US: Chicago seniors convert basic rooftop greenhouse into hydroponic powerhouse

“Lots of people of my generation don’t get hydroponics, much less people in their seventies and eighties, so you have a lot of the seniors wondering how plants can grow without soil. It’s a little bit of a learning curve, but I just explain to them that soil is just a medium that holds nutrients, one that water replaces in this system. After that, the process is very similar,” says Samantha Lewerenz, production manager at Concord Place Retirement & Assisted Living Community in suburban Northlake. Samantha was featured in an article on the

Transforming a traditional greenhouse into what residents, who have an average age of 82 years old, term their harvest rooftop garden came into full flower last spring when F&F Realty, owner and operator of Concord Place, hired Topiarius to make this senior residence more sustainable, substituting recirculated water for bulky bags of soil.

“It was a year from inception to building the garden to running at full capacity. But we’ve been talking about doing this for the last three or four years. It’s a really eclectic group here—we have gardeners, doctors, engineers—so everything is resident-driven,” asserts David Pokorny, Concord’s director. “The people here wanted this, and we’ve definitely seen a shift to a greener diet since the garden has taken off. Residents now lean toward what we grow versus produce we have to purchase.”

Lewerenz has trained residents to plant, harvest and increase production that spills over into feeding patrons of neighboring suburban restaurants. The rooftop is currently rife with herbs like parsley, oregano, cilantro, thyme, mint, basil and a variety of lettuces, including a gourmet blend that Lewerenz and Pokorny both say has garnered an avid following in the dining hall. Lewerenz is also leading experiments with Swiss chard, kale and microgreens. Seniors here, she says, typically harvest approximately 30 pounds of lettuce at a time, along with a couple pounds of aromatic herbs.

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