Just as it only takes a single seed to grow a tree, it takes a single idea to spark revolution. Last year, Velma Stricker, a 94-year-old resident at Arroyo Grande Care Center in Arroyo Grande, Calif., asked Matthew Lysobey, the administrator at the facility, to build her a greenhouse. A former avid gardener, Stricker felt depressed and yearned for a creative outlet.
“She said, ‘If you do build it, I will take charge of it, I will be out there every day,’” says Lysobey. “I said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do it,’ and now she is out there doing her work every day. She now has a reason to get out of bed.”

A Farm Is Born

Last November, Arroyo Grande Care Center, which was ranked one of the top nursing homes by U.S. News & World Report in 2012, permitted volunteers and maintenance workers to break ground on “The Farm,” a one-acre produce and poultry farm.

The Farm, which is located on the facility’s grounds, is completely wheelchair-accessible and was purposely designed to offer residents, many of whom are former farmers, the opportunity to weed, water, and prune crops in addition to tending to chicken coops.

Residents are responsible for their own crops, and all food produced is harvested by the residents themselves.
Arroyo Grande Care Center
After the food is collected, residents are transported across the street to a free farmers market that serves underprivileged elderly community members.

“We mobile all the residents over in their wheelchairs, and they have this huge bounty of chard, carrots, peas, string beans, lettuce, and pumpkin cookies that they made, along with flowers they’re growing so these people have nice flowers, and there are 40 to 50 people lined up every time with their bags,” says Lysobey.

Residents Feel Needed

The need to be needed is essential to the human condition and does not fade in the elderly, health care experts say. Lysobey believes that programs like The Farm are fairly simple to incorporate and can be hugely effective in lowering levels of depression in long term care facilities.

The widely held notion that residents should simply rest and relax through their “golden years” is erroneous, experts say. “There are nonprofits in every community and nursing homes asking to help,” Lysobey says. “Residents just want to be needed and to help.”

Giving Purpose To Residents’ Lives

Arroyo Grande also recently teamed with a local nonprofit, Children’s Resource Network, to open a free clothing and school supply store located on its grounds to benefit disadvantaged youths.

“Advocates in the community, high school and junior high counselors, and homeless shelters can call and place a request. We then print that out, give it to a resident here, and she calls from her room and makes appointments for these disadvantaged teens to shop in the store. Three to four residents work with teens, helping them pick out clothes,” Lysobey says.

Creating opportunities for residents in long term care facilities to team with nonprofits is a no-brainer, according to Lysobey. Health care providers have “been so focused on improving the quality of care, which we have,” he says.

“Quality care has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years—but no matter how nice the infrastructure is, that doesn’t mean people will have need and purpose in their lives.”

Providing purpose to residents is, therefore, as critical—if not more critical—as providing basic health care amenities, he says.
To see a video about the farm, click HERE.