Elders and Teens Thrive on New Farm-to-Table Program

Posted:  Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 8:45am

Seniors at Quarry Hill in Camden and a group of local teenagers have a good thing growing this summer.

Under a new agreement between Quarry Hill and Maine Coast Heritage Trust's Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport, a crew of six high school students is raising a variety of vegetables for delivery to the senior living community's dining program. The just-picked produce shows up on residents' plates as salads or is showcased in colorful soups and sides.

Heather Halsey, community program manager at the trust and leader of the organization's Teen Agricultural Crew, and Quarry Hill executive chef, John Roy, say the partnership is a win-win proposition for everyone involved.

"The kids learn the whole range of skills involved in running a successful farm—everything from crop planning, to planting seeds, to pricing and packaging produce," said Halsey. She said that teens who grow healthful veggies are more likely to eat them.

Meanwhile, diners at Quarry Hill are literally eating up the benefits of consuming locally, sustainably grown food.

"The baby beet greens are so green and delicious, I can't help picking them out and eating them first," commented resident Hannah Williamson.

"We know what we're eating isn't processed and has been sustainably raised," Eleanor Gambell said. "It makes us feel good that it's helping the kids, too."

Under the Quarry Hill–Erickson contract, box loads of fresh lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, summer squash, beets and beet greens, cucumbers, scallions, cherry tomatoes and basil are expected to make the trip from farm-to-table over the course of the summer. Flowers used in the fields to attract beneficial bugs and discourage pests will be cut and trucked to Quarry Hill to be displayed as dining room centerpieces.

Halsey said she's especially pleased to have found a way to connect her young apprentices with older adults.

"The Teen Ag program has been even more successful than I could have imagined," she reflected. "Last year, the kids raised more than 14,000 pounds of vegetables for local schools and food pantries while gaining farming, work, community engagement and leadership skills. As we moved into our fourth year, I began searching for a way to use what we were doing to create a link between generations."

Her seed of an idea found fertile ground at Quarry Hill. Familiar with the recent introduction of locally grown produce at Pen Bay Medical Center and a state initiative aimed at connecting schools, hospitals and other organizations with Maine growers, executive chef Roy said he leapt at the opportunity Halsey presented.

"The vegetables coming from Erickson are so fresh and colorful, they practically jump off the plate," commented Roy. He said the flow of tantalizing ingredients inspires Quarry Hill's team of professional chefs, who now look forward to building each day's menus around whatever rolls in from the farm.

Even the price is right, he said, with the cost of the veggies low enough to be "roughly comparable" to what Quarry Hill pays larger distributors but high enough not to undercut other small, local growers.

Halsey said a key goal of the nonprofit Erickson preserve is to create new opportunities for all Midcoast producers by generating interest in locally, sustainably grown food.

Quarry Hill is Midcoast Maine's premier extended-care retirement community. It is a member of the Pen Bay Healthcare family of services, which also includes Pen Bay Medical Center, Kno-Wal-Lin Home Care and Hospice, and the Knox Center for Long Term Care. Through these organizations, and with a staff of more than 100 outstanding physicians and more than 1,500 healthcare professionals, we are able to provide the people of Midcoast Maine with a continuum of both routine and specialty patient-centered medical services.

To learn more about Quarry Hill, call 230-6116, or visit www.quarryhill.org or www.facebook.com/QuarryHillCamdenMaine.