Rollins College student Hannah Ricci works her way around beds of broccoli, lettuce, kale and more than 30 other types of vegetables while some seniors harvest nearby. But these aren’t college seniors. At the Mayflower retirement community, food grows where retiree residents can see it. Then they take it back to their kitchens, making soups, salads and floral arrangements in vases that add freshness to their homes.
The Mayflower community garden is a combined effort between the Mayflower retirement community and Rollins College that began with the passion of one dedicated Rollins student.
Hannah Ricci is a senior environmental studies major with a minor in sustainable development. She’s laid back, outgoing and passionate about what she does.
She was hit with the idea to grow a community garden after she took a sustainable agriculture class at Rollins and noticed the shortcomings of the US agricultural system.
“We’re putting all of these pesticides and fertilizers into these fields with huge trucks that take up a bunch of carbon dioxide,” Ricci said, overlooking the garden. “They’re getting transported across the world when we could be doing something like this right in our backyards.”
Hannah came with the idea to her mom, who is the director of marketing at The Mayflower. The senior staff thought it was a great idea, and it all fell into place.
“Fleet Farming built all the beds the first week in October and we set up the irrigation and everything,” Ricci said. “And I’ve stayed and maintained and reseeded. It’s sort of my own little project now.”
Putting a community garden in a retirement community is a unique idea. It’s one of more than 20 urban “farmlettes” in Orlando, and it engages volunteers to plant, care for and harvest the produce, an activity that has been overlooked for senior citizens, Ricci said.
“It’s kind of crazy that the local foods movement hasn’t incorporated this generation of people before, because I feel like these people could really benefit from it, but they’ve just kind of fallen by the wayside,” Ricci said.
Having a community garden also provides many health benefits for the residents at The Mayflower, according to Ricci. Not only does it provide an outlet for fresh, available produce, but studies have shown that gardening can reduce high blood pressure, stress, stroke and heart disease. It also encourages residents to get outside and enjoy the nature.
“I’m a walker, I walk the campus just about every day and I always walk past it,” said Mayflower resident Marilyn Molen. “Frequently, there’s somebody from the center who’s in a wheelchair with an aide, and they’re examining something or choosing something.”
Nancy Klingler, another Mayflower resident, said that for many, the garden is a destination or a meeting place. “It’s a good place to bring your guests, your grandchildren. It’s just a lovely place,” Klingler said.
A lot of the food grown in the garden is used in the kitchens, but many of the residents use it for their own cooking.
Linda Maraio, a resident who lives near the garden with her husband, Bob, said that her favorite part of the garden is having fresh things readily available.
“My family almost always had a garden and my husband and I had a garden from time to time, primarily herbs,” Maraio said.
Maraio is from New York, and she said that it’s interesting to learn how crop rotation works in Florida. The residents get to learn about sustainable agriculture, because Ricci likes to share her information with the residents.
“It would have been most efficient, theoretically, if we just did a bunch of salad greens,” Ricci said. “Because you just cut them and they pop right back, but I think it’s so cool for the residents to see how things grow.”
In the future, the Mayflower community garden is likely to become an internship for Rollins students. Students will be able to work in the garden for course credit and the garden will continue to grow and improve.
Although she’s passionate about gardening and sustainable agriculture, Ricci said that her favorite part about the experience isn’t the plants, but the people.
“It was kind of an interesting process for all of us, as this was something none of us had ever done before,” Ricci said. “For me to just get to know the people who live here has been really phenomenal.”