Ageless agriculture: 11 food programs by and for seniors

Here are 11 programs and projects that aid older people in finding nutritional education, connect them to kids, or provide access to healthy food and active lifestyles.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters/File
An elderly customer shops for chickens at a Sam's Club store in Bentonville, Ark. Many programs around the US help senior citizens start gardens or provide access to other ways they can improve their nutrition.

This week, Food Tank is focusing on the challenges – and opportunities – older people have in accessing healthy foods and also how they're sharing their knowledge with younger generations.

The number and proportion of older persons – defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as over 60 years old – are growing in almost all countries. On a worldwide level, the elderly population has grown at an average annual rate of 13 percent. By 2050, the over 65 population will grow to be 1.9 billion people, 840 million of whom will be living in low-income countries.

In 2011, nearly 20 percent of Greece’s population was over age 65. In China, 123 million people are over the age of 65. Brazil projects 30 percent of its population will be aged 60 and over by 2050. By 2020, the population in the United States over the age of 65 is expected to increase to about 55 million.

To meet these challenges, many organizations around the world are realizing the importance of making sure that older people are getting the nutrition they need to stay active and healthy for as long as possible. And many older people are staying active in their communities, teaching younger generations about gardening and farming, food culture, and traditional cuisines.

Here are 11 programs and projects aiding older people in appropriate nutritional education, connecting them to kids, or providing access to healthy food and active lifestyles.

1. Danny Woo Garden and Children’s Garden

Located in the heart of downtown Seattle, the Danny Woo Community Garden was created in 1975 and makes up part of 1.5 acres of the largest green space in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District (C/ID). It consists of 100 plots, tended by 70 elderly Asian gardeners and is an important place where low-income gardeners can socialize, get exercise, and raise vegetables that reflect their cultural foods of choice. In 2009 the Children’s Garden began an intergenerational component which is a unique opportunity for immigrant elderly gardeners, most of whom do not speak English, to both teach and learn from the youth who are learning to garden through the Children’s Garden Educational Program.

2. Fly the Phoenix

This charity has projects in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Peru. Fly the Phoenix believes education and food are basic human rights. Sarah Riggott, CEO of Fly the Phoenix, reported that their older people’s program has been handing out food for some time, but now they are trial-ing veggie gardens. These gardens are in several countries and bring together whole families as well as provide nutrition to elders. Fly the Phoenix strives to keep older people as involved in the community as much as possible.

3. Gift of the Givers Foundation

In South Africa, about 1,000 Limpopo pensioners who care for their orphaned grandchildren received much needed blankets and food parcels from Gift of the Givers. It is the largest food parcel delivery agency in South Africa. This international non-governmental organization (NGO) responds to hunger crises, feeding elders and their families through a fast, inexpensive, and efficient system of donations.

4. HelpAge International

This global network helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination, and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active, and healthy lives. It provides older people with skills to start urban and rural microenterprises, and the network also runs socio-legal counseling centers (COSL) in Lima and Ayacucho, Peru, helping teach older people about their rights and helping them access legal benefits and state services to which they are entitled.

5. MyPlate for Older Adults

The Elder Nutrition and Food Safety (ENAFS) program partnered with faculty and staff at the University of Florida to review and update the 2006 publication, “MyPyramid for Older Adults,” to make it consistent with new dietary guidance and the USDA’s new MyPlate. MyPlate for Older Adults was introduced in September 2011 and includes lower calorie levels in the food plan due to the lower caloric needs of the elderly. It also includes foods that are easy to purchase, chew/swallow, and/or prepare.

6. Newbridge on the Charles

Retired psychiatrist Joseph Sabbath lives on this 162-acre wooded campus. The grounds include both a school and a retirement community, which provides the opportunity for the elderly and school children to create intergenerational relationships through the Newbridge garden. The garden includes 30 raised beds, which are accessible to seniors. Sabbath explains, “The garden gives them [school children] the chance to understand the role of food and vegetables in everyday life.” Every spring and fall a group of students work with the retirement community to tend to the garden, while seniors educate them on the importance of food and how it is grown. “It’s a wonderful outlet,” said Sabbath of the garden.

7. Pigsah

In Hebrew, Pigsah translates to “the mountain top where Moses saw the promised land.” The Pigsah facility in Los Angeles has been developed by the Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge, and Services (WORKS) organization to house 75 low-income elderly citizens and provide access to healthy food and companionship.

8. Physical Activity and Nutrition (PAN) Project

In Japan, the country is referred to as a “super-aging society,” which is why International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Japan decided to target middle-aged and elderly people to help them improve exercise and dietary habits. Since 2001, two programs have been created: a Lifestyle Modification program (LiSM10!) to prevent obesity, and TAKE10! to prevent the elderly from becoming bed-ridden by targeting behavioral changes.

9. Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)

This program awards grants to U. states and territories, as well as federally recognized Indian tribal governments, to provide low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for fresh produce, including fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs at farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.

10. Sustainable Garden Project

In Australia, this project was an initiative of Jeff Herd of the Department of Human Services (DHS) as a Neighborhood Renewal project. DHS saw the need for aging residents to have low-maintenance and sustainable garden plots. The project helped 15 clients with their gardens, allowing them to remain independent in their homes. The project brought people all ages together, including clients, volunteers, client’s children, and project coordinators.

11. UGArden

This student organization at the University of Georgia seeks to promote the social, environmental, and nutritional benefits of sustainable gardening through the creation of a student-run community garden. UGArden is dedicated to the management of a one-acre garden plot and has become a teaching garden for students. UGArden produce is also used to help alleviate poverty and hunger in the senior citizen population of Athens, Ga. Produce is prepared by Campus Kitchen volunteers and delivered to elderly citizens.

This article originally appeared at Food Tank, a think tank focused on feeding the world better. Food Tank researches and highlights environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty and creates networks of people, organizations, and content to push for food system change.

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