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Senior Living On-Site Food Production

To Grow or Not to Grow?

So you're thinking about the pro's and con's of on-site food production for your Senior Living Facility and you know you'll need to partner with someone who knows their stuff. But are you ready to make that contact yet?

Our free guide will walk you through some concepts (from the perspective of Planners and Landscape Architects) that you can consider implementing in your communities to better integrate food and its production.

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What's Food Got to Do (got to do with it)?

Table of Contents

Click on any chapter to scroll directly to it.

Chapter 1

Introduction: Food Trends and Equipment

Chapter 2 

Getting Started: Hydroponics and Aeroponics

Chapter 3

Easy Beginnings: Growing Herbs and Fruit

Chapter 4

Design Guidelines: Choosing the best design for your facility

Chapter 5

Partnering Locally: Support your local growers

Chapter 6

Your Food Service: Opening to the public

Chapter 7

Last Things: Consulting with the experts


Chapter 1: Introduction

What's food got to do with it? Quite a lot! In today's market, the cafeteria-style dining option just won't cut it. The senior dining experience is evolving to include a whole new genre of culinary delights.  Boomers want a variety of choices, venues, and high quality food service options, including grab-n-go, fast-casual, and yes, even fine dining.  “Destination Dining” can be anything from a rooftop terrace dining venue with a spectacular view of the cityscape, to a chef’s table in the greenhouse.  Food trucks are even being used for fun outdoor dining events.

TurboChef Countertop Pizza OvenInnovations in food programs that are integrated into the planning, design, and construction of your senior living environment are essential ingredients.  The innovations can:

  • Enhance a strong sense of community
  • Boost your marketing efforts
  • Increase the well-being and satisfaction among your residents, their families, and your staff

From “hood-lite” equipment, such as TurboChef’s Bullet Countertop Convection Oven, to robotics in the kitchen, the food service landscape is evolving rapidly.  We are now seeing reinvented Market Café's that are quite attractive, and which pay homage to the locations in which they are situated.  The Farm-to-Table (or Farm-to-Fork) movement is alive and well at some senior living communities. 


Chapter 2: Getting Started

GardenSpotVillage Aeroponics2

For example, Garden Spot Village in Lancaster County, PA serves produce grown on-site in their Aeroponic Greenhouse. Garden Spot Village serves produce grown on site in their Aeroponic Greenhouse.

The idea started with comments from the residents about the tasteless tomatoes served at the salad bar in the winter.  Now, residents can eat bright red tomatoes year-round.  At the grill station or the specialty stations in the restaurants on campus, residents and staff can specify exactly what they want to eat, picked that day! 

Scott Miller, the Chief Marketing Officer at Garden Spot Village, reports that while the average entry age at most Continuing Care Retirement Communities is 82, they are attracting new residents in their ‘50s and 60’s.  These Boomers want individualized options.

At the grill station or the specialty stations in the restaurants on campus, residents and staff can specify exactly what they want to eat, picked that day.

GardenSpotVillage Greenhouse diningThe Greenhouse venue has been used to house a variety of events, from stand-up social functions with hors devours, to sit-down dinners.

The return on investment for their Aeroponic Greenhouse was less than 4 years, considering the cost-savings from on-site food production.  In addition to these benefits, Linda Dodge, Garden Spot Village’s Development Director, said that the investment has paid other dividends:

    • The produce has been used to create spectacular table-top decorations with eye-popping appeal.
    • Volunteers from Garden Spot Village are highly engaged, serving as volunteers to help tend the produce.
    • Lighthouse, a local non-profit organization providing vocational services to people with developmental disabilities, has provided staff who help grow the produce. This helps reinforce connections between Garden Spot Village and the larger surrounding community.

The growing system used at Garden Spot Village is a proprietary system developed by Aero Development Corp.  Aeroponics™ involves soil-free farming and nutrient-rich growth delivered through an automated root-drench with the plants being grown vertically in columns.  Seed propagation is done in large 4’ x 8’ trays using rock wool.  Each tray can hold 1,700 plants; trays can be stacked vertically.  Frank Fendler, Aero’s Co-founder, said that the firm can provide training either on-site, or at their facilities for your operational staff.

GardenSpotVillage Aeroponic Greenhouse“It’s still farming, and we’re just in the toddler stage with our greenhouse” said Steve Muller, Chief Operating Officer at Garden Spot Village.  He went on to explain the continued learning process relative to bugs, fungus, and algae.  They use all biologic sprays for pest control.  One story Steve told was that when the red clover growing in adjacent fields was harvested, it attracted massive amounts of aphids – a real challenge for the crops inside the greenhouse.  Fortunately, Garden Spot Village has cultivated a strong relationship with the Extension Service at Penn State University.  That and other partnerships have paid big dividends. For Muller, the combination of technical work in a faith-based, non-profit venue has proven to be very rewarding.  “My job is to keep the wheels from falling off, while we all build a culture that delivers a great life and lifestyle for out residents and employees”. 


Chapter 3: Easy Beginnings

Use a few potted herbs and fruits as accents in the landscape.  Alternatively, use some as plant material in the ornamental landscape.  In both instances, the kitchen staff can go outside to snip fresh herbs for use in preparing savory dishes.  Herbs such as Rosemary, Lemon Grass, Oregano, Sage, and Thyme can be grown either in pots, or in the landscape.  Here in Florida, we have used potted Lemon Trees in large terracotta pots for a Tuscan look and feel in the landscape. Rosemary can grow into a large shrub in warm areas.  It has a soothing aroma that one study says can increase memory by 75%.


Chapter 4: Design Guidelines

Resident Park Cypress Cove

Construct Raised Beds for Growing

These garden plots can be assigned to residents to tend.  The key is to make them be appropriate for the population being served.  Think of things like these when designing:

  • Provide a wide edge at a comfortable height so that gardeners can sit on the planter box while tending their plants.
  • Don’t make the beds too wide.  Ensure access from each side, based on the length of reach that the gardeners have.
  • Ensure structural stability, so the sides don’t bow out from the weight of the soil.
  • Use a high-quality prepared planting soil mixture.
  • Provide hose reels at appropriate intervals (shorter hose lengths) so that large quantities of hose do not need to be dragged through the gardens and later wound-up.
  • Space the raised beds to allow for pedestrian (and garden cart) access.
  • Some beds (or potting stations) can be designed for wheelchair access, with ample leg room beneath.
  • Provide storage areas (protected from the weather) for supplies and equipment.

Introduce Hydroponic or Aeroponic Columns Into the Landscape

To start with, these can be used seasonally, and placed on a patio or terrace.  It would be nice to locate them close to the kitchen, so that the chef can have ready access.

Urban Smart Farms1A very simple, easy-to-use system is provided by Urban Smart Farms, an innovative firm dedicated to “hacking” the farming industry, using technology to grow faster, maximize yields and responsibly manage water while producing high-quality food.  They have found that ½ acre of vertical farming is the equivalent of approximately 5 acres of land production.  Their Tower Garden® production system utilizes up to 95% less water than traditional soil-based agriculture.  Urban Smart Farms operates a demonstration Tower Garden in the Westwood Lobby of the Orange County Convention Center which provides edibles grown in an all-natural, chemical-free environment. 

These are served on site by Centerplate, a hospitality solutions provider.  Centerplate’s culinary team uses the herbs, artisan lettuces, and hearty greens in its Center-to-Table work as the food and beverage provider at the Orange County Convention Center.

Go all-out and develop a greenhouse for your columns.  This allows for year-round growing.

Operational considerations will include:

  1. Drainage in the floor (sloped floors).
  2. LED lighting, with high-performance heat sinking capacity
  3. Climate control (HVAC system, fans)
  4. Proximity to the kitchen
  5. Potential to develop views and relationships to interior spaces such as a dining room (your architect, landscape architect, and interior designer can collaborate to develop some very interesting opportunities).

Develop an outdoor Chef’s Garden

This will differ from the Raised Beds for Residents described above.  Typically, this will consist of larger raised bed plots (at a lower level).  An automatic irrigation system should be included.  This garden will be tended and harvested either by your food service staff, your grounds maintenance team, or by an outside vendor. 


Chapter 5: Partnering Locally

These can even include a local horticultural program at a community college or university.  It could involve a master gardener team, or a grower that provides produce for several local restaurants.  It could be a Co-op.  At the LeadingAge Conference in Indianapolis this year, I came across a local Co-Op garden, run by students, that grew produce for local restaurants and for individuals alike.  It was on a Greenway that had previously been a vehicular roadway.


food truck

Chapter 6: Your Food Service

Here are some great ways to gain exposure:

  • Turn your Restaurant into a Destination that is Open to the Public.
  • Have such great food and service that the outside community is willing to come onto your campus for a meal.  Turn it into a profit center.
  • Develop attractive outdoor dining venues on your campus. Al fresco dining is enjoyable during nice weather.
  • Plan outdoor gathering spaces that can accommodate special events catered by a Food Truck. These can be multi-purpose spaces that can host a variety of fun events.
  • Build a high-quality Summer Kitchen in a nice outdoor space. This can include a large built-in grill, under-counter fridge and ice maker, under-counter trash receptacle, storage space, and an ample bar area for lounging.  Consider a few flat panel TVs for Game Day, and perhaps even a keg tapper.  Wood-burning pizza ovens are nice too!  The entire space can be built inside of an open-air pavilion for shade and protection from rain.  This could be used by residents and their families, for a staff event, or even for a community event.  Your chef and his staff could even bring in a bunch of Green Eggs for an Egg-fest cook-off event.
  • Introduce fruiting trees into the landscape. Depending on your climate, these could include Citrus species, Date Palms, Pecan or Almond Trees, Apple Trees, Peach Trees – the list can be long and varied.  Check with your local County Extension Agent, horticultural professional, or master gardeners group.
  • green roofBring in a food factory in a shipping container. Yes, they do make these.  It comes as a turnkey package, complete with a smartphone app that controls the growing environment.
  • Develop a Green Roof – but grow herbs & vegetables on it! Click here to learn of the Loews Minneapolis Chef’s Rooftop Garden – delivering food from the roof to your plate.

Chapter 7: Last Things

How can we help you maximize your potential in the marketplace?  We’d like to learn more about how we can help you achieve great things – whether that involves planning new construction, making repairs or renovations, or completely repositioning your product offering.  Let’s have a conversation soon.

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