Collective Roots Garden Project Engaging Seniors to Fight Hunger and Depression

Last Published: 06/18/2013
Molly McClanahan

Almost 9 million people over age 50 are at risk for food insecurity- that?s a nearly 80% increase over the past 10 years according to the AARP foundation. Food insecure older adults are more likely to suffer from diabetes, depression, and age-related limitations.

The AARP Foundation, a FNS partner, is trying to help seniors suffering from hunger by awarding grants that help combat hunger and poor nutrition among seniors through their AARP Foundation Grants Program. One of the AARP Foundation's awardees in 2012 is Collective Roots Garden Project, Inc. in East Palo Alto, CA. Collective Roots will be using their newly awarded grant from the AARP Foundation to begin a senior-focused gardening program. Collective Roots aims to change the local food system by engaging the community in programs which seek to educate and engage with sustainable programs in schools and throughout the community.

Harvesting lettuce

East Palo Alto faces many barriers to healthy eating: transportation issues, lack of supermarkets, and low income. The senior gardening program involves a 12-week course which provides information on gardening and healthy cooking as well as the creation of garden plots either in the senior's home or in senior centers. To address some potential physical limitations, several of the garden plots are ADA accessible, and family and friends are encouraged to work with older gardeners to allow them to enjoy the many benefits of the program. Collective Roots will also lend tools and seeds.

The gardeners will also be certified to sell produce at the farmer's market, and there is great interest in a growers' cooperative that will help to earn needed income (possibly to be used towards restoring public transit for seniors). The diverse makeup community creates a market for a many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and East Palo Alto enjoys a mild climate which allows for year-round growing seasons. Not only will the garden help to fill some nutritional and income needs, but will contribute to overall wellbeing. The older community tends to experience high levels of isolation and depression, which perhaps can be somewhat alleviated with the new activities and interactions inspired by gardening. Gardening will allow older individuals, who often have much to teach younger generations, to more fully participate in, contribute to, and reap the benefits of their communities.

FNS also addresses the lack of access to fresh foods that many low income seniors face through their Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which awards grant funds to states, territories, and Indian tribal organizations to provide coupons that seniors can use to purchase produce and other foods at farmers markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

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