“Deeper engagement and connection with food.”

That is what Homegrown co-founder Ben Friedman preached when I visited their Redmond produce farm, Sprouting Farms. At their produce site, Homegrown does something special that no other organic food business is doing: employees have the option to come work on the farm and have a hand in producing the product that they sell to their customers.

homegrown sandwich shop farm, Sprouting Farms

Employees of Homegrown Sandwich Shop lend a helping hand at the restaurant’s Redmond farm, Sprouting Farms. Photos by Dylan Foreman.

The idea is beautiful and simple. Make the connection between the customer and the food they are purchasing and eating more personal. If a customer buys a caprese sandwich with dry roasted tomatoes and the employee had a personal hand in trellising those tomatoes, the connection with the food for both the person eating it and the person serving is much greater.

With 10 stores local stores, and one more on the way in San Francisco, the company’s popularity has stemmed from its mission to produce quality, organic food. With the new optional, hands-on offer to the employees, Homegrown wants to “solidify that mission and deepen your engagement,” Friedman said.

People are responding to the initiative. When I visited Sprouting Farm, employees from all walks of life including information technology, catering, people working on the line at the shops, and both owners were out attaching tomatoes to trellises. What started out as an employee opportunity has turned into a customer experience. Marketing Manager Haley Knight said even customers have asked to come volunteer.

“It’s a summer camp vibe,” Knight said. Knight takes a van and picks up employees in Seattle and the surrounding area to join in on the action. And guess what? They get paid as well. Everyone wins. Homegrown accomplishes their goal of making the employees and customers more connected with their food, employees get paid for helping out, and more produce that is used in their stories can be produced with the extra sets of hands.

With the extra sets of hands, Sprouting Farms produces a lettuce mix, baby kale, sungold tomatoes, cucumbers, and red curry squash, all of which will contribute to a significant portion of the produce that is delivered to Homegrown’s sandwich shops twice a week.

No matter how Homegrown employees feel about going out to a farm on their day off or getting their hands dirty, Friedman believes, “No matter what, it’s nice to break out of normal routine.”