Senior living communities face unprecedented challenges touching on all areas of community life, from move-ins and occupancy to resident activities to food quality and sourcing. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing operators to re-imagine their offering and strategies, to find creative solutions to everyday challenges.
Vertical farming is one of those solutions.
Babylon Micro-Farms in Charlottesville, Virginia is delivering vertical farming to corporate cafeterias, universities — and senior living communities. The company’s three-by-five, eight-foot-tall vertical farms are self-contained and managed remotely through an app, making them an ideal avenue for senior living operators to both gain fresh produce and deliver health, wellness and activity to residents.
The farms produce leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers, and deliver as much yield in their 15-square feet as a horizontal 2,000-square-foot farm, says Chief Executive Officer Alexander Olesen, who notes that Babylon is the leading indoor farming provider to senior living and health care settings.
“This is a multi-faceted tool for providing high-quality food to residents,” Olesen says.
Here are three major benefits that onsite vertical farming can have for senior living communities, including benefits during a health crisis.
Strong return on investment
Before even looking at the benefits of vertical farming in terms of health of a given resident, Olesen points to the farm as a marketing differentiator in the industry, one that can help operators drive move-ins and maintain occupancy.
“What we’ve seen is that in senior living environments, there is an increasing pressure to source locally,” Olesen says. Being able to tell prospective residents and their families that their produce is grown onsite reveals the operator as forward-thinking around sustainability and food transparency.
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There are other ways that vertical farming offers a return on investment (ROI), he says. One is a bit more obvious.
“By bringing food production closer to the point of consumption, we’re able to decrease the time from farm to fork,” he says, which, as he notes, reduces food waste and offers the highest quality, fresh produce at competitive prices.
The other is more subtle: Operators are positioning the farm as a sort of art installation in a relatively public place, such as a dining room or a lobby.
“We are seeing communities that are filling beds because they are able to better engage with prospective residents and their children,” he says.
Better food quality
The wellness movement in senior living was booming before COVID-19 — but the need for operators to pay deep attention to what their residents eat increased dramatically with the pandemic.
With onsite vertical farming, residents and operators know the source of their food. Residents gain more enjoyment from dining. They are healthier. And the produce is not tied to any given season.
“This is produce that is ready to harvest throughout the year,” Olesen says.
The flexibility provided by the farms means that operators can also rotate their crops — and hence change their menus — with greater ease.
Enjoyable resident activities
Onsite vertical farming is not just a benefit to residents in terms of health and dining enjoyment. Operators are using the farming itself as a resident activity, Olesen says. Because of the cloud-based advanced technology and user app that drives the farming, there is an ease-of-use for both residents and the operator. This is farming with no green thumb nor horticultural expertise required, he says.
“Being able to host a harvest with the residents really adds value on top of the produce that they are getting out of the farms,” Olesen says. He is seeing residents enjoying the interaction with farming in a non-labor-intensive way. They are able to grow their own food, name their plants and have a year-round gardening experience without mud, bugs or pesticides.
“We’ve developed so many service options that are tailored for senior living and health care settings,” Olesen says. “This is a viable alternative in a post-COVID environment.”
To learn more about how Babylon Micro-Farms can bring sustainable farming and fresh food to your community, visit BabylonMicroFarms.com.