Wednesday, October 28, 2015

City Green Senior Garden Club

A common thread among the elders who participate in the City Green Senior Garden Club is how they establish meaningful connections between food and their own personal life stories. This upcoming November will mark the program’s milestone as a three season therapeutic social horticultural program that encourages social interaction, increases a sense of competency and self-esteem, and connects participants to activities focused on gardening, food, nutrition, and nature.

Gardening at Governor Paterson Towers

The Senior Garden Club works with seniors at two public housing complexes in Paterson. Over the past year, the City Green staff has shared many special moments with the seniors, from planting crops in the gardens to harvesting spring crops to learning about food preservation by making apple sauce and apple cider. All throughout the growing season, the staff has been fortunate to hear about the seniors’ life experiences and learn from these community elders.  

Nutrition lesson with CG staff member, Zariel

A broad spectrum of senior citizens participate in the program, including participants who moved hundreds of miles from their hometowns to look for employment in Paterson decades ago when jobs were plentiful. Many of the seniors in the program also have an agricultural background as they grew up in rural areas in the Southern states of North and South Carolina and helped their families work in farms. In fact, one of the participants continues farming to this day as he shuttles back to his farm in North Carolina once a year. During our classroom discussions about topics such as healthy soils, composting and food preservation, seniors share their experiences about growing up in a rural household. One participant mentioned that when she was a little girl, her mother used to preserve their harvest so they could have these products during the winter when it was cold. A few other seniors will chime in to talk about production practices their families used, such as putting down manure in their fields to enhance soil fertility or the right time to plant certain seeds.

Spring garden at Governor Paterson Towers

CG Growing Strong team with the seniors at Dr. Norman Cotton

Even the seniors who are lifelong urban residents and have never had any interaction with gardening and nature-based activities are very open to learning this new craft and enthusiastically put their hands in the soil. Although a bit shy at first, most of the rookie gardeners have successfully grown vegetables in the spring, summer, and fall. Now that the weather is getting cooler, the seniors are making garden-related crafts such as bird feeders, dried fruit and herb potpourri, and fall suncatchers to bring beautiful aspects of the garden right to their homes. The program has exposed the seniors to many different garden and nature-based activities, but the greatest accomplishment of the garden club has been to gain their ongoing participation and interest.

Making fall suncatchers with CG staff member, Claudia

by Claudia Urdanivia
Claudia is Program Operations Manager at City Green. She loves working with senior citizens and values the knowledge they pass on to the community.