The company builds a Venlo greenhouse at the headquarters
The Overstock headquarters team, in the harsh, dry climate of the Utah desert, wanted to strengthen the company’s corporate culture in order to retain and attract employees.
One of the ways they sought to do this was to not only provide fresh, responsibly grown produce on their cafeteria menu, but also to encourage their employees to learn how to grow their own vegetables in a professional greenhouse by working condition.
The greenhouse would be a visually appealing interactive environment. Its goals would be to improve workplace culture, promote sustainability and well-being, and serve as a multipurpose space for other employee activities.
John Burgoon, one of Prospiant’s in-house solutions architects, explains how this unique project was conceived, designed and built in partnership with Overstock and how it now works for the daily well-being of all employees and their families.
e-commerce technology company building a greenhouse
Overstock originally purchased this property from the local government to build its new headquarters campus in Salt Lake City. The land was previously a former foundry, a steel foundry in an industrial area. “Overstock cleared the area as the foundation for their new headquarters,” he says.
The headquarters has a circular design similar to a Roman Colosseum with interior gardens that are shaped like a round peace symbol called the Colosseum of Peace. “They wanted to create a campus-like environment, similar to a tech campus like those used by Google or Apple, but with a theme that promotes peace and sanctuary for their employees.”
“They had also installed a walking track around the perimeter of the entire property so employees could get out during their lunch and walk or run around it. A smoothie bar and cafeteria were also included inside the main building of the Peace Coliseum.”
Adapt Prospiant’s Venlo greenhouse design to company vision and culture
“When Overstock started planning the design of the cafeteria, one of the things that came to mind was to serve responsibly grown fresh vegetables to its employees,” John remarks. “As Prospiant worked in conjunction with the Overstock team, the project grew much larger because they wanted a functional greenhouse where people could participate in growing the vegetables they would eat in the cafeteria. grows several types of crops in the greenhouse. These included everything from flowers to vegetables as well as leafy greens for their employees to eat.”
When constructing the Venlo greenhouse, Prospiant included raised beds to not only create an easily accessible hobby-sized vegetable garden, but also to create an area that could be used for a variety of purposes; the greenhouse would also function as a multi-purpose space for events.
“So far, they’ve hosted hot yoga classes, learning programs for kids, and even weddings for their employees,” says John. “The greenhouse is great for hot yoga because of the heat and humidity in the space. They also hosted several groups of children and learned how to grow their own vegetables. And it all happened while helping to offset cafeteria costs by growing their own fresh produce. Since its inception, the greenhouse has become something of an oasis in the dry desert climate.”
Structure and equipment
In addition to the classic 20,000 square foot all-glass Venlo greenhouse structure (about four times the size of a professional basketball court), the project included a small main house. It took about a year to design and build. Prospiant also included a greenhouse foundation with in-slab heating: a necessity for cold, dry desert winters.
The Venlo greenhouse also collects harvested rainwater. It was part of Overstock’s mantra to use as many natural resources as possible in this environment.
“The greenhouse has now become an indispensable and central part of their concern for the well-being and health of their employees. Employees frequently go out to the greenhouse and help the head grower grow crops and learn how to grow their own food. It is now an essential aspect of their employee culture – and their corporate culture – to have this facility that is an integral part of their employees’ daily experience on campus.”
The Overstock project was a smaller scale version of the large turnkey greenhouse projects that Prospiant usually undertakes. “But what was really personalized was their approach to involving employees in the growth process, which meant including features like raised beds,” John points out.
“The construction of a large commercial grow facility would not typically include raised beds, but they were incorporated here for ergonomic reasons and to improve the user experience. It also had the added benefit to make it easier to separate the soil between various types of plants. For example, the soil for tomatoes would be treated differently than for peppers or leafy greens. This is the only thing that differs from most commercial installation projects.
Since a working greenhouse produces fruits and vegetables, when a new person enters the space, they must follow the rules for disinfection of the greenhouse when entering through the main house. This means that visitors must go through a sanitary point to wash their hands and clean their shoes to eliminate the risk of them bringing in unwanted pests or diseases from outside.
Prospiant also designed the greenhouse to make it a little wider in the central aisle to create space for various activities such as yoga classes, community events and children’s learning.
Prospiant installed all in-house cultivation equipment and computerized automation systems. “So a big part of our role after construction included start-up training (which is done for all of our customers), in addition to all the computerized automation controls and greenhouse equipment,” John explains.
“Everything in the greenhouse is fully automated. During the commissioning process, we discussed everything with the head grower(s) and made sure everything was running smoothly. We made sure the customer knew the components and capabilities of the automation software, as it grows, this will allow them to refine their own automation “recipes” to drive everything automatically, or have the computer trigger various systems such as irrigation, lighting, cooling and heating. »
“The system installed in the Overstock Venlo greenhouse is state of the art. The irrigation function was also designed by Prospiant, as were the water harvesting and bench systems. Although we did not have made the grow beds, they were purchased through us.”
Utah gets lots of snow, but its climate is very arid, making it a tough environment for plants. The winters here are dry and water must be constantly pumped into the air for the plants to live and grow. otherwise, they will burn. Because the air is dry all year round and lacks moisture, water misting systems have been installed to add moisture to it to help plants grow. The misters also keep the inside of the greenhouse cool in the summer in the hot, dry desert climate.
HVAC and ventilation systems
This Venlo greenhouse didn’t need HVAC; as a standard greenhouse, it works by ventilation. Its roof vent and high-pressure water system cool the interior. As water is sprayed into the air, the air cools and falls to the ground, then the vents open to let the warmer air escape outside. “It’s a similar concept to forced recycling, but based on temperature,” says John. “It’s very durable and also has a low carbon footprint.”
“While these types of greenhouses are standard in the vegetable growing world, they’re just not typically used for the purpose of this project, which is to improve employee culture.”
Typically, a commercial tomato greenhouse would be built similarly but on a much larger scale. “This Overstock project, however, was more of a smaller-scale boutique-style miniature greenhouse.”
The location is also unique in that employees can take a train directly to the facility. “So there’s also this aspect of public transportation, which is quite rare in the United States. The train goes right past the greenhouse.”
With a project like this, the client is not so focused on the profitability of his products because the greenhouse itself is a showcase and the nice by-product is fresh and healthy vegetables for his kitchen and cafeteria. “This type of project is especially important at a time when companies are trying to retain their employees. As part of a growing trend, companies are trying to improve their work environments so that people are more likely to stay. Create a healthier, happier environment and a more vibrant company culture is a ‘win’ for everyone.”