Home delivered salad starter kits a fresh and engaging idea

GrowBoxes, the unique employee engagement initiative, took root during the pandemic

Over the last 20 months, employers have had to dream up novel ways of staying connected to employees working from home. Some have opted for weekly treats such as ice cream and pizza deliveries to keep the mood upbeat, but one of the more unusual engagement initiatives to have taken off since its launch earlier this year is GrowBoxes – a range of vegetable, herb and salad starter kits that are delivered to employees’ doors and aimed at encouraging them to grow some of their own food, even if they only have a small space.

The boxes are produced by GIY (grow it yourself), a Waterford-based green enterprise whose founder, Michael Kelly, says he is on a mission to "inspire, educate and enable a global movement of food growers whose collective actions will help rebuild a healthy, sustainable food system".

GIY, which employs 34 people, was founded in 2008 when Kelly, who was then working as an IT professional, called into his local supermarket to buy garlic – and it changed his life.

“I realised the garlic I was about to buy was imported from China via an epic 5,000-mile journey, so I decided there and then to try growing my own,” he says.


“GIY essentially developed out of my first growing experience and our headquarters is now a showcase for a thriving sustainable food model and best practice in food education, food tourism, food heritage and research.”

In March 2020, GIY was hit by the Covid lockdown and forced to close its doors. Its services and in-person activities ceased. Kelly needed to think fast to keep the income flowing. The result is the company’s range of GrowBoxes which, he says, are a unique idea in employee engagement.

“There are currently no other employee engagement or sustainability programmes available here that use food growing as a wellness and sustainability educational tool for corporate groups and employees,” he says. “Our multichannel approach, including the digital and product-based tools we provide, is also a key differentiator.

“The response to Grow Circle – the name we’ve given our employee engagement programme – has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among tech companies whose employees typically sit in front of a screen all day. This is something very different that’s physical and tactile.”

Those signing up to the Grow Circle receive a box containing everything they need to get growing on a balcony, in a garden or in an office space. They also get access to an app that shares growing tricks and tips and can join in a series of interactive webinars and workshops over a 12-month period.

Corporates pay per employee for the service (the average spend is €55 a head) and customers already signed up include Dropbox, AIB, Diageo, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Kelly says that, apart from appealing to employees because it’s something different, the initiative is also proving of interest to organisations that “want to drive their ESG credentials through a tangible employee engagement programme. Our boxes provide employees with all the tools they need to better their own health, the health of their household and the health of our planet.”

Kelly will be a familiar face to those who watched the RTÉ programme Grow, Cook, Eat. The series, which was a practical guide to growing food and turning it into tasty family meals, was based at the GIY HQ and designed to encourage people to lead healthier and more sustainable lives by getting into growing.

“When people grow something, it profoundly shifts their knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around food and gives them a means to make healthier and more sustainable choices. We call this food empathy,” Kelly says.

The cost of developing Grow Circle has been roughly €90,000, which covers products, content and service delivery. The company is selling the full experience (comprising physical and digital elements) in Ireland and Britain while the digital-only element is available online worldwide.

Kelly set up GIY as a social enterprise, but his choice of business model has not diminished his focus on ensuring the company makes money and develops a series sustainable income strands to fund its corporate vision.

“Everything we do is guided by five principles inspired by the simple but powerful act of growing food: eat more plants; end food waste; support small producers; stop food pollution; connect with nature. Our aim is to reach 100 million GIYers by 2030 through our campaigns, programmes, products and educational platforms,” Kelly says.

“Social enterprise is a much overused and misunderstood phrase,” he adds. “I think social enterprises sit on the spectrum somewhere between for profit enterprises and traditional charities. To me, a social enterprise means that your focus as an organisation is on the double bottom line of income and impact.

“We are unashamedly focused on our earned income activities and generating profit because our mission is like our north star and any surplus generated is reinvested in to achieving it. So, far from being a dirty word, profit is essential to a social enterprise.

“GrowBox and Grow Circle are classic social enterprise products because every unit sold is generating income and impact at the same time – in this case, helping people and companies grow successfully and think differently about their food.”