The finance director lobbied for kale. A payroll clerk was set on summer squash. The social media and marketing specialist made the case for beets.

Drivers passing West St. Paul City Hall can see employees’ vegetables of choice growing in three four-by-four foot cedar boxes, waiting to become the next break room snack or lunchtime salad.

The small garden, planted in May, is the latest in a series of employee health initiatives the city has tried over the past few years. It was spurred by disappointing results to a health assessment.

The city first did the assessment, offered through its insurance cooperative, three years ago. And 100 percent of the people surveyed did not meet the nutritional guidelines, Assistant City Manager Sherrie Le said. That percentage has not shifted much, she said.

“We didn’t feel like we were making a lot of progress,” Le said, and they wanted to take preventive measures to reduce employee health problems down the road.

A garden was suggested and a dozen people jumped on board — spreading compost, building the raised garden beds, picking the occasional weed. City officials are hoping it will grow in popularity over time.

The project cost about $380. It was not funded by the city, Le said.

Employees brought in seeds, gloves and a hose. Menards donated cedar for the garden beds. Lowes chipped in too, giving peat moss, vermiculite and wire for the vine plants to climb.

The Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative helped cover additional garden costs. The cooperative works with many cities, counties and schools in Minnesota to promote healthy living. It reimburses the city for wellness efforts.

More healthful options

West St. Paul also recently purchased a treadmill using funds from the cooperative. It sits across from the kitchen, looking out the employee entrance.

Putting a treadmill in the workplace is popular in the private sector, Le said, but is not as common in government offices. She plans to put it to use while watching emergency management training videos.

The city also has been offering seminars on topics like gut health, and had a personal trainer talk individually with staff about exercise concerns.

“The idea is to get them introduced to a personal trainer if they want it,” said Dan Nowicki, a marketing and social media specialist. He previously worked at a garden center and has helped lead the garden effort.

Much of the lunchtime conversation revolves around food trends and recipes now, Nowicki said. Cookies or doughnuts at meetings are predominantly a thing of the past, staff said. They have been replaced by fruit or yogurt.

Le isn’t sure whether the health investments have paid off yet.

“I think it’s too soon to tell for (health insurance) claims costs,” she said. “But I know we’ve had employees that lost weight. I know we have employees who are more active, who eat better.”