In Depth

Scripps: The Green Team

Lifestyle Leader Practices What It Preaches

Across the dial, media outlets have been creating original, innovative ways to connect with the public on environmental topics. At lifestyle powerhouse Scripps Networks, the environmental initiative extends across a broad range of platforms and touches on company practices as well as programming.

Scripps Networks’ cable channels include HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living and Great American Country, and they are seen in more than 95 million homes across the U.S., in more than 175 territories worldwide, as well as online and on satellite radio. Within the corporation, Scripps has a “Green Team” and an internal employee-driven environmental group newsletter. SN Digital, the interactive division of Scripps Networks, recently launched Ecologue.com, a Web site to inspire healthy, practical, eco-friendly changes to homes, gardens and everyday life.

“We heard from HGTV fans that they craved a smart, relevant and approachable source where they could dip their toes into a green lifestyle and easily take their first green steps without being overwhelmed,” said Deanna Brown, president of SN Digital.

Food Network, meanwhile, has launched an environmental initiative in the real world, as opposed to the cyber-world. “This is a new area for Food Network that we’re really excited about because it’s part of Food Network wanting to be more of voice of the people,” said Carrie Welch, VP of public relations for Food Network. “Issues surrounding food, childhood hunger, obesity—all those things are interrelated. So we partnered with Share Our Strength in 2006. They’re our exclusive charitable partner, which means that we work with them and really only them. We felt that was the best way to really make a difference.”

Food Network recently announced the Good Food Gardens charitable platform. “We’re leading the charge,” said Ms. Welch. “We’re working with Teich Garden Systems of South Salem, N.Y., and they developed the formats for the gardens. They make this so much more accessible.” Food Network will create completely customized gardens that can be built on any surface with a full irrigation system, top-quality organic soil, raised planting beds and support for trellising vines. The gardens are a tangible way to teach kids where food comes from and encourage them to take pride and learn by growing fresh fruits and vegetables from start to finish.

A sample Good Food Garden—10 feet by 16 feet, built out of cedar wood, protected with heavy-duty fencing, making it an enclosed space with a sturdy door that can be locked—was revealed Aug. 28 in San Francisco. The garden was filled with seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs; event goers toured the garden and saw how it works.

“We’ve identified a few different cities where we want to build a garden,” Ms. Welch said. “We know we want to do one in New York in March or April. We’re going to run a contest through Time Warner Cable, hopefully, asking viewers if they know a community center that needs a garden. People will then submit to us why they think there should be a garden in their school or community center. We can only build so many gardens, so right now we have plans for four gardens in the first half of 2009.”

Reporters and broadcasters looking for a good story can find many in these Good Food Gardens. “This project addresses childhood hunger in a totally different way. The gardens are green—that is important to environmental journalists—but they also have biodegradable paper that over the year turns over into the soil. It completely degrades right into the soil,” said Ms. Welch. “These are meant to be as low-maintenance as humanly possible. We source the wood locally. For the San Francisco garden, for example, the wood was from Northern California. Every step is meant to be as green as possible.”

Each garden can also become a teaching tool. “With the gardens comes a curriculum—ideas for teachers. What do you do with your harvest? How do you cook your vegetables and fruit? How do you prepare healthy recipes? It’s not heavy-handed, but it’s helpful,” said Ms. Welch. “There’s some wonderful historical curriculum around the gardens. Have you ever heard of the three sisters? It’s different plants that can grow together and they create their own trellising system. It’s how Native Americans used to plant. It’s things that you and I don’t know, but it’s great for kids to learn. There’s a context to food that they just don’t have normally when they go to the supermarket.”

Food Network will roll out PSAs on air about the Good Food Garden initiative with the support of the stars of the network as well as the support staff. “All the chefs have expressed an interest in the effort, but this is meant to be something that lives more off-air. But it can be integrated into on-air if it makes sense. This is the right thing to do and the right time to do it considering food costs, the economy as it is. … People are building gardens in their back yards.”

When the reality competition show “The Next Food Network Star” returns in 2009, watch for the gardens to appear in at least one episode. “We’re talking to our programming department and when we build a garden in New York City, we might have somebody from a show stop by and pick fruits and vegetables from it and then cook with them,” said Ms. Welch.

Food Network is seeing positive results from the gardens thus far and expects more to come as the program expands in 2009. “If you address the issue of childhood hunger by teaching children how to grow their own food, they are more likely to eat it. Fruits and vegetables that everyone thinks kids don’t want to eat, this addresses that issue,” said Ms. Welch.

“The kids get really proud when they grow the food. They’re almost protective of their little plants. We don’t have to go to a school system necessarily, we can work with charter schools or community centers to reach the children without getting tied up in the bureaucracy.”