Regal Heights Joins with Local High School Students for Community Garden-to-Table Program

Two kinds of seeds were planted at Regal Heights Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center on June 9 – vegetables and herbs in newly raised planting beds and a new, interactive relationship between the center’s residents and students at McKean High School. Following the installation of new planting boxes in May, the Planting Program paired students directly with residents to show them where to plant the seeds, how to cultivate the plants for long-term growth and, come harvest time, how to use the new produce in healthy and delicious dishes. Chef Lennell Preston and his culinary team at Healthcare Services Group were on hand to help and to get some new ideas for how they will use the garden’s bounty to prepare delicious new recipes for residents and visitors to enjoy.
The new partnership with McKean students, cultivated by Plant Science and Biotechnology Instructor, Stephanie Matson, is a groundbreaking, new approach for the local community. Students that are part of the school’s Student Service Agricultural Program were looking for new ways to get involved in the community and to help others benefit from the plants they have cultivated for months in the school’s 2,000 sq. ft. greenhouse. By connecting with Regal Heights’ Activity Director, Nico Zaballero, the relationship with the center was established. The students thoroughly enjoyed cultivating relationships with the residents on an individual level and look forward to visiting twice a month throughout the summer and fall to check on the garden beds and to educate the center’s residents and staff on maintenance and nutrition.
For Nico, working directly with high school students was incredibly inspiring. “McKean’s students have helped us take gardening to the next level,” he said. “This kind of intergenerational interaction gives our residents a sense of responsibility and helps them to connect with the community around them.” During the planting program, the residents enjoyed getting their hands in the soil and learning about vegetables they had never heard of before – lemon cucumbers were a new vegetable for many. With perfect weather and a large audience, the day went quickly with many residents and staff pitching in. “It takes a lot to get our residents to venture out-of-doors,” said Nico. “It’s great for their health to get outside as much as possible, and the more active they can be, the more beneficial it is for the rehabilitative process.”
Overall, the day was a huge success and provided a wonderful learning opportunity for students, residents and staff. Chef Lennell, who will be using the vegetables and herbs in fresh, new recipes during harvest season in the fall, was particularly excited to see the program come to life. His team will be working closely with the residents for demo cooking events and programs that will teach them the true meaning and cost-effective benefits of cooking garden-to-table. “The energy and excitement of the kids today is incredibly infectious,” he said. “We’re all so thrilled with the success of today, and can’t wait to see how this relationship with the McKean students will develop in the future.”