County Executive Dow Constantine. “The planters are leftover wastewater pipes, the land was a vacant lot, the dirt is composted food waste and the planter boxes are scavenged scrap lumber. And since these employees will be gardening on their own time to support one another’s improved health, then sharing the bounty with seniors in our area, I think this garden is an excellent example of the generous spirit of dedicated public servants.”

Under a new culture of empowering employees to put their ideas into action, Executive Constantine today dedicated the Goat Hill Giving Garden to help support county employees in improving their health, a strategy to reduce the county’s health care costs and increase productivity.

“Interest in community gardening has surged throughout King County as people recognize the health, environmental, and financial benefits of fresh, locally grown produce,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “I recently joined King County Councilmembers Hague and Patterson in initiating legislation that will allow unused county-owned land to be used for community gardens.  We hope this will address the greatest barrier to expanding community gardening—finding available land in urban areas—by allowing suitable public property to be gardened by the community.  Congratulations to county employees who jumped on the opportunity to farm this land for such a good cause.”

“We appreciate Executive Constantine’s support of this project and how we have been empowered to put our ideas into action,” said Diana Vergis-Vinh, a Public Health employee who has co-led the effort to build the garden.

“Community gardens such as this teach sustainable and healthy food options,” said Cristina Del Alma, Public Health employee and co-leader of the garden. “Gardening is a great way to get exercise, reduce stress and eat healthy. I think a lot of us are excited to have the opportunity to do this over lunch or after work.”

A webpage viewable by employees and the general public will follow the garden’s development throughout the year so employees can learn what to grow when and how to prepare it. Produce from the garden will be donated to the Pike Market Senior Center.

“The Pike Market Senior Center Meal Program relies heavily on donations and has little money in the budget for fresh produce,” said Diane Carmel, meal program manager for Pike Place Senior Center. “The King County Goat Hill Giving Garden will allow us to improve the quality of the meals served to our members and the variety will enable us to create more interesting meals during the growing season. We feel that everyone deserves fresh, nutritious food and with this donation, some of Seattle’s most vulnerable seniors will get fresh, local produce grown in our own backyard.”

The garden is a project of the county’s Health Reform Program, launched in 2006 to cut the rising trend of the county’s healthcare costs. In addition to encouraging improved health through participation in a health-risk assessment and follow-up action plan, the county’s workplace culture has shifted to be more supportive of health. Stairwells have been opened to accommodate stair climb challenges, potlucks now feature healthy foods, vending machines offer healthy options and walking meetings are not uncommon.

“People spend close to 80 percent of their waking hours at work and the choices they make are influenced by their environment,” said Constantine. “The culture of wellness that has developed at the county supports employees in making healthy choices. The results of this culture change are tangible.”

Since the Health Reform program began in 2006, the county’s has spent $18 million less than expected on healthcare costs and employees have improved their health in 12 out of 14 areas. Participation rates are among the highest in the nation for employee wellness programs. County employees and their spouses or domestic partners covered by the county’s benefits participate at a rate of 90 percent and above.

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King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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