A farm-to-table program has been in place at Commonwealth Senior Living for over five years, and 85% of the produce served to residents is sourced from Maryland and Virginia, where most of the company’s 35 communities are located. But in the last year, vegetables and herbs started growing right in the dining rooms, thanks to microfarms installed by a local hydroponics company.
“Having the [microfarm] allows us to educate our residents right at the table,” says Andre Smith, director of dining services at Gloucester House, a community in Gloucester, Va. “That encourages them to make healthier choices that include vegetables they weren’t familiar with previously.” The staff even gets residents involved in the “harvest,” picking vegetables for their plates to provide an interactive experience that spurs trial of new ingredients and enhances seniors’ memory.
In addition to leafy greens and fresh herbs, the microfarms now cultivate beets, carrots, tomatoes and more. Smith creates such veggie-forward specialties as a Strawberry Kiwi Microgreen Salad with arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, fresh strawberries, kiwi, baby bibb lettuce and fresh mint, dressed with a housemade strawberry-citrus vinaigrette, as well as a Cream of Mushroom and Arugula Soup. For snacks, residents can request a “Green Juice” Smoothie blended with arugula, watercress, cucumbers, honey, lemon juice, orange-infused water and bananas.
The structure of the self-contained microfarms, coupled with frequent harvesting, significantly cuts down on waste as well.
And Commonwealth doesn’t limit its local initiatives to produce—the communities also work with independent fishermen in the region to source seafood from the nearby Chesapeake Bay.