Judy Brown is the community educational mentor for Tockwotton on the Waterfront. In addition to acting as the staff liaison to the garden club, she strongly supports other resident-driven initiatives, including a reader’s theater, and she is also the chairperson for the resident wishing jar program. Brown originally joined Tockwotton in 2004 as a program director. She has spent 32 years in the field of gerontology after graduating from Rhode Island College with a degree in psychology.
PBN: Gardening is a deep part of many people’s connection to home. How has making gardening possible for residents of Tockwotton contributed to their sense of home?
BROWN: For many residents, gardening has been something that they’ve enjoyed for both recreational and therapeutic purposes throughout their lives. It’s a passion that began when they were children (working alongside their parents in the garden) but it was also something they had been missing (and longed for) before moving in to Tockwotton on the Waterfront. They may have downsized to an apartment that had no green space before coming to Tockwotton, or had found that it was increasingly difficult to tend to gardens at ground level because they needed to bend and kneel. However, their passion and will for gardening never left; they just couldn’t figure out how to continue to pursue that passion.
When we moved to our new community, that interest percolated and the residents decided to form a garden club. Through conversation among residents and staff, we began researching raised garden beds as a way to ensure that everyone could access the gardens. We also looked at vertical, aeroponic gardening as a means of maximizing our gardening space. Three raised garden beds were built in 2013, and two more were added this year. We also have four aeroponic garden towers in use and all equipment is stored in an outdoor, hinged bin that can be accessed by everyone, at any time. This garden is the residents’. They own it, maintain it and harvest it, just like at home.
PBN: Are you also seeing people participate in the gardening program who are doing so for the first time in their lives?
BROWN: We moved in to this beautiful waterfront building in January of 2013 so last year was our first gardening program. The joy that so many of the resident gardeners had was contagious and this year more people took an interest in gardening, joining their ranks this spring. We’ve got some great space available on the roof and put the plumbing and support structures in place when we built Tockwotton on the Waterfront. I hope that funds will allow for future expansion of the program through donations in coming years so that we can continue to grow.
PBN: To what extent does the garden facilitate community at Tockwotton?
BROWN: The positive energy and sense of community that has been fostered through this investment of resources has really been amazing.
The gardens are a collaborative effort among the residents. In the spring, the residents and staff members board the Tockwotton van and drive to a local nursery where the residents choose their own flowers, herbs and vegetables for planting. Each person then designs and plants their own garden space but as soon as those individual selections are made and individual gardens sowed, the gardening becomes a group effort. The gardeners meet regularly outside, and although these men and women come from all different walks of life, their hobby is a common bond. They discuss conditions, types of plants that are thriving, and pruning techniques, encouraging each other along the way. The camaraderie that has developed between residents with different abilities and levels of mobility working alongside each other in the garden is amazing. Even the results are enjoyed by all. Some of the garden club members harvest the goods to supplement vegetables and herbs purchased by our dietary staff, other members simply enjoy the stunning colors of the flower beds, and some use the flowers to make arrangements.
PBN: How many months a year are the cooks making use of what is grown in the garden, and what crop gets consumed on site the most?
BROWN: Last year, we mostly grew herbs and tomatoes (in addition to flowers) so the results were enjoyed in the summer months although we did manage to pickle and enjoy the green tomatoes that didn’t ripen before the first frost. This year, we have a growing season under our belt. We’ve seen what worked last year and how it was so well received so we’ve extended the growing season by adding lettuce and strawberries in the spring. I’m hoping that we can add a few more winter vegetables to extend the growing season into early fall, too.
PBN: What kind of industry interest in gardening are you seeing? Are people reaching out to you about Tockwotton’s program?
BROWN: Sejal Lanterman came to visit from URI’s Outreach Center to interview some of the participants last fall. I’m hoping that this article will help foster some additional interest in our program. After all, we’ve got big plans. In addition to developing rooftop gardens (as I had mentioned earlier), we’d love to partner with a nursery for plants or to have some new tools donated. The sky (and our New England weather) is really the limit.