Roaring River Health and Rehab exercising green thumb

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Roaring River Health and Rehab residents Shawn Erke and Fern Leach tend to produce plants in the new greenhouse. Residents are free to plant and care for just about any plant they want, and eat the produce for dinner, and they report it's making a difference in the quality of their lives. Julia Kilmer

Facility builds greenhouse, invites its residents to grow own produce

Roaring River Health and Rehabilitation has started a new concept -- and possibly and new trend with the potential to sprout at other long-term, skilled nursing care facilities -- by constructing its own greenhouse.

According to Director Russ Newby, the building owners, who own several nursing home facilities across the country, started the idea.

Roaring River Health and Rehabilitation residents, from left, Racheal Sheets and Shawn Erke, along with Activities Director Heather Gusta and resident Fern Leach, visit around a bed of growing gladiolas, peonies and iris, which have been planted in the new greenhouse for the sole purposes of providing fresh-cut flowers for the dining room. Even though the greenhouse is not yet completed, from the simple task of growing and nurturing tiny seeds and bulbs into plants, staff are already seeing social and psychological benefits in residents' lives. Julia Kilmer

"They had done one in a home in Dallas, Texas, a few years back, so it was an idea they had to do something different and unique, because we'll be

the only nursing facility in the state of Missouri that house a greenhouse," Newby said. "But, the magnitude of what we just built, there won't be another like it. We're blazing a new trail."

The project was not planned around residents, but to directly involve them in it, including the planting, growing and consumption of wholesome, fresh garden produce, for their physical, social and psychological benefits.

"It's designed for every resident to enjoy," Newby said. "It was also to give our residents something different to do, so they could go out and plant flowers and veggies. And, it will also be a sitting area so if family members come visit, they can go out there."

Newby said along with the obvious nutritional and social benefits the greenhouse its expected to provide to residents, the facility expects to see psychological benefits as well.

"The greenhouse will do nothing but enhance those benefits because it's giving them purpose to come out here, sit in the sun, get Vitamin D, and have the experience of being able to plant [and nurture] something," he said. "We've done some research and the plant becomes their purpose, so they'll be able to come out here and tend to their plant every day."

Residents are given permission to grow just about anything they want, Newby said, and eat their produce for dinner if they choose.

"Like tomatoes," he said. "That's usually the big thing people want to grow."

The 40-by-50-foot facility is not officially finished yet, but residents and staff are already growing produce and flowers, and they are seeing the seeds they planted sprout and come to fruition. The reqards are already being reaped.

Roaring River Health and Rehabilitation resident Shawn Erke is delighted to discover a new pepper from her bell pepper plant growing in the new greenhouse at the facility. The greenhouse is the first to be built on the grounds of a nursing facility in the state of Missouri, and positive benefits are already being reaped by everyone involved with the project. Julia Kilmer

Resident Shawn Erke shrieked with glee when she discovered the first small green pepper on her bell pepper plant.

"It's exciting to see a plant grow from just a bulb to a plant," she said. "And, I haven't killed it."

"I'm in my own little bubble when I come out here," said resident and volunteer Racheal Sheets. "The most relaxing thing I can do if I've had a stressful day is to come out here."

There is also a memory garden with roses and other flowering plants to honor dear friends that have been lost. And, there's a bed with gladiolas, peonies and iris that will be used to provide fresh flowers in the dining hall.

"We can have fresh flowers all the time," Erke said.

The greenhouse will also feature a waterfall with Koi fish on one end when completed, which will add to the already tranquil atmosphere for residents.

"It's a whole other world in here," Sheets said. "If I want to just sit in there by the waterfall and read, I can."

"From a social aspect, the greenhouse is so relaxing," said Heather Gusta, activities director. "It gives residents a place to bring their family members, and something to work on every day. It also helps with anxiety levels."

It will also be used for therapy activities, Newby said. It does not matter whether residents have had gardening experience or not, just participating and having a beautiful setting to go to, and something to nurture, is already making a difference in the quality of their lives and their psychological state, citing improved anxiety and depression levels.

"I'm not a gardener but it is so exciting, and gives us something do do," Erke said. "We love coming here. It gets me away from my computer, too, and keeps me active. It's just exciting to come out here and dig in the dirt. We'll have fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers when we want, because they're expensive in the store."

When the greenhouse is complete, it will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and residents will be able to come and go to tend to their plants or just enjoy the ambience of the facility during those hours. Nurses will be able to see residents from a video camera system installed for safety purposes.

"They'll have free rein," Gusta said.

"We would like to have it open on weekends, too, so that residents can come out here with their families," Newby said.

"I tell everyone on our Facebook page about the greenhouse," Erke said.

While the facility is not yet completed, residents like Sheets and Erke are already reaping more than just fruits, vegetables and flowers.

"At first, there was a lot of negativity for building a greenhouse, because there are other needs, too," Sheets said. "But, you can't pay for everything all at once. This has become a big positive in a lot of peoples' lives here. I'm supposed to have high blood pressure, but when I got here last fall, I have not had to take my pill hardly at all, just because of the warmth and kindness of this place."

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