Garden with your Elders!

By Leon Latino

One of my oldest gardening memories is picking Japanese peapods for my grandfather, a 2nd generation Italian-American who moved the family from Worcester, MA to rural East Brookfield, where he had room to plant massive gardens. Though I did not really enjoy picking peas or watering cucumbers at the time, I now find gardening to be one of my favorite outdoor activities.

As part of the Environmental Careers Program at EPA, I was encouraged to join an “action learning team” along with other new employees. Building on our common interests in gardening, food security, and community-building, we decided to document examples of elder-accessible community gardens, gardening plots thoughtfully designed with elders in mind.  Most have raised beds that bring the gardening surface closer to waist height, to allow for easy use. These gardens represent a great opportunity to involve elders in community-building activities, while also providing low-impact exercise and improved access to fresh food.

My team looked for examples of elder-accessible gardens on former Brownfield sites. Can you imagine a blighted or underused parcel of urban land being redeveloped as a garden? How about a garden where elders can enjoy time outdoors in the shade while imparting gardening knowledge and cultural knowledge on younger generations? It is quite a transformative idea!

EPA’s “Urban Agriculture & Local, Sustainable Food Systems” website provides information that empowers both urban and rural gardeners to properly assess and mitigate potential contaminants in their soils. Their mantra is “test your soil first,” especially if you do not know the history of your gardening site.

The Brownfields “Urban Ag” website features my team’s new publication on elder-accessible gardens.
Here’s an example from Philadelphia, where gardens have become a place of cultural exchange for a diverse group of elder immigrants.

Do you know of other examples where gardens are “growing community” or revitalizing under-used sites? Share your stories below!

About the author: Leon Latino has been with EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management since 2009. He and his wife have modified their pavement-heavy urban environment with raised-bed and container gardens, plus a rain garden and rain barrels.

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