Walking out onto the roof of Winkler Partners Law Firm, arugula and strawberry plants frame the silhouette of buildings and mountain tops that make up the Taipei skyline. “Here’s my business card. That side is how I make money, the other is how I spend money,” says Robin Winkler, an American expat and our host for the day. The card states Winkler Partners Law Firm and the flip side reads Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association. His hobby, Wild at Heart, is the first environmental legal defense fund in Taipei, but his day job isn’t too bad either. The Winkler Partners office houses one of the first rooftop gardens in Taipei.
Robin shows us three rainwater tanks that are used to water plants during droughts. In Taiwan, precipitation varies dramatically and rainwater tanks are essential to help with both flooding and dry spells. The rooftop also has a compost toilet, which surprisingly has no smell. The matter is stored in tubs that will eventually be used to feed their plants.
There are passionfruit trees, strawberries plants, leafy greens, and about forty other edible plants and 300 other species that find a home on the law firm’s rooftop garden. Employees are encouraged to help out with the garden. Robin and his colleagues wanted a space to share information about plants and to make the office a place where you could take a break from… well, the office. It’s their alternative to the common workplace culture and a symbol for jobs with dignity. Ideas for a greener Taiwan extend further than their urban oasis, with intentions to share horticulture with the community through composting workshops and youth education programs.
Over a thousand miles away, in a land infamous for high-tech gadgets and cute stuffed animals, there stands a human resource and job recruitment company that looks a bit different than the rest of the buildings. Its façade is covered in seasonal flowers and orange trees by means of three-foot deep balconies and has a dual purpose of bringing a lively and beautiful exterior to the building as well as helping with energy conservation.
The lobby has a koi pond that was formerly a small rice paddy, a project that was retired due to the drain on light and electricity needed for its growth. The waiting area also has squash plants growing along the ceiling and three rows of pepper plants on raised beds. Both are watered through a timed mist system. This is Pasona Headquarters in downtown Tokyo and it’s like the Willy Wonka factory for plants.
Pasona works with many different companies and businesses, farms being some of their clients. Through the years working with nearby farms, the president of Pasona learned about farming and the benefits of growing food locally, and is now dedicated to educating the public on agricultural professions and the recruitment of a new generation of farmers. He hopes this will revitalize agriculture in Japan, which saw a drastic decline by the end of World War II.
Agriculture once made up 80% of all Japanese employment. Today, that figure is closer to 4%. Naturally, the decline in the agricultural sectors has led to a heavier reliance on food imports and a dramatic loss of farmlands. In addition to revitalizing the farming community, the Pasona CEO hopes the plants will relieve stress brought on by city life and work and increase productivity. A recent study shows lower levels of CO2 where indoor plants were abundant. This leads to higher air quality, which can increase productivity of office workers by as much as 12%. Pasona’s office has a whole lot of plants—an estimated 43,000 square feet of farmland and 200 species of fruits and vegetables.
Built in partnership with Kono Designs based in NYC, Pasona’s “Urban Farm” officially opened in early 2010 as an offshoot of their “O2” underground space that showcased new innovative city farming. Plants are grown with soil-based and hydroponic farming and make creative use of the office space. Pepper plants line the walls in a shared common area, kohlrabi grows in a raised bed in a hallway, and curry plants are on display beside a business man and his client.
A meeting room, which could only be described as the inside of a farm spaceship, had silver walls subdivided by tomato vines and a ceiling bearing bright red tomatoes ready for harvest. On average, 1000 tomatoes are harvested a year in the space-aged meeting room. These tomatoes, along with the lettuce grown in their “Plant Factory” and other edibles that are found throughout the office are used in the staff dining hall and cafe open to the public. Though they cannot feed their entire company with their “Urban Farm,” but its impacts are felt throughout the office in its harmonious balance between employee, nature, and work.
As you sit and read this article at work, whether it be in an office or a wifi hotspot, picture yourself surrounded by the vegetables you’ll harvest later for lunch. Around the globe, we’ve begun to see initiatives to make the nine to five into part of a healthier lifestyle through a stronger connection with our food and nature. We’re seeing the possibility of a work day that reminds us to take deeper breaths and to indulge in singular moments. From a human resource company in Tokyo to a law firm in Taipei, the green revolution has begun and it’s cloaked in business attire.
Wen-Jay Ying is the Program Director at Local Roots NYC. Their Workplace CSA program brings fresh, sustainably grown produce right to your office so you can bring home groceries without having to stop at the store. She hopes their Workplace CSA can grow to become an integral part of NYC’s 9 to 5 green revolution. Their next CSA season begins in June and also has locations throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. If you’d like to bring a CSA to your office or for more details, email [email protected] or visit www.localrootsnyc.org