Going to Hell(man’s) in a Garden Basket

I saw an ad on TV the other night for Hellman’s Community Gardens. That is, Hellman’s mayonnaise.

Apparently Unilever the parent company, leased a number of empty lots in various cities across Canada, then sent out seed packets with an invitation to write a 150 word essay and submit it in a contest that would see a number of winners in each city.

The downside – the programme is a one-year project and is set to run only until September 15th, regardless of whether the gardeners still have crops in place.

Needless to say, a lot of people aren’t happy about this, accusing Hellman’s/Unilever of using community-oriented initiatives for their own corporate interests. In Halifax, The Coast, a weekly entertainment paper looked at the issue back in May:

“Hellmann’s wants to inspire Canadians to ‘eat for real’ by providing them with the space to grow their own fresh produce,” emailed Sharon MacLeod, the brand-building director at Hellmann’s Unilever Canada Inc.

As of two weeks ago, Hellmann’s had received more than 50 essays from Halifax residents eager to start gardening. But the company’s promotion has inspired something entirely different in at least one Haligonian—anger and scepticism.

“Community gardens are for people. They’re not for multinational corporations,” says north-end resident Geoff Tanner.

What bugs me the most is that, like so many corporations who contribute to various community-oriented programmes, Unilever has spent more money to tell the world about how wonderful and community-oriented they are than they did on the actual projects. Ads during prime time on national TV cost a helluva lot more than some dirt and the lease on a few otherwise vacant lots.

Most amusing of all is that I can’t find a peep about the community gardens project on the Unilever/Hellman’s website. Given the amount of backlash the Halifax garden seemed to create, this strikes me as a very similar set-up to the Nike “art gallery” that was created in Toronto’s Kensington Market a few years back where ongoing street protests drove them out before their limited lease was up. It was a complete bung-up and created a lot of bad press for Nike. I can only see the same thing happening for Hellman’s, especially if, as is indicated in the links, people will lose their gardens at their very peak of production.

Haligonians – or any of you folks with these Hellman’s Community Gardens nearby – how do you feel about being pawns to sell salad dressing?