By Jack Carman, FASLA, RLA, CAPS and John Kennedy, CDM
Photo Credit: Jack Carman, , FASLA, LLA, PP
“Food glorious food” as Oliver sings in the play of the same name. We plan our lives around our meals. It may even seem that we finish breakfast and start to think about what we want to eat for lunch. Keeping people engaged in what they eat is important. The opportunities to grow and use a variety of foods for meals can be offered in a range of communities, whether it is a retirement community, day care program, school or other setting where meals are served.
The rise in popularity of locally grown foods has been highlighted in books by people such as Michael Pollan, programs on the Food Network and in magazine articles. There is a great interest in knowing where your food comes from as well as ways to prepare these food for meals. A good first step in helping people understand better is to start coordinating the foods that you may want to grow with the kitchen staff of the community. The possibilities of different foods to consider include herbs, vegetables and even some flowers.
Demonstration cooking can be a great way to engage people in the meals that are prepared for them. The “Chefs Garden Series” at the Chicago Botanic Garden teaches people how to cook with garden-fresh ingredients throughout the summer. Noted chefs prepare recipes in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden’s open-air amphitheater (left). This can be done by inviting chefs from restaurants in your area to prepare special meals that they are known for.
The article “5 Must Haves for Repositioning a Senior Living Community” highlights Culinary Activities as the second most important item to consider (Jason Oliva, Senior Housing News, June 10, 2014). Dining programs should provide different settings, such as outdoor eating areas, bistros and coffee bars. Choice and flexibility in the daily menu is also an important consideration.
And, yes, it’s safe to grow your own produce. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “residents can benefit from having a variety of fresh foods for their consumption, as long as the dangers of foodborne illness are mitigated to the greatest extent possible through the facility” (CMS Ref: S&C: 11-38-NH, Sept. 7, 2011). Any resistance to use of using foods harvested from the gardens should be discussed within the community. Many times it is a lack of understanding of what is involved for food safety that can be easily resolved. There are many resources available, such as GAP Good Agricultural Practices, which can be found at: http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/index.html. GAP is a collection of standards developed by industry and governments to grow and process produce safely.
Connecting with ‘the kitchen’ is an important part of the equation. Some residential settings offer the ability of a family to prepare their own meals. The Family House at the Gift of Life Donor Program in Philadelphia has a small garden off of the dining area where herbs are grown (right). There is also a grill for cookouts. These elements are offered to encourage family members staying at the Family House to spend time outdoors in nature, which is a way to help reduce the stress they may be feeling while a loved one undergoes a medical procedure. Preparing meals that all can share is an important step for increased socialization as well as building community.
Chef Ryan Pomeroy of Foulkeways and Regional Executive Chef for Morrison Senior Living states that the involvement in raising fresh vegetables and herbs is becoming more common as the baby boomers move into retirement living and expect to continue cooking. He recalls a resident that had approached him about a recipe she was contemplating making. She was planning to entertain friends in her apartment. One of the recipes she was preparing called for fresh tarragon. Not knowing exactly what this was or where to get it, she contacted Chef Ryan. He knew exactly what to do and they located the tarragon growing in the herb garden. She cut what she needed for her recipe and off she went.
A herb garden (below) was recently installed next to the renovated Meadow Cafe dining area at Foulkeways Continuing Care Retirement Community in Gwynedd, PA. The indoor areas look directly out onto the herb garden, as does the outdoor terrace seating. The kitchen staff takes full advantage of the use of the organically grown herbs that are freshly picked for meals. The residents see what is being used in the preparation of their meals. An education program, “Time with Herbs”, offers tips on using the herbs and flowers that are grown in the garden. Chef Ryan hopes to expand the herb garden to an all-out vegetable garden noting that administration has been very positive about the involvement of the chefs and the kitchen.
Chef Ryan grew up in a gardening family. When he was younger, he had his own plot of tomatoes, peppers and other summer vegetables to tend. He notes that he had lost touch with gardening in the early part of a busy career as a chef. When he settled down, he and his family started gardening again, which is again a key part of his life with his children. He added that when he arrives home after a day of work he sometimes spends 10 minutes or more pulling weeds before joining his family. This is his personal therapy to help unwind after a busy day.
Chef John Branella, the Executive Chef at the Evergreens in Moorestown, NJ, conducts regular monthly cooking programs with residents and prospective residents who are visiting as guests of the community to get a taste of life should they decide to move in. One recent demonstration included making homemade ice cream using honey from local hives to create a honey chocolate bourbon pecan pie ice cream. Other flavors included NJ fresh blueberries and a double French vanilla. During the summer months he features tomatoes and includes New Jersey grown tomatoes as well as fruit grown in the gardens at the Evergreens. Other items include fresh sliced tomatoes and basil pesto. The basil plants are raised from seed and grown in the community’s greenhouse (bottom left) and cared for by the residents (bottom right).
This interaction of the garden and cooking should take on a regional vernacular. The Episcopal Home in Louisville, KY incorporates seasonal food activities in the meal program. Chef Robert Henry creates true southern dinners of fried green tomatoes and corn on the cob that is raised in the community.
Other vegetables raised include zucchini, squash and cucumbers. They are able to grow herbs that can be used year round, due to their region and climate. Many of the residents of the community participate in tending to the gardens.
Beth Phillips, RD is the dietitian at the Evergreens and is responsible for all clinical nutrition and also supports the independent living dining program. Beth remarked that she feels that there is a great positive for the residents to see vegetables growing in the garden. “Just like your own backyard”, she went on to say that this helps strip away the institutional feeling and creates a more homelike atmosphere. This helps to reduce the stress that can be inherent in a community setting. In turn this can help improve appetite, offer reasons to increase socialization and provide opportunities to connect with the larger community through gardening.
Creating relationships between the culinary staff and the residents of a community is vitally important if the programs are to succeed. The community horticulturalist, an avid resident gardener or horticultural therapist can be the catalyst in these relationships between kitchen and client. Understanding what can be grown and how it is to be used is one of the conversations that should kick off community garden and cooking programs.