Seniors Join Local Sustainable Movement by Operating Hydroponic Rooftop Garden for Senior Living Community
While many seniors are supportive of the green
and sustainability movements that have become mainstream, few have rolled
up their shirtsleeves, literally, to transform their views
into practical action that makes a difference. One significant and
inspiring exception is the community of seniors who live that the Concord
Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community in suburban Northlake,
Illinois, just west of Chicago (401 W. Lake Street, Northlake Illinois
60164; telephone 708-365-9251).
There, the residents have designed and
maintain what they call their Harvest Rooftop Garden. This hydroponic
garden is a collaborative effort between the residents and Concord
Place's production manager, Samantha Lewerenz, who was integral in
getting the system up and running to its full potential. She trained the
residents in how to plant and harvest their bounty, and how to increase
Garden was installed in the spring of 2014. David Friedman, whose
company, F&F Realty, owns and operates Concord Place, is very
passionate about the sustainability movement and using local food
sources. He hired a gardening consulting firm, Topiarius, to transform
the existing rooftop greenhouse, which grew flowers the traditional way,
into a modern hydroponic growing facility. It was an exciting
undertaking. "The Rooftop Hydroponic Garden has
become a place that is easily accessible for the residents and encourages
them to learn, grow, share knowledge and enjoy the harvest," said
Friedman. "It has given many of our seniors a sense of purpose. They
are able to grow their own food which is used in Concord Place's kitchen.
They are actually taking part in feeding their own community, while
learning about local food sources and sustainability."
The community grows a variety of sustainable fruits, vegetables and herbs
in the garden. Among them are parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, mint,
parsley, dill, fennel, basil and a variety of lettuces, including a
gourmet blend. They also are experimenting with Swiss chard, sugar snap
peas and microgreens. Approximately 30 pounds of lettuce are
harvested at a time, along with a few pounds of herbs. Some of the
produce is used in the living facility and some is shared with local
wanted to make sure that we didn't waste any surplus produce," said
Friedman, "so we arranged for the surplus to
be used by our company's restaurants." Currently Concord Place is
sharing its bounty with seven restaurants. Among them is Glen Prairie in
Glen Ellyn, Illinois which prides itself on its local initiatives. Other
restaurants using the produce are Dine Restaurant and Metro Klub in
Chicago; Chicago Fire Oven in Rosemont, Illinois; Karma Asian Cuisine
& Fine Wine and Karma Pub in Mundelein, Illinois; and Birch River
Grill in Arlington Heights, Illinois, all of which are committed to using
efficient system that requires everyone to learn new ways of gardening
While hydroponic gardening is very efficient-its uses 90 percent less
water than a traditional garden because the water is recirculated-it is
quite a different process than traditional gardening, and there is a
definite learning curve. But after several months of learning and
refining the system, the hydroponic garden is becoming stable and
Hydroponic garden involves several steps.
First, plant seeds are inserted into seed starter trays on the
propagation table, where they are carefully watered. After they spend
from one to three weeks there, the young plants are moved to a second
table, where they spend another two weeks to develop a root system.
Then they are moved to the hydroponic medium containing the
necessary nutrients to enable them to grow to maturity. The system
includes a simple gutter circulation system which allows the water be
retained and recirculated throughout the garden. "In some ways, this
is easier than traditional gardening," said Lewerenz. "But
since it's a new way of doing things, there are many aspects of the
process that need to be learned."
example, the gardeners have learned that they must maintain a good pH
balance in the water for the plants to do
well. They also try to keep the temperature of the garden, which is
inside a greenhouse environment, as controlled as possible. But given
that the air temperature outside changes with the seasons, they have
learned that the inside temperature does vary. They have discovered that
summer vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, do better in the
summer, while cooler weather crops, such as peas, are better grown during
the colder months. The herbs tend to do well throughout the year, which
is a bonus for the residents and the chefs in the Concord Place kitchen.
In keeping with the accessibility needs of the more elderly residents,
all tables in the garden are tall so that residents don't have to bend
over to do their gardening work.
still expanding the garden and haven't reached full capacity yet,"
said Lewerenz. "We are experimenting with other specialty greens and
edible flowers such as violas and nasturtium, which has an edible,
peppery-tasting flower. We also have a Dutch bucket system in which we
are growing tomatoes and cucumbers. We are using as many natural and
organic methods as possible to produce the best nutrient-rich products.
Hydroponic gardening systems use up to 90 percent less water than
traditional irrigation systems; the system recirculates the water. We are
hoping to incorporate a compost system and we may be able to install some
raised beds on the roof area outside the hydroponic garden."
residents are interacting and learning about new flavors and tastes
The residents of Concord Place have been very involved with the
Hydroponic Garden. There has been a core
group of residents who have spearheaded the daily gardening
activity-seeding, maintaining and harvesting. They also help make
decisions as to what to grow.
residents can come and go as they please to care for the garden, and when
families come to visit they can join in. Reactions have been very
positive. One resident said, "So much work goes into getting those
little seeds into those pots. But then you see what comes," said
resident Louise "Wheezy" Dellert. A growing number of
residents are becoming involved with the garden and, of course, they like
to share a nibble or two while they're working. Some residents even help
move the process along by growing plants in their apartments. The
facility's chefs stop by to pick what they need for the day's menus.
been great to bring the residents together through a food based
program," said Lewerenz. "This is a very good way to interact,
and the residents are learning to try new things and enjoy new flavors.
We plan to work closer with the residents to get them more involved,
providing them with educational opportunities and helping to facilitate
more community relationships within the residential community. There are
many hydroponic gardens being set up in the area, but none in a
retirement community that involves and benefits the community like this
one. We're really proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far. We
hope to provide many of the greens used at Concord's kitchen. It doesn't
get any more local than that!"
Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community
Conveniently located at 401 W. Lake Street in Northlake, Illinois 60164.
Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community offers an
exceptional and affordable retirement living, supportive living and
assisted living community in and around the Chicago area.
At Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community residents
take part in a wide variety of social, educational, and recreational
activities. Life is always exciting! There is always something to do,
someone new to meet, or someplace to go. Take part in daily events, trips
and a variety of special activities. The fine, restaurant-style dining
offers a very wide variety of menu options prepared daily by a gourmet
chef. The restaurant is open all day so that residents are served based
on their own schedule. At Concord Place, they not only feed the soul of
their residents, but their body as well.
For more information about Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living
Community, please contact them at (708) 365-9251 or visit their website
at www.concordplace.com. Photo
credit: Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.