The taste of your grandmas home cooked tomato sauce , the smell of the fresh herbs that she lovingly tends to. These sensations make you feel at home in a way nothing else can. Gardening is one of the most cherished and rewarding activities among seniors.
Until it isn’t.
As seniors age they lose the ability to garden outdoors like they used to. For all of us, one day the bending and the digging in the dirt becomes too much work.
We decided to change this.
12 months ago we were approached by an ambitious group of researchers from U of T’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program who had a vision to bring the joy of gardening back to those who have brought so much joy to us,
These students had identified a problem, the lack of greenery and interaction with food among those in seniors homes. They also identified a solution in the AEVA. The AEVA’s ability to bring growing indoors in an easy to use, accessible way.
On a day where the winter wind bites to the bone and all your senses are telling you to stay inside we showed up to a seniors home in downtown Toronto with our AEVA.
We found it a home in a dark corner of the common space. A small crowd gathered as we took a few minutes to set the AEVA up and with the flip of a switch it came to life. The AEVA lit up and this dark corner was turned into a lively piece of indoor productive garden growing 16 vegetables at once.
With the light on and water trickling through the questions started to roll in.
“How does it grow without soil”
“How do your lights replace the sun?”
“Will it grow in a basement?”
“How do they grow vertically like that?”
Question after question was answered. With each answer they would come closer. As seniors came and touched the plants and smelt the herbs their curiosity grew.
Over the next four months, led by our amazing student researchers we delivered cooking classes, used the herbs in cocktails, brought in celebrity chefs, answered many more questions, and even had an impromptu rap session.
The seniors curiosity turned to passion as the remembered the feel of their old gardens. The smell of fresh cut herbs bringing back a flood of memories of their own gardens. The taste of a fresh Caprese salad reminding them of that vacation in Italy, or the fresh mint in their Mojito of their Caribbean beach vacation.
By the end of our pilot program they had each named their plant and were coming to check in on it daily. Resident champions like Larry were spearheading work around the AEVA and making sure the plants were cared for.
At the end of our pilot program the residents were thanking us for being there but it really should have been the other way around. We found familiar stories in the resident seniors. We saw reflections of our own aging parents and grandparents. To be able to give back to these seniors who had brought so much joy into the lives of others over the past 70, 80, and even 90 years it was our absolute pleasure to give them something small to enjoy.
There is no joy in the world like re-uniting those we love with what they love.
To our U of T team, Linxi, Stephen, and May thank for your boundless passion and showing us the difference our technology can make in the lives of seniors. Thank you as well for all the beautiful memories and stories you shared with us.
To the residents and champions who helped to spearhead this effort and bring the AEVA to life by caring for your plants we thank you. To all the staff thank you for embracing innovation and allowing us to pilot our technology with a new audience.