Residents Enjoy Gardening In Partnership With The Green City Growers
A growing partnership between the Green City Growers and The Commons in Lincoln has harvested friendships, terrific memories and food for the dinner table. You can’t beat that.
The Commons in Lincoln gets a visit from “Farmer Cait” every Tuesday afternoon for a couple of hours. She spends time with the Memory Care residents in that garden and then another hour or so with the Assisted Living residents tending to that garden.
“Farmer Cait” is the nickname for Cait Wright, who is in her first year with Green City Growers and also as a gardener at The Commons.
“The residents have such great personalities. I just follow their lead. I am just there to help,” says Cait.
Cait and Lauren Hathaway, programming director at The Commons in Lincoln, both said the residents enjoy the gardening because most of them had gardens at their former homes and growing fruits and vegetables brings back fond memories.
“It is relaxing, but it is still purposeful, which is so very important. Any sense of purpose ties them to responsibility and that is critical to emotional and mental health,” says Lauren.
Lauren said the raised beds on the campus make it easier for those in wheelchairs to access and so the residents/seniors get down on their knees and do not have to bend over to work in the gardens.
There are two beds in the Memory Care courtyard. The residents there can watch things grow. There are corn stalks in the bed at this time, says Cait.
“We do grow some herbs and/vegetables that are used in the kitchen,” says Lauren. “Our dining director, Eny Fernandes, is very conscious of the produce we grow and uses it in the kitchen. She recently made cucumber vinaigrette. That is going back to that sense of purpose. They see vegetables on their plates they helped grow and harvest. It gives them a sense of pride.”
There also is a baking club/cooking club at The Commons in Lincoln. For the Kentucky Derby in May, the group made a mint julep Bundt cake with mint grown in one of the gardens.
The crop this year has been bountiful as the gardens have yielded peppers, eggplant, peas, carrots, kale, lettuce and herbs like mint, cilantro, thyme and rosemary. Soon, the group of between 10-15 resident gardeners will prepare for the fall harvest produce like squash.
Not all the residents work and tend to the garden at the same time. Everyone has different availability so at any given time there may be three residents in a garden. There is no official start time and residents join in when they want and are available.
Green City Growers provides the plants and teaches the residents what will grow when. “The residents talk about what’s growing and when it will be ready sometimes when they are in the dining room looking out at the one garden,” says Lauren.
Farmer Cait has a following
On the more mild days, they are able to do gardening tasks and on the other ones Farmer Cait comes up with indoor activities. On hot days, Farmer Cait comes up with a plan for indoor activities. Recently, they used large popsicle sticks to mark vegetables in the garden and could do this activity inside before placing them in the garden.
“It varies who participates. There is a rotating cast of characters,” says Lauren. “It is organic. Someone may come out first and then another may follow. It just kind of comes together. Farmer Cait may ask one of the residents to pick some of the cucumbers off the vines and then ask another to weed around the tomato plants.”
Farmer Cait says the experience at The Commons in Lincoln has been incredible.
“The residents in Memory Care are wonderful. They see me and know what I do. The recognition is really wonderful,” she says. It is her first time working with Memory Care residents. “There is one particular resident who gives me a hug every time she sees me. She has great energy,” says Farmer Cait.
Farmer Cait says the Assisted Living residents are very hands on and have photos of their past gardens and working in the gardens at The Commons helps them connect again.
Her impression after working since April with the residents at The Commons in Lincoln is one of pleasant surprise.
“I was surprised at the breadth of people we are able to reach and how effective they area. I particularly love working with the AL residents and hearing their stories about gardens and their reminiscing,” she said.
The group is getting ready to prepare for cooler weather planting. That will include peas and lettuces. Next year, she said they need to make sure to plan for a pumpkin patch.
“The first time I showed up there were some unique challenges. That included residents wondering who am I and why am I here?” says Farmer Cait. “As long as we are doing something purposeful and focused it is wonderful. When we are harvesting a couple of bags of lettuce, they hold the bags open. It’s a cool dynamic. It’s been really amazing.”
The work at The Commons in Lincoln with Green City Growers is chronicled in a blog.