Belmont Village Senior Living Sunnyvale residents David Morrison and Mary Christie plant vegetables that will eventually be used in a healthy meal at the community.

With the warm weather months underway, senior living residents are heading outside, gardening gloves in hand, to dig in and enjoy some fresh air, socialization and an array of mental and physical health benefits.

In step with their proprietary approach to physical and mental activity known as Whole Brain Fitness, residents and chefs at Belmont Village Senior Living communities are growing, harvesting and preparing fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits for healthy, delicious meals. As a communal and interactive activity for older adults, gardening promotes socialization and mental health while engaging them in physical exercise, positively affecting the domains that are integral to a senior’s overall cognitive ability.

“Not only does it taste good and look good, but fresh farm-to-table produce means our residents are reaping greater nutritional benefits,” Eric Lindholm, vice president of food services at Belmont Village Senior Living, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Plus, the rotating selection of produce used in our meals means a variety of new menu items to try out.”

Lindholm noted that when the organization introduces a new fruit or vegetable, staff members work to highlight the nutritional benefits, color, different cooking techniques and how those techniques can change the ingredient’s flavor and nutritional value.

Farm-to-table flavors

Belmont Village’s nutrition programs offer farm-to-table meals grounded in health-forward concepts, said Chef Paul Haas of Belmont Village Albany. 

“Our farm-to-table meals and health-forward menu concepts help to harness the medicinal benefits of foods,” Haas said. “This is why we use only the freshest ingredients to ensure that residents are receiving quality, beneficial nutrition while sharing in the experience of growing and harvesting foods used in their daily meals.”

Residents in Belmont’s senior living communities located in the California cities of Sunnyvale, Albany, Thousand Oaks, and San Jose are able to participate in gardening and nutrition-centered activities, with each of them bringing their own flavor and “spin” to their recipes. At Belmont Village Sunnyvale, for example, residents are growing cauliflower, tomatoes, parsley, chives, dill, edible flowers and green onions, which then are harvested by residents and incorporated into meals by Chef Ellis Chavez.

“Having the goods of the garden so easily accessible has been great for my staff and I to use in our meals,” Chavez said. “Recently, we used the parsley for an orange chimichurri chicken and the basil from the garden for the same plate, too. It’s been wonderful to see our community make great efforts to care for the herbs and veggies that they see and eat in their day to day meals.”

Resident wellness

Several years ago, a group of psychologists at the University of Queensland in Australia examined the relationship between senior gardening as a community activity and how it promotes psychosocial and physical well-being. The study, which was published in SAGE Open Medicine, found that gardening activities and involvement in a gardening group led to therapeutic benefits for older adults such as enhanced self-esteem, participating in productive endeavors and social engagement, key to improving one’s positive self-perception. Older adults who actively engage with gardening, whether leisurely or in moderate to heavy amounts, see benefits from increased physical activity, which can prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of some cancers, Type 2 diabetes, depression and heart disease.

Belmont Village Senior Living founder and CEO Patricia Will also pointed to the positive effects the organization has seen on residents as a result of the garden program initiative. 

“By combining the benefits of social connection from an engaging activity like gardening and the utilization of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices in daily meals, we can further support wellness in aging for our residents,” she said.

Sunnyvale resident David Morrison has experienced those perks firsthand as a contributor to the community’s garden.

“The benefits of spending time in our garden is that we grow things that are used in our Belmont Kitchen. Secondly, it gives us the opportunity to get fresh air and sunshine,” Morrison said. “It is also a nice way for residents to learn about and engage in the growing experience. Overall, it’s very fun to see the garden growing and to be able to share the results with the community.”

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