Mike Peacock: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another delicious episode of Cosmic Soup. As always, super stoked to have you on board, so check this out. The BBC recently reported on a study that revealed the most common hobby for centenarians is – wait for it – gardening. Yep, that’s right. Coincidentally, we’re in the thick of summer, which means there is a ton of cool stuff growing in the gardens.
To celebrate all things green, we’re producing a series of podcasts on urban gardens located on senior living properties. Today, we have some amazingly awesome guests who are directly involved in urban gardening.
We’ve got Rob Leinbach, Principal at Cadence Living, a company that develops, manages, and owns a national portfolio of communities ranging from upscale to a more affordable product. Cadence provides beautiful homes and thoughtful services to people living in independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Today, we’re going to talk to Rob about their Poway California memory care unit, Cadence at Poway.
We’ve also got Roy Wilburn, the horticultural director at the Poway location. Roy manages acres of gardens right onsite, works with residents in their horticultural therapy program, and also runs a sweet multigenerational program with students nearby. As a chef myself, what I think is also very cool is that Roy and his team grow 10,000 pounds of food a year, some of which go into the community kitchens to give residents healthy meals, and the rest is donated to food banks nearby.
Of course, where would we be without the omnipresent and perpetually busy Cynthia Thurlow-Cruver? The answer is nowhere. That’s why she’s joining us in the Soup today as well. Not only is she an avid organic gardener, but she and her team here at 3rdThird worked on Cadence’s branding.
If that’s not an epic introduction to today’s episode, I don’t know what it is.
Rob, Roy, Cynthia, welcome to Cosmic Soup. Thanks for joining me today.
Roy Wilburn: Good morning.
Rob Leinbach: Good morning.
Cynthia Thurlow-Cruver: Good morning.
Mike: Well, we have a lot of really, really cool things to talk about today, so what do you say we just get into it? Rob, let’s start with you. Because you’re definitely a newsmaker in this industry, I think the audience would love to know more about you and how you came to create Cadence with your partner Eric Gruber and also, if you could, I know there’s a really cool story about how the whole thing ties into music, which we all have kind of a musical common theme there. Why don’t you tell us all about that?
Rob: Sure. Well, my exposure to senior housing really started as a consumer. My mother started having some early dementia issues in her late 70s and early 80s. She was living in our family home that we grew up in and I noticed that she was just sort of alone, shuffling through papers in her house and was lacking that engagement that is what the human interaction and our like is about.
I really started searching for a good place for her where she could sort of be revitalized. I liken it to going back to college, being around your peers, having fun with your peers, and making sure that you’re making the most of those years.
That experience was very valuable to me and, when I met my partner Eric Gruber and we founded Cadence, it was both of our intentions that the communities that we either owned or ran had to have a beat. They had to have a pulse. They had to be alive. It had to be fun. That’s how we came up with Cadence. We wanted our buildings to have that beat and rhythm.
As Eric says, the feeling when you walk into one of our buildings should be the feeling that you feel and the energy you feel on the morning of Thanksgiving dinner. Right? Everybody is running around getting ready, excited. You feel the energy. That’s the way we want it to feel.
Eric is a big lover of rock and roll music. I happen to have a stint as a failed wannabe rock n’ roller in a band.
Rob: We bonded over that and, as Roy said, rock n’ roll. Let’s have fun with senior housing.
Mike: Yeah, that’s amazing. I don’t know if I’d say failed stint. Let’s just say it’s been put on hold for a while and you’re on hiatus. I think that that sounds more socially acceptable.
Rob: For some reason, the 18-year-old kids don’t want to be me anymore. [Clears throat]
Mike: [Laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know why, you know. You seem pretty awesome to me.
Mike: What are your thoughts about having Poway Gardens in the Cadence portfolio of communities and tell us about your decision to acquire this particular unique property?
Rob: Sure. Well, the key for us at Cadence is we wanted to be different. We want to be unique. We want to be pushing the boundaries of senior housing at all times. We want to be offering stuff that other people aren’t offering.
In particular, the Poway property was interesting for a number of reasons. Number one, obviously, the San Diego Poway area is fantastic. But this property sat on 32 acres, so you don’t usually see that in senior housing and it abuts the Poway Hills, if you will. It’s got this beautiful, natural setting where, if I was a retiree, I would love to be. That was the first attraction to it.
Then the community itself is unique in that it’s sort of a continuum of care for those with cognitive impairment, right? Everybody talks about aging in place and continuum of care in terms of senior housing, in general, right? You come in independent. You might need some services and go to assisted. You might need memory care at some point in time.
Everybody has that, but this was unique in that it was a continuum of care specifically for people with early-onset dementia and more acute dementia, so you could come into the community. You could be in one of the individual houses up against the mountain when you were more active and had more space and needed less care. Then as the disease progressed and, again, I saw this with my mother, you need more care. Then you can move over into a setting where you’re receiving more care. You didn’t have to leave the community.
Then, finally, it has these beautiful gardens and this horticultural program, which Roy is running for us there, which was unique and different. We could grow fruits and vegetables and put it on the plate, and then a great charity program with the community. We were donating food to help feed those in need. What a great way to have that intergenerational programming where our residents are gardening and producing food for the community with the local school kids in the community. That’s just different and unique and that’s why it’s a perfect Cadence community.
Mike: Yeah. Well, you kind of gave us a brief visual description of the whole property, but if you can kind of break that down for us a little more, like if nobody is familiar with the area that you’re at, tell everybody what the property looks like. I think you mentioned 32 acres. How many residential options are there?
Rob: Sure. Again, it’s a unique community in that it has five, basically, single-family homes and then two main buildings. When you’re talking to other operators out there or to capital partners out there, they look at that and go, “Oh, no.” Right? “Look at all these operational inefficiencies.”
But we looked at it and said, “Awesome!” Right? Why wouldn’t you want to? If you were just beginning to have cognitive impairment, why wouldn’t you want to be in a single-family home with five other people with your own personal garden to tend to and hang out with close friends and have it feel like a family? Why wouldn’t you want that?
Then the two main buildings that are more traditional, if you will, memory care type facilities where it has a more robust nursing staff, it has more care available. That’s where you are able to then move to if you need additional layers of care.
Where a lot of the industry looks at it as inefficient, we looked at it as all of these additional abilities to be able to serve our residents. The acreage around it just makes it just a gorgeous setting.
Cynthia: It’s stunning. I was there. I think I visited in January right before all of this COVID madness started, and I’m so happy I got to go. I spent some time with Roy, which I think it’s funny because Rob Roy is an amazing drink made with bourbon. I love that both Rob and Roy are here.
Mike: [Laughter] Nice.
Cynthia: You knew I was going to go there. Right, Mike?
Mike: I did.
Cynthia: Roy, we would like to hear about your background. As the horticulturist for Poway Gardens, tell us about your background and what you do at Poway.
Roy: Hello, everybody. I graduated in mathematics out of UCSD, which is kind of crazy. But I fell in love with this young gal whose father was a huge tomato grower in Baha, California. He was looking for somebody to mold and do a little research and development for him. I was supposed to be groomed for sales. I never got to that. I never got off the ground.
I loved Baha, ended up marrying the farmer’s daughter, and spent 20 years in Baha as a commercial grower in our family business there growing tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and a lot of the things you’d probably see in our garden today. Then after kidnappings and running out of good water happened in our area in Baha, we ended up expanding all the way up and down the Baha Peninsula. But things started to get tough, so I took a step back.
My daughter was at that age where I was able to give you a little one-on-one and coach her in softball. So, I worked for a culinary herb place in Oceanside, California for three years growing about 16 types of culinary herbs and that’s where I kind of was introduced to the world of organics, which we have utilized here in our program.
Then I left there because then my son needed a baseball, football, and wrestling announcer father, so I’ve been able to work around my businesses and be there for my children, watching them growing up. Luckily, they’re both still here in the San Diego area, so that’s awesome.
Then I was grooming myself to help out this greenhouse operation here and, after two years of waiting for it to get started, I said I’ve got bills to pay, so I just stumbled on our facilities here with the previous ownership and that was right after my mother passed away with Alzheimer’s, so I think somehow I was directed here. So, I came on board and I’ve been here over ten years and absolutely love it.
Cynthia: That’s such a good story. I love your background and I also love, you know, me being a huge organic gardening fan and I love that you’re organic there. That’s very cool. I really enjoyed our time together at your farm and in your greenhouse.
I was hoping that you could talk to us about the horticulture, gardening, being outside, and seeing plants. When you think about how your residents are interacting with all of these things, can you talk about the benefits, the science behind that, and/or the psychology?
Roy: Yeah. Very easy to do. We have a fairly intense horticultural therapy program here, which is an offshoot of one of the things that I loved the most about here and that’s our intergenerational garden club. Our intergenerational garden club consists of basically homeschooled kids and preschool kids.
We have a little garden here for them. They come and they work in the garden. They do this twice a month. Well, we’re somewhat on hold right now, but they do this twice a month and they learn how to grow. They learn how to garden and they’re really, really good at it.
A lot of the children that are involved right now have been swaddled by their mothers as they watched their siblings work in the gardens, harvest, and do cultural practices in their little garden. The program has expanded to the point where it’s all my gardens now. We have five organic gardens here and, even though we’re on 32 acres, our gardens probably are, well, 2,000 linear feet. That’s probably about a quarter of an acre. But the kids work in my gardens, too, now.
Then they go to our greenhouse, which is absolutely beautifully serene setting and their grandmas and grandpas are waiting there for them. Then it’s just a love fest for about another hour. They bond with their grandmas and grandpas. They do all the seeding for our crop. We seed everything in our greenhouse for our gardens.
They just have fun and they see things that will eventually go into our gardens. They tell stories. They sing, poetry, and then we always end with our version of Last Comic Standing. We get the kids to vocalize themselves and become socially more interactive.
Some of them are really shy and they get over that after a while. Then they tell jokes and the residents love it. Then we end with cutting flowers from our flower gardens—roses, alstroemeria, sunflowers—and then we generally would end with hugs, handshakes, and high-fives, but we’re going to have to find a different way to end those things.
Cynthia: That sounds like a dream. [Laughter] Sign me up. I want to go.
I grew up gardening with my grandmother, like I would hang out. She had this huge garden. While she was doing her work, I would buzz through the raspberry patch and eat raspberries and then pod peas.
One of my favorite sayings is, “If you love to garden, you were probably loved by a gardener.” It sounds like you’re creating a lot of nice gardeners there at Poway.
Roy: My mother had a green thumb and, again, I think she’s watching. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, it’s her parents, which were from Sicily. I remember being in my grandfather’s garden and just helping him. It’s like a godfather thing where Don Corleone is going through the tomatoes with his grandson and it brings back flashbacks all the time.
Yeah, I think I’m getting a little help. I’m getting a little help somewhere.
Cynthia: That’s so sweet.
Mike: Yeah, that’s awesome. Hey, Roy, would you mind listing for us quickly some of the top benefits of horticultural therapy?
Roy: Reaping the benefits of horticultural therapy, you know, we do all the time here. There are the cognitive benefits where you’re teaching new skills, you’re exercising memory, and promoting positive thinking. There are the physical benefits where, heck, you get out in nature. You increase your energy and endurance.
What we really work on physically is the hand-eye coordination. Try seeding lettuce. That takes a bit of work. But the kids and the residents can seed anything that we have in the greenhouse. I might have to do a little thinning out occasionally, but the psychological benefits, reducing anxiety, stress, tension. Then you’re stimulating the senses by touching, tasting, smelling.
Then those three benefits lead to the best one and that’s the social benefits where you are encouraging social interaction. You’re helping build teamwork habits and all of our residents that love horticulture have it somewhere in the back of their memory. They get started. They get their hands dirty and it reminds them of their grandmother’s backyards. It reminds them being grandmothers with their grandkids in the backyard and the tomatoes you pick off there and you taste them.
Then that just leads – then everybody starts to open up and the residents start to share things. That’s the real magic. That is the real magic because they all come from different backgrounds but you’ve got blueberries in Michigan and Washington. You’ve got cows in Texas. You’ve got corn in Kansas. You’ve got wine and grapes in California. It’s all there. It’s all there and it’s all about sharing those things that are kind of lost.
Cynthia: That’s so true. Really, food and growing food, farming, and soil, it breaks barriers down and it just makes people feel comfortable talking. I think if podding peas or snapping beans and shucking corn, all of those jobs, you can have some really cool conversations while you’re doing all of that.
I think, also, it breaks down cultural barriers too. I don’t care, like to your point. All of these things grow all over the United States, but also all over the world. At the end of the day, we’re all just people. We all love to eat delicious food and we like to grow things.
Rob: I’m really good at eating.
Mike: Well, Rob, that’s amazing. I think I’m probably pretty adept to eating, myself. As the Poway purchase materialized, tell us how your team crafted Cadence’s intention around keeping everything that was good about the Poway Gardens while adding your own new kind of Cadence style components to it.
Rob: Sure. Yeah, well, whenever we’re preparing to take over a community, we make sure that we sit down with the families. It became very clear to us. Roy knows this better than anyone. It became very clear to us that the families were super involved with this community.
Again, a lot of other operators might go, “Oh, what a headache.” We actually looked at that as, “Hey, that’s great.” We want greater community, not just the senior community.
These guys were really engaged. They really love the horticulture program that’s going on. They love the family-style of management that is occurring in this community and we have to keep that.
Then where it was a mom and pop that owned it prior to and he did a wonderful job at the community, but where we thought we could enhance the experience is through some of the more professional management perspective of technology and the compliance and care policies and procedures and sort of just increasing the professional performance and execution of that. And so, we’ve worked really hard to openly communicate with the families and make sure that we continued all the things that were going well. In fact, our executive director there, Jay, is awesome about sending out a daily email to the families and it’s interactive, and so they feel engaged with what we’re doing on a daily basis.
I think Roy can attest that one of the unique things about this community was this horticulture program. We wanted to definitely make sure that it not only continued but we would add any enhancements we possibly could to that to encourage more of that and more activity and support it. I think we’ve done a good job of that.
Mike: Yeah, it sounds awesome. Rumor has it that you spent a lot of time in Europe during your college years. Did your time there inform you of any of your philosophies around food or programming or the Cadence operation today? I guess, how did you find European life around agriculture and how did that affect what you’re doing now?
Rob: Great question. Didn’t expect that one. It was not in college, unfortunately. That would have been very fun, but it was after college and before law school. When I graduated, it’s sort of similar to the poor graduates today that there was a recession. There weren’t many jobs, so what better thing to do than shoot over to Europe with a backpack, cruise around, wait tables, and teach English to try and wait out a recession.
It did a number of things to me, some that are more applicable than others. Number one, it opened me up to the world, different peoples, different cultures, different languages. Any time your mind is opened in this world, it’s a positive thing.
Number two, the European appreciation for food is second to none, especially Roy’s reference to Italy and Sicily. There’s nothing better in Europe for a family than sitting around a dinner table and eating dinner for four hours. In America, we eat it in 15 minutes and we’re distracted.
I think the importance of the social interaction and engagement around food, experience, and opening yourself up to different things were all lessons that I learned from my three years abroad. Obviously, this country needs to relearn a lot of those as well.
Mike: Yeah, for sure. Being a chef myself, you hit on quite a bit of stuff that I believe. There are a lot of elements. When you sit down to eat, there’s a social element. There’s of course the food element. There’s also a learning element kind of an all-encompassing like you absorb things around you so that eating is not just physiological nourishment. It really encompasses just so many other facets to make it an experience if it’s done properly.
There are a lot of people that don’t have access to the same things. I think when you can put yourself in a situation where you have natural food in a comfortable setting and it’s not full of crazy pharmacological additives and just all this stuff and it’s really from the earth, I think that’s really the heart of kind of where I would like to see the food industry go back to is really just getting rid of all the modern fluff and just getting back to basics with that. I think that’s a really awesome experience. Thanks for sharing that.
What are your thoughts around the intergenerational program at Poway and what does it mean to you?
Rob: I think it’s extremely important. We try and create it in all of our communities. In this particular instance, Roy already had it created, right? We inherited a wonderful, again, community outside the community.
It takes a village and that village includes the young and the aged. Again, I think other cultures do a better job of reverence for their elderly and the wisdom that comes from the elderly than we do in America. Then on the other side of things, being around young people keeps people young.
Rob: There are benefits to both sides. There are benefits to the kids because they get to learn from their elders and they get to experience and listen to life lessons that they otherwise would not be exposed to. Then our residents get to feel younger and energetic and feel that human connection which is so important.
In this case, as Roy talked about the programming, how wonderful, right? The kids get out there and they work, right? They learn about the earth and they create. Then at the end of that, they go and get to have the time with their grandparents where they together appreciate that. Then they end it with laughter. I think that is just the quintessential, awesome program.
Cynthia: Yes. It’s so perfect because a lot of kids, especially in cities, they don’t know where our food comes from and they don’t know how food gets from the earth to the table. When you’re used to seeing food that shows up in plastic, it’s like, well, how did it get there? [Laughter] It’s really cool that they’re learning how it grows and the work that goes into it. Then they think about the people who grow it. It’s very cool.
Rob: One more thing I wanted to add onto that, Cynthia.
Rob: Roy can take it from here. The other important thing about this program at Cadence at Poway Gardens is the community aspect of donating the food to charity and how much is involved with that because it’s not just about doing it for ourselves. It’s about giving for the greater good as well. Maybe Roy can expand on actually what happens to the food, what we’re creating, and where it goes.
Cynthia: Yeah. Roy?
Roy: Well, on that note, we tout producing over 20,000 pounds of fresh fruit, fresh organic vegetables, high quality for our kitchen, for the residents’ menus. Surprisingly enough, a very small amount of that makes it to families in need in our area, but we have land here and we approached a group through Palomar Health.
We approached a group that we had heard of called The Backyard Produce Garden Project, which were people that would go to others’ backyards and glean fruit. You don’t need a thousand lemons off your tree – lemons, citrus, and avocados. We combined forces with a group called the Friends and Family Community Connection, so all these fruits and vegetables, they were collecting in people’s backyards would end up to families in need in the Palo, Rancho Bernardo, and Rancho Penasquitos areas, which is all our neighborhood.
Then we asked them, “Well, we have extra land here. Would you like to take a stab at actually growing some fresh fruit?” Canned foods, day-old bread, that’s everywhere, so they jumped on it. We gave them a little 25×50-foot piece of land and they put in four 50-foot rows. They came right back and said, “Hey, can we do some more of that?” so we put another one in. Then we had some Girl Scouts from a local parochial school and they wanted to put in a garden, so we put another 25×50-foot piece.
One of our residents passed away and her family donated a little money and wanted something in her remembrance, and so we added a garden with the Millie Edwards Garden on that. Basically, we have 100×50-foot square piece of land where local benevolent volunteers come out daily and they tend the garden and they’ll produce 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of fresh organic vegetables that look very similar to what we’re doing in our gardens for our residents. That gets distributed through the community.
As Rob said, the community involvement, I mean Poway is extremely unique. It’s a very volunteer-driven community and we get lots of support from garden clubs, master gardeners, and churches. But it’s nice to see these people, these older people, learn how to grow in the garden. A lot of them have never grown before in their life, they’re doing a stunning job, and it gets distributed very well to the community.
Cynthia: One more question. How do you interface with the kitchen and the cooks there? How do you get the produce from the gardens into the kitchen onto the plate?
Roy: Okay, so for example, this morning, I harvested zucchini, gold and green zucchini. I weigh everything. Everything I harvest, I weigh, so I could brag about my numbers at the end of the year. We weigh them and then—
Roy: –we wash them off. I date them so that the inventory doesn’t get all mixed up and there are five crates of two-month-year-old zucchini hiding in the corner. Then I harvested green peppers, weighed them, washed them.
I harvest tomatoes twice a week and, for example, today I brought in 80 pounds of tomatoes I harvested last Sunday. But I’m in constant – because I’m a pig, I’m in constant contact with the kitchen. I bring the product up. We talk. I tell them what’s coming, what’s not coming, what they need to order, when I’m running out of stuff.
I basically told them today to look out. Peppers, you’re going to get slammed with peppers. Luckily, all the things we’re growing right now like red, green peppers, oriental eggplant, zucchini, and the tomatoes, those are – and then we have an herb garden too, so they chop that stuff up, toss it in the oven with some olive oil and some fresh herbs. It’s quick for them to prepare and lots of soups.
We’ll do 4,000 pounds of tomatoes just in the month of July, so they know. There’s another caregiver around here that doesn’t know how to cut a tomato and squeeze the juice out of it and prepare it for marinara and tomato basil soup, vegetable soup so that they can have all these tomato-based stuff in the six months of the year we don’t have tomatoes. Conversely, they still have some broccoli and cauliflower soup in the cold room that they can utilize for this week’s meal even though it’s not really soup weather.
Yeah. Again, we’ve been doing this a while that my planting plan always keeps them under pressure but not intense stuff where they have to throw it away. Even if there was more than – like I’ve got a feeling I’m going to donate some peppers because you start with the green peppers. The greens turn red and, all of a sudden, there’s a whole boatload of red peppers and those will end up to the families in need in the area, but the kitchen is good about using what we have.
Cynthia: That’s amazing. You guys are – I’ve never heard of so many things going on at one community before. [Laughter]
Roy: Well, we’re actually tied in. When I first started, we were approached by a gentleman that needed help at one of the local schools. Poway Unified School District has like 39 schools from elementary to high school. We went to give him a hand getting started and now there’s like 25 to 28 school gardens. I don’t know what shape they’re in right now after the COVID deal, but we’re involved with well over 25 schools in our area and they know where to come to get advice, maybe a few extra plants, and how to get started, where to get donations from seed companies, garden clubs, and other things.
A lot of those schools now are also donating to our cause to help feed the community. It’s crazy how long it took to grow but it’s expanded and it’s going to get even more so. It’s going to be even more so with this current situation we’re in right now because every home and garden center is running out of supplies. Every seed company takes two weeks longer for you to get your seed.
People are gardening. People are making bread. People are sewing clothes. I think, of all those, I think people would rather get back into the garden and doing things, growing their own food.
Cynthia: Yeah. Well, also, I think that brings up an interesting subject. COVID-19, it’s here and we think it’s going to be here probably for another year and a half, maybe two. We don’t know.
I think one of the interesting things that’s happening at Poway is the food that you’re growing is going into your kitchens. Certainly, having healthy, fresh food with antioxidants, blueberries, broccoli, that just helps our immune system to be able to fight off viruses and things. I think that’s really cool, not to mention just the deliciousness of it.
I was wondering. We always think of a podcast as like a video for your ears. Roy, if you could describe, from a resident standpoint, if I live at Poway, I come out, and I’m going to interact with the gardens, how does that happen? What kinds of literal activities are happening with the residents in the gardens? Then how do you make them accessible for older people? How does that all work?
Roy: Yeah. We have what we call our horticultural therapy program, which is an offshoot from our intergeneration seed to table program, because it was extremely obvious when I could see the residents just change the minute they got their hands in the ground, the minute that they touched and smelled an herb, and all the benefits acquired through horticulture.
We have what we call our horticulture therapy program. We meet. It’s a little bit different now. We’re morphing into a different mold right now because we used to gather them up; gather houses together. Now we’re kind of doing it more one-on-one per house.
We have the five country-style homes that Rob was mentioning. There’s a garden next to everyone except one, one house, but we have put little raised bed gardens in those. We get residents. Well, for right now, we get residents that want to participate in a particular home. Generally, meet at the greenhouse or, generally, go to the gardens. They work. We try to get them in the gardens as much as possible.
The children’s garden, it’s well centered for the elderly as well as the kids. If you go in our children’s garden right now, we have 42 cherry tomato plants that are like 10 feet tall loaded to the gills with cherries. Now the corn is growing too, and that’s another ten-foot crop, and so it’s just a jungle in there.
They just love getting in there. They love picking and the love harvesting. Everybody loves to pick and harvest and eat. That’s what they do in the gardens, the kids in the gardens. It doesn’t have to be cooked. They’ve learned to eat corn raw. They’ll pull kale leaves right off the plant and eat it.
Most of the gardens, except for maybe two of the small gardens, are very easily accessible to the residents. We try to change those with recommendations with the master gardeners in our area that devote time to that and give us tips. But very easy to walk in and we don’t take those that require a little extra help in the ambulatory world. But they can get in. They can get in and we keep a very close eye on them.
Residents are brought to us, to either the greenhouse or the gardens, and we go from there. But the benefits, again, I had never heard of horticultural therapy until I saw what we were doing with the kids and the residents. Then that just exploded into another facet of what makes us unique in the world of horticulture.
Rob: I need to get my kids to the garden if you’ve got kids eating kale.
Roy: It’s crazy.
Mike: Yeah, right?
Roy: I mean it’s absolutely crazy. They love broccoli. I don’t remember loving broccoli when I was a little kid, but you touched on it, Cynthia. It’s the flavor.
I also had an experience when I was growing in Baha to go to Europe. Even though we were commercial growers, commercial in the sense of non-organic, all we cared about was getting the biggest, most per acre up to the U.S. to command the best dollar. Flavor is not part of the show. Flavor, that’s secondary.
You go to Europe. This is pre-farmer market world in the United States. You go see the little farmer market type setups there and you go to operations in Spain, Israel, Germany, and Amsterdam, I mean Holland. Flavor is a big deal. Flavor is a big deal and I think that kind of just stuck in my head somewhere. Then when you grow organically and your clientele happens to be the residents that live right next to, and it goes to the kitchen and it’s on their meal the next day or two, that’s all flavor right there.
Cynthia: Yeah, sunshine turns to flavor.
Roy: That’s right.
Mike: Yeah, actually, I think we have to brand that, Cynthia, “Sunshine turns to flavor.”
Mike: You’re the branding expert. That’s your job.
Hey, Rob. Have you had a chance to quantify the economics around this program? Do you actually count how the fresh organic foods actually offset, say, the food cost in kitchens or other kinds of operational things like that?
Rob: Sure. Obviously, most every senior living community has an activities budget, has a food budget, and has a utilities budget, et cetera. With this horticultural program, you can use some of your typical activities budget towards the activities around the programming because what better activity could there be?
You do have a reduction in, obviously, purchased food costs because you’re growing it yourself. But you have the expense of the utilities, the watering, and the things like that. Then you, of course, have the key, which is Roy, right? You have an added personnel expense that other communities wouldn’t have. From our perspective, what you trade in additional expense is you trade the desire to be there, right? Which, you know, leads to census.
I look at it again. Maybe it’s just because of my experience. I try to color all of my thoughts as the consumer. Would I want my mom to be in a place where she could go out and garden? The answer is 100% yes, so I’m going to choose a Poway Gardens over a typical community every time. To me, you could look at it also as marketing dollars if you want to.
At the end of the day, senior housing has had a lot of new players in the industry. Senior housing has had a lot of new product built. There was obviously a concern about over-supply pre-COVID. COVID has slowed that some.
Cadence’s opinion, there are going to be some winners and losers. The winners are going to be the ones that people want to go to, people will have that experience, and people love being there. The value, from my perspective, to the horticultural program here way outweighs the cost.
Cynthia: I’m going to chime in really quickly, Mike. From a marketing and branding standpoint, it’s a dream to have these subjects to promote and communicate about relative to memory care. It’s so rare; it’s exciting.
Mike: Yeah, I would definitely agree. It’s something different and it’s kind of one of those, like, drink the V8 and slap your head like, “Duh! Why aren’t we all doing this?” kind of a thing.
I think a lot of people maybe get scared of the logistical side of things, but from what I’m hearing from you, Rob, is it’s definitely manageable because you’re doing it. I think there’s probably just not the information out there that people know how to process. Yeah, it’s absolutely amazing. It is a dream come true to even just see that happening as a way to kind of build awareness and build census.
Roy: Do they still make V8 juice?
Mike: Yeah. I drink it all the time.
Roy: Man. That’s the first time I heard V8 juice in probably 30 years. I’ve got to go start drinking it.
Mike: I’m old. I’m old, I know.
Mike: Those commercials, they always stick with me. I don’t know why, but yeah. [Laughter] V8 reference, done. Check that off my bucket list right there.
Mike: Roy, for other senior living operators who might be listening out there in podcast land who maybe don’t currently have a horticulturist or a horticulture program but would like to get one, how would you suggest they go about getting that ball rolling?
Rob: Wait, Roy. Don’t give away our secrets. We don’t want other people doing it. Just kidding. Go ahead.
Roy: I’ll give him 80% of the truth.
Roy: Well, again, horticultural therapy has expanded a lot in the last ten years. There are entities like the American Horticultural Therapy Association, which actually came to us when they saw what we were doing. They have a program where a person become accredited as a horticultural therapist. That might be a way to get started but really not necessary.
Any activities staff with just Googling a few things and flower arranging. We do a lot with flowers. One of the garden clubs I’m involved with, we go to Trader Joes twice a week and we get all their flowers that are destined for the dumpster. We get those flowers at no cost. We bring them to the houses. The residents’ faces light up and they arrange flowers. Then next week, they’re dead and we got new ones coming in.
Working with herbs, working with just flowers. It doesn’t even have to be produce. I’m fond of produce, but you’ve just kind of got to do it. You’ve just kind of got to get into it and get started.
There are people there to help you. Local garden clubs, I mean we have 26 garden clubs in our general area around here right now. It’s like the largest in the United States, our area. Garden clubs, master gardener programs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts: there are a lot of places you can go to. Local home and garden centers, they would be helpful. Donations here. Donations there. You’ve just kind of got to reach out and think a little bit. There’s a lot out there to help.
Cynthia: Yeah, I think that checking out the local garden clubs, finding volunteers. So many communities have raised garden beds and sometimes I buzz through them and they’re not being used. In fact, sadly, where my mother lives, they’re not using theirs. They’re full of TNC weed and it makes me crazy. [Laughter]
Rob, I wanted to ask you. You have a lot of experience in this industry and you’re a national presence. Do you have any thoughts for other senior living owners or operators around programs like this or any tips or advice for them? If somebody came to you and said, “Hey, Rob. How do you guys do it? How are you creating this programming that’s so amazing?” what would you say?
Rob: I’d just say, be different. Be daring. Don’t do the same thing. Don’t be afraid of a little bit of marginal cost. Go disrupt the industry. Go look forward and progressive.
In this case, the unique thing happens to be the horticultural program, the layout, and the acreage. But in a different community, the unique thing is something entirely different. Go run with that and make that special.
I think that we all just need to look at it as if we’re in the community as a resident. What would we want and why would we want to be there? I would say, dare to be different.
Cynthia: Yeah, absolutely. Something, too, the sunlight, just having sunlight in the daytime. People who have dementia will sleep so much better at night and I’m guessing, I’m channeling this, that it reduces the need for pharma as well in some residents.
Kudos. You guys are so creative. You are disruptive. You’re disruptive to the industry and we love everything you guys are doing.
Mike: I remember back in the day when they used to tell me in school that I was disruptive [laughter] and that was a bad thing. Now, I look at it like I think it’s epic, and so I would like to just tell the entire world and all of my teachers back in school, “I wasn’t disruptive. I was changing the standard, just so you know.” I’m going to take credit for that.
Mike: Okay, Roy. Here’s the deal. Cynthia has this thing that she loves to do, which is ask all of our guests this question. Then, Rob, we’re going to get to you on this one as well. The reason we ask everybody this is we kind of like to have a baseline, compare answers, and see how much similarity there is in the world and how many different ideas there are as well.
Roy, if you were going to build the perfect community for yourself as you reach 65, 75, 85, whatever, what would your dream community be like? What would it consist of? How would it operate? What would it have in it? Give us all those fine details.
Roy: Okay. I’m trying to collect a politically correct answer here. Good food. I’d have to—
Roy: I’d have to continue gardening. I would need to watch sports and music therapy would be part of it, too. Well, what they give you; wine, women, and song, something like that, maybe. [Laughter]
Cynthia: Well, being a lead singer for a Nirvana cover band, I’m guessing there might be some nirvana in your community too.
Roy: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I have avoided the karaoke sessions, but yeah. A lot of the hospice companies offer music therapy and that’s magic too. People ask me about the horticulture therapy and I just say it’s magic. You see the same things with music.
Mike: Well, Rob, then why don’t you enlighten us with your wave the magic wand dream community? I’m really curious to get your perspective being as you’re somebody who is right there in the middle of it every day as well.
Rob: Yeah, I think I might use a cheesy word. It’s probably bat around too much, but holistic is the word, right? It’s got to have everything, right? I think the ideal community encapsulates the natural benefits of the world and also brings together the activities and connection of human beings and puts it all into one place for many different types of individuals that can choose what they want to do, right?
You just heard what Roy wants in life, right? Sally might want something completely different and live in the same community. She needs to be able to feel fulfilled as well.
Again, I use the analogy of my mom going back to college because it resonates with me. The courtyard at a senior living community should feel like the quad at university. People gathering, talking about different things, enhancing, and learning daily, even at an advanced age.
Again, my mom went from doing nothing all day to three different boyfriends in her first two years. It’s like, good. Go, mom. Right? I mean that’s the whole point, right?
Rob: Enjoy your life. For me, it’s about that holistic engagement of experience within the community. Frankly, you can create that anywhere.
Cynthia: Yeah, some intention and creativity. You can get a lot done. I think three boyfriends in one year is impressive. That is like college.
Roy: Well, if that was the ’70s, that’s one week.
Rob: I thought I was my wife’s first boyfriend. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Mike: Yeah, right. Well, Cynthia. Is there anything else that you wanted to add to this today? Didn’t you want to ask something about what’s growing?
Cynthia: Roy, what’s growing in your garden right now?
Roy: Mid-June is our peak season, but we produce stuff every week. Right now, it’s all our summer favorites. We’ve got tomatoes, green and red bell peppers. Actually, grow the Spanish type. We have oriental eggplant. We have squash. We have butternut squash, zucchinis, and we just harvested our last lettuce for the next couple of months because it just gets too hot to try growing that. We’re right around the corner starting our fall/winter stuff which would be broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce; broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce; and lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Roy: We have all the spring stuff right now.
Roy: We could grow a lot more, but it’s something the kitchen would have to wrap their head around. I get to experiment in the children’s garden with the kids.
Cynthia: Do the residents help you harvest the food?
Roy: Yeah. We have waves of abilities that seem to come through here. Not too long ago, there were a bunch of men that were very capable and they would help me harvest tomatoes and that means going down the row, picking them off, putting in a bucket that holds 20 pounds, and taking it to the end of the row and picking it up.
Right now, it’s more get them into the children’s garden where, cherry tomatoes, you can sit there and pick a thousand cherry tomatoes and not really have to move too far. Yeah, we get them. Whatever they’re capable of in the garden, we experiment. Yeah.
Cynthia: That’s wonderful. What’s better than sitting in a patch of cherry tomatoes? They probably eat one once in a while too.
Roy: Well, it’s two in the mouth, one in the bag.
Cynthia: That’s how huckleberry picking going.
Cynthia: Well, I just want to thank both of you for your time today. This is part of our summer horticulture series and you’re one of several organizations that we are talking to. We’re also talking to Eldergrow, which they have an amazing product that offers gardens for inside when people might be limited to a skilled nursing environment or a closed system or building.
Anyway, we just really appreciate what you’re doing. I love your gardens. I’m going to come back there when I can fly again. [Laughter] You guys, rock on.
Rob: Love it. Cadence strong.
Mike: Yes, thank you both for joining us today and we’re going to be really excited to share this with the universe. Bless you, both for doing what you’re doing and making the world a better place. Thank you so much.
Rob: You’re welcome.
Cynthia: Yeah, thank you.
Rob: Thank you, Mike.
Mike: Thanks, of course, to all of you out there in listener land for joining us again on this journey through the cosmos. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast platform. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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