HANDS (Helping and Nurturing Diverse Seniors)

2015 Co-op Patronage Seedling Grants

HANDS (Helping and Nurturing Diverse Seniors): HANDS-On Gardening - Initial Grant Award: $6,500 (actual check: $8,688.99)

HANDS-On Gardening is an intergenerational, multicultural gardening program in the heart of the Old North End. HANDS will collaborate with a multitude of partners (like the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, Burlington Area Community Gardens, and the Champlain Senior Center to offer a 20-week program (1.5 hours per week) during the summer of 2016. This program will provide shared accessible garden plots, plants and gardening tools, teaching garden guidance, nutrition education, healthy snacks, intergenerational and multicultural garden activities, food preparation with input from participants, and staffing by HANDS and VCGN. The goal is to bring a teaching garden directly into a low-income neighborhood. Gardeners will be able to participate more easily with transportation available as they grow some of their own food, learn about both gardening and healthy eating, and share recipes and food across cultures.

The intergenerational aspect will bring together younger and older gardeners as they share time, stories, and food. As HANDS strengthens the local food system through a teaching garden, they are also addressing the loneliness and isolation that many seniors experience. In particular, older immigrants are often left on the outskirts as they struggle with language barriers and a lack of transportation. The ability to interact with both youngsters and seniors will expand their world and, hopefully, bring more joy to their lives. 

2016 Update!

First of all, thank you so much for providing our “HANDS in the Dirt” Seedling Grant! We were able to develop and implement an intergenerational gardening and nutrition program at the Archibald Community Gardens in the Old North End. Meeting throughout the summer and early fall, we presented a different theme every week for 12 weeks. A hands-on activity related to nutrition was the focal point. Friendships grew alongside the vegetables. And we learned a lot about intergenerational programming at an outdoor garden site. 

The Archibald Gardens “HANDS in the Dirt” was a delightful collaborative program. Burlington Area Community Gardens, the City of Burlington, HANDS (Helping and Nurturing Diverse Seniors), Integrated Arts Academy (IAA), “Shaun’s House” childcare, Special Services Transportation Agency (SSTA), and Vermont Community Garden Network (VCGN) worked together. HANDS offered overall management of the “HANDS in the Dirt” program and VCGN provided weekly staffing. The city built one of our two garden plots taller so that it was more accessible for older gardeners. IAA offered bathrooms and indoor space on rainy days. SSTA provided transportation.

Each week, we started with introductions and a fun garden-related question, took a garden stroll, worked in the gardens, had a craft activity, learned about healthy eating habits and tasted new foods, and shared a delicious snack. In terms of total numbers we served, there were 7 preschool children and 25 seniors (unduplicated). A local childcare center, “Shaun’s House”, and seniors from the neighborhood, nearby senior housing, a local senior center, and a long-term nursing care center participated over the course of the season.

Some of the activities included:

*Planting veggies, spreading mulch, and weekly watering

*Preparing homemade quesadillas with fresh garden veggies on a camp stove

*”Pizza on a Stick” which included a kebab with a bread crouton, ball of mozzarella cheese, cherry tomato, and basil leaf

*Harvesting and then dipping broccoli florets in chive yogurt (kids and seniors all tend to try new things when they’re picked right there in the garden!)

*A “Garden Tea Party” with lemon verbena and tulsi herb teas, tiny sandwiches filled with vegetables from the garden, and butter made with edible flowers

*Using our senses to see, smell, and taste new flavors from the garden

*”Beets Eats” that included foods made with beets, artwork with beets, and pretending that the beet juice was lipstick

*Herbal teas and herbed butter at Champlain Senior Center, with a special focus on the inclusion of Bhutanese seniors there

Seniors from Ethan Allen Residence, a long-term skilled nursing center with high levels of dementia, visited the garden site a few times. We had an especially delightful time at our “Garden Tea Party”. We introduced ourselves and talked about favorite vegetables. Seniors told stories about gardening and farming “in 

the old days”. After a tour of the gardens, seniors and kids chatted away and we served fancy sandwiches, fruit skewers, and herbed iced tea.    

One senior, Elly, lives in the Archibald Street neighborhood and attended weekly. She lives alone and looked forward to seeing the kids, spending time with them tending the gardens, chatting over a snack, or working on an art project together. She exclaimed, “It’s so motivating to have younger people around---I just love it!” Those neighborhood friendships will continue and that’s a heartwarming benefit of a program like this one.

A great quote from one of the kids who participated in the program: I said, “So, let’s see if we can name some of these vegetables.” And his response was “Okay, I think this one’s name is Charlotte.”

While the weekly programs were delightful and fun for all participants, the most successful event in terms of senior participation was when we moved one program to Champlain Senior Center. We specifically scheduled the timing there so that a group of Bhutanese seniors could attend. VCGN staff presented a fun, interactive program related to herbs. We made and packaged our own tea and then made herbed butter. The Bhutanese folks were absolutely thrilled to see some of their favorite herbs included in the program.

Challenges included: last-minute cancellations by seniors, scheduling conflicts, leadership changes at Champlain Senior Center, and inclement weather. One week, we thought we had a full van coming from senior housing, but seniors canceled just prior to the program. Champlain Senior Center (the closest senior center to the Archibald gardens) was in the process of shifting from an independent non-profit to inclusion under the umbrella of the City’s Parks & Rec department. That meant that the staff was new and getting used to running the center. Though the weather this summer was primarily glorious, a couple of programs were affected by rain.

We look forward to continuing a similar program in the future. We’re hopeful that, once Champlain Senior Center is settled in its new location at the former St. Joseph’s School here in the Old North End, we can partner with kids to provide an intergenerational “HANDS in the Dirt” gardening program right there. The Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the Family Room, and other organizations in the building could provide a natural partnership.    

Our society is often age-segregated. Kids in a childcare setting don’t often engage with seniors. Seniors live alone, in senior housing, or in nursing care facilities. There is magic when kids hear stories from seniors, when all ages tend and grow vegetables together, when laughter abounds over fresh food. This summer’s “HANDS in the Dirt” intergenerational gardening program provided just that. Thank you again for the opportunity to connect seniors and kids through fresh food!