Senior Living Community Goes Farm-to-Table for Savings, Resident Satisfaction

A new senior living community in Massachusetts is taking cues from the restaurant scene for its dining concept—largely a farm-to-table approach.

Whenever possible, meals are prepared from local ingredients and those that are farmed within just a few miles of the Wayland, Mass. community, operated by Northbridge Companies.

All Northbridge communities look locally when stocking produce and other ingredients, but the newest property, Carriage House at Lee’s farm is taking an even more “farm-to-table” focus.

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“I’m working with several farms now, talking about when the crops are going to be harvested and what they will be harvesting,” says Justin Wallin, executive chef for Carriage House at Lee’s Farm, who brings a background in restaurant ownership before joining Northbridge. 

Working with local farms means planning about six weeks in advance of when seasonal items become available. These include local greens for salads and a 1,000-year-old heirloom cornmeal from Mainstone Farms of Wayland, root vegetables from Verill Farms of nearby Concord and an exclusive Carriage House blend of coffee named 1638—the year the town of Wayland was founded—from Esselon Coffee roasters of South Hadley, Mass.

The “going local” concept doesn’t have to be expensive, Wallin explains. He did an analysis of the coffee cost in order to be ready for questions about the cost of going local rather than buying from bulk, big-box providers. 

Based on his analysis, the local, exclusive 1638 coffee blend comes to about 4 cents more per cup than the former alternative. 

“On paper, it looks like more money, and I knew there would be questions about it,” he says. “Is this a good place to be spending? But it only came to 4 cents more per cup of coffee. A lot of kitchens buy frozen, but we’re making all dressings and pastries and when you do that, you’re buying fresh ingredients and it’s a lot cheaper.”

And the residents are more engaged with the experience, he says, from the standpoint of many who have embraced the concept wholeheartedly and have come to anticipate and inquire about where items are sourced. 

When Wallin writes each menu, it includes a parenthetical note about where the ingredients were harvested. One regular menu staple is a corn muffin made with the 1,000-year local heirloom cornmeal. When residents invite guests to the community, they are often requested, Wallin says. 

“Most of the time I‘m in the kitchen or talking to the residents,” he says. “You’d think they just want to eat dinner, but when you talk about where it’s from and how you made it, they want to know more. We make other muffins but they love the idea of this heirloom cornmeal. They want those corn muffins with ‘the’ cornmeal.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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