New gardening project promotes community engagement for seniors

Recently, the Allen Manor senior housing facility has attracted neighbors of the surrounding area to their newest feature: a vibrant, raised garden bed, thriving with fresh produce and herbs.

Senior Manager Kimberly Sleet says several people from the neighborhood have even volunteered on a whim, passing by, to assist residents in tending the garden. As a result, residents have a new incentive to leave their homes.

“Oftentimes, especially if a resident has a lack of transportation, the facility itself becomes the largest part of their world,” says Sleet.

However, the gardening project has given them the opportunity to remain in touch with the community, becoming a collaborative effort between both residents and local neighbors. As much as the garden itself has become an interest to surrounding neighbors, it has also become a common ground to exchange stories with residents, building new relationships.

“We felt this would be a good project for our residents because they often talk about in their younger days, having grown up on a farm or having had a large family garden that they used to supplement their food,” says Sleet. “So this was something that was very near and dear to their heart that they really had missed being able to do in a housing complex as opposed to an individual home.”

The gardening project taking place at Allen Manor, a facility managed by Samaritas, is in collaboration with Bates Place, a nonprofit organization that builds community engagement. Together, they were able to attract 10 participants to tend to the garden throughout the summer and fall until the time of harvest, when they will host a farm-to-table experience for the residents.
Much of the items used to build the garden, such as the wooden boxes, dirt and plants, were donated by local businesses like Birch Tree Bark and Stone and Lowes.

The garden also allows the community members to easily access fresh produce. “Many seniors have had their food stamp funds cut drastically,” says Sleet. “This allows them to supplement their food supply and stretch those food stamp dollars a little further. It also provides for better nutrition for the seniors as they are able to incorporate the food they grow into their diet.”

Although gratification exists in the form of thriving herbs and produce –– beans, watermelons, squash, and strawberries, to name a few –– the benefits of gardening manifest themselves in the act itself.

On the last Thursday of each month, the residents meet at Bates Place to discuss how they want to manage the garden the following year. Based on their discussions, Sleet says it is very likely there will be more than 10 residents who participate next year. Additionally, they are pushing to receive more participation from the community, not only to build relationships, but to share and enhance the knowledge of growing food.

“We know that it helps to improve [residents’] physical health because they have to be able to be mobile, they have to be okay with maneuvering around the garden,” Sleet says. “And certainly it seems to improve the emotional health, to make a connection with another person.”

Photos courtesy Allen Manor.
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