Connecting Seniors Through the Back Farms Program & Community Partnerships16 Dec 2021, by Green Urban Lunch Box, Harvest Blog, Harvest VISTA in
The Green Urban Lunch Box was founded by Shawn Peterson after his elderly neighbor asked for help in her garden, since she wasn’t able to maintain it anymore. Thus began GULB’s Back-Farms program, which now connects volunteer Garden Apprentices with senior citizens to build, cultivate, and maintain organic gardens in their backyards, providing a hands-on educational experience, connections, and fresh, local produce to all participants.
When compared to other age demographics, seniors experience food insecurity at a disproportionately high level. Many hunger resources fail to meet the needs of food insecure seniors. NCOA states that 3 out of 5 seniors who would qualify for SNAP benefits do not participate, often because of barriers related to mobility, technology, and social stigma.
On top of food insecurity, many seniors also face isolation or a lack of social companionship. The CDC differentiates loneliness and social isolation, stating that “loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated.” According to the CDC, one in four elderly Americans are considered to be socially isolated. This can have major impacts both on physical and mental health – social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased risks of dementia, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, anxiety, and suicide.
To combat the issue of senior citizen food insecurity and isolation, The Green Urban Lunch Box provides relationship building activities through the Back-Farms program and partners with Salt Lake County’s Aging and Adult Services, Utah State University Extension’s Master Gardeners Program, and Salt Lake County Jail’s Horticulture Program to host Free Farm Stands for seniors at local senior centers. This year, GULB participated in 25 Free Farm Stands (and produce drop-offs) at senior centers, serving approximately 948 seniors. In total 7,165 lbs of Back-Farms produce and 2,653 pounds of fruit from GULB’s FruitShare program were distributed. GULB served an average of 38 seniors at each market, with an average of 7.5 lbs of produce to each senior.
An additional partnership with the Salt Lake Canning Co. was created to preserve produce from GULB’s summer season to distribute to seniors in the winter. The produce comes from gardens in GULB’s Back-Farms Program and fruit trees in GULB’s FruitShare Program. The Salt Lake Canning Co’s goal is to reduce food waste through the canning of locally grown produce. With the help of staff and volunteers, The Salt Lake Canning Co. was able to preserve 529 lbs. of B-grade (or imperfect) fruit harvested in GULB’s FruitShare program. GULB was then able to distribute 230 jars of preserves, including applesauce, plum puree, apricots, and pears, to the Back-Farms senior participants. The hope is to expand this partnership to include different types of produce to increase what is provided to seniors during non-growing seasons.