Continuing on our theme of the importance of seniors and healthy eating, we are highlighting Maplewood Senior Living. While other senior living communities may advertise sourcing produce for use in their menus from local sources, Maplewood Senior Living pioneered this trend before it became mainstream and is exploring new ways to improve their residents’ lives through healthier and better tasting, local food.
Of the amenities that senior living communities advertise to attract potential residents—a swimming pool, spa or scenic grounds—Maplewood Senior Living is the only one that can boast of their very own working farm. With its Easton location within 45 minutes of all of their Connecticut communities, Maplewood Chairman and CEO Gregory Smith envisions the farm as being an integral part of community life, serving as both a source of food and a way to reconnect resident with their traditions.
Investing in a working farm is a natural outgrowth of Smith’s personal passion for food, and he readily acknowledges being a foodie. When he founded Maplewood Senior Living in 2006, Smith says that embracing a farm-to-table approach was just natural, an outgrowth of “my desire to have residents benefit from farm fresh produce.”
As part of Maplewood Senior Living’s A Taste at the Table and Inspired Dining programs, the produce and meats served in the dining rooms are sourced from 20-25 farms or co-ops within a 100-mile radius that includes all of Connecticut and upstate New York. To further emphasize the farm-to-table mindset, the dining menus list where the food is sourced from.
“There are a handful of local farmers we’ve created great friendships over the years and they appreciate we’re driving business their way,” Smith explains, and Andrea Ellen, vice president of marketing and communications, adds that “We often invite the farms to come to community events, and there is pride in seeing how the produce is being used.”
Last year the Maplewood Senior Living portfolio expanded to include a 50-acre working farm that is six miles from the corporate office. The land was formerly owned by the Catholic Church and leased to an older farmer who no longer wished to work the land. “The town of Easton was euphoric” when we announced we would purchase the farm, Smith says.
The University of Connecticut Agricultural and Resource Economics department will collaborate with Maplewood Senior Living in program development and managing the farm. The department is excited to partner with us because of how the farm will improve the quality of life for seniors and the benefits of healthy aging, Smith says. Though the program details will be developed later this year, he says that internships will be offered at the farm and there will be an intergenerational component.
To accommodate the future activities that Smith anticipates the farm hosting, the next two years will be spent developing the infrastructure, including the construction of a new lodge that will house a commercial test kitchen and root cellar. All the features, from the kitchens to the gardening beds will be designed to accommodate seniors with limited mobility. There will also be a vineyard with on-site grape pressing that residents and their families can be involved with. Smith anticipates breaking ground next summer and a growing season in early 2017.
Smith sees the farm as a return to the victory gardens that seniors grew during World War II. “We’re trying to be forward thinking while being grounded in their traditions.” And as part of those traditions is the late summer ritual of canning and pickling that residents will be able to participate in. Not only will this activity connect residents to a time-honored tradition, but the canned and pickled foods, along with what is stored in the root cellar, which will also serve as a source of food that is out of season.
It’s not just the residents who benefit from locally sourced ingredients. Smith says. Maplewood Senior Living’s culinary teams have fully embraced the farm-to-table program. Once the farm is up and running, our chefs will be creative on the spur of the moment, inspired by the ingredients they find that morning, Smith says.
Through this farm we are looking at the continuum of sustainability through food, from cattle, poultry, orchard, and fresh produce; we’ll touch every aspect of that, Smith says, adding that “We don’t look at [investing in this farm] as a way to save money but as a way to improve the quality of life for residents and families. It’s just another extension of who we are as a company.”
Photographs courtesy of Maplewood Senior Living.