There's a "growing" trend among senior living communities (pun intended): More senior living communities are reaping the benefits of locally grown produce. Some communities opt to source produce directly from outside sources, while others are taking it a step further and growing their own produce on-campus.
Rooftop gardens bring sustainability to urban living
The Chicago Tribune reported of one such community in December 2014. Seniors at Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community in suburban Northlake, Illinois (just west of Chicago) took sustainable living into their own hands by designing and maintaining a rooftop garden, which they named Harvest Rooftop Garden. It's a hydroponic garden created in collaboration with the community's production manager, Samantha Lewerenz, and gardening consulting firm, Topiarius. Lewerenz aided in designing and getting the system up and running and also trained residents on proper planting and harvesting techniques, as well as how to increase production.
Not only is the Harvest Rooftop Garden easily accessible to residents, but it allows the community to take another step in its commitment to sustainable living and utilizing locally sourced produce for healthy eating. Concord Place residents, who are strongly supportive of the sustainability movement, can take an active role in their own health while participating in enjoyable activities. Residents and staff grow fruits, vegetables, and even herbs in the Harvest Rooftop Garden—contributing to lower food costs and nurturing a sense of empowerment among residents.
On-site gardens and gardening clubs a growing trend
An article from Atria Senior Living points out that while the agriculture, farming, and gardening trend is getting a lot of media buzz as of late, it's a practice that Atria Penfield residents have been participating in for years. Atria Penfield residents have had the opportunity to join the community's gardening club since 2011 and participate in producing vegetables and herbs that the kitchen staff then incorporates into the community's menu selections. Additionally, Atria Penfield residents can take advantage of their own on-site gardens, including both indoor and outdoor beds.
Atria Senior Living points out the many benefits of growing produce on-campus, including nourishment, mental and physical engagement, cost efficiency, the opportunity for residents to learn new skills or make use of their green thumbs, and, of course, the sense of accomplishment that comes with contributing to a larger sustainability movement among the community.
Farm-to-Table programs gain acceptance at senior living communities
Even senior living communities who don't grow all or some of their own produce on-campus can still take advantage of the locally grown trends taking the world by storm. Senior Living Residences, a company that operates 12 senior living communities, is also championing the local food movement. "Through some unique food purveyors and some creative local relationships, every Senior Living Residences' community can say that a significant portion of their every day menu offerings is coming from local farms and producers, or 'Farm-to-Table,'" according to an article on the company's website.
A commitment to serving high-quality, nutritious food led Senior Living Residences to create its Brain Healthy Cooking program, which is based on the Mediterranean diet and relies on ready access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish. From this, the company's commitment to sourcing produce locally was born. Rather than grow and harvest their own through on-campus gardening, however, Senior Living Residences partnered with a local, family-owned company that could provide locally farmed foods in the volume required while also adhering to industry food safety regulations through its relationships with dozens of local farms. In doing so, Senior Living Residences is helping to support local farm sustainability—something every resident can be proud of.
Companies aim to aid senior living communities in implementing on-campus gardening programs
There are now third-party companies who offer programs to help senior living communities initiate their own on-campus efforts. Green City Growers, for example, offers a professional team of farmers who visit the campus weekly or bi-weekly to teach participants the skills and knowledge needed to create and nurture a successful vegetable garden. For senior living communities, the company installs adaptive raised beds that sit three feet off the ground for easier access.
Both on-campus gardening programs and initiatives for communities to source produce locally offer numerous benefits for residents, and the trend toward locally sourced and on-campus grown produce shows no signs of slowing in the near future. Which will be welcome for seniors who don't want to forgo the joy of gardening or eating fresh produce when moving to a senior living community.