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Lifeview residents are building community, one zucchini at a time

Stephen Milstead has a bit of a green thumb. Actually, he has one of those thumbs that likes to grow, harvest, preserve and generally make things from scratch and eat them.

Milstead loves the feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing that you've nurtured something from scratch, it's that feeling that inspired a new program at Lifeview aged care.

"I noticed that they had set up a few herb gardens around the homes, and some planter boxes where the residents can actually sit in their wheelchair or stand so they don't have to bend over," says Milstead, Lifeview’s manager of hospitality services.

"But there wasn't a lot going on in that regard. And, it seemed to me that it just needs a focus, and so that's what I did. I picked it up and said, 'we need to plant with a purpose'."

And that's what Lifeview did, and the 'Planting with a Purpose' program was born, with residents, chefs and gardeners all teaming up to grow fresh produce to fill their kitchens and their stomachs.

Each quarter the growing team gets together and plans the season's menus based on what they can grow and importantly, what residents like to eat.

The program started during the pandemic and was a great hit at a stressful time for everybody. It was also a rare occasion where this group of people, chefs gardeners and residents, would get to work so closely together.

When Milstead spoke with Aged Care Insite, Lifeview residents were picking cherry tomatoes and beetroot and an array of herbs for seasonal salads. They've recently had a good crop of zucchini and squash, and they are prepared for the colder Melbourne winters too, with planters set up on wheels so they can move the operation indoors.

"I think we have a tendency to want to do everything for people in aged care. But, Lifeview has the philosophy that people still want to feel as if they can contribute to their life, to their surroundings and as a community. And, this is a great way of being able to do that, it's just fantastic," Milstead says.

“We knew we had a lot of gardening enthusiasts amongst the resident group, as the green thumb groups were always a popular activity, but this program has seen more and more residents wanting to be involved as much as they can.”

Milstead says that gardening and producing in this way can foster a keen sense of community, something he has experienced in his personal life. Milstead married into a big italian family and spent many a day making salami with his wife's extended family, and making the year's tomato harvest into the year's fresh tomato sauce with his father-in-law.

"You do the work, you made the sauce, or you made the salami and then the whole family turns up, the grandkids, the whole lot and we all have a meal.

"My father-in-law died two years ago, but that all happened through him and the Italian side of the family. My father-in-law would make his own homemade wines, and they were very good.

"I've always enjoyed doing something a little bit different that's homemade. Even my wife makes her own homemade jams and stuff, so it's just part and parcel of what we do. But, the fun's there, and I think the satisfaction there, because you know that you've made it."

That sense of family and coming together, feeding loved ones good healthy food, has now been planted firmly into the foundations of Lifeview.

"It's infectious across the community and the team. They just love it, it's great," says Milstead.

“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the residents when they bring the produce to the kitchen or as they sit down to share a meal, which they had a hand in creating, really makes your day.

"And, we just want to make it grow, we want to get more residents involved. I think when you're making the decision about where you'd like to put your loved one, Planting with a Purpose is something that makes us stand out from the crowd, to be honest."

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