"Still Growing" Senior Community Rooftop Garden - Competition Winner

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"Still Growing" Senior Community Rooftop Garden - Competition Winner

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We are transforming the rooftop of the Hammond Street Senior Center into a downtown urban garden. Seniors who no longer can manage a garden on their own or have downsized into apartments or retirement communities are using this garden to grow vegetables, exercise and eat healthy while making new friends.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Healthy eating, physical activity and social engagement are key components to healthy aging. Life happens. Medical conditions, physical challenges, shifts in daily routines, income, and loss of friends and family all present new obstacles. Retirement, “empty nest,” divorce, widowhood. Cooking for one is an adjustment. Tending a garden can be too much physically. Moving to a retirement community may mean no garden at all. Trips to the grocery store may not be as frequent or accessible. Fresh produce is not as affordable on a limited income or may be sold in quantities too large to be eaten by a single senior before spoiling. As long-time companions and friends pass on or become frail, opportunities for making new friends get fewer and harder. Resources for pursuing new interests may diminish. The rooftop garden and its related activities helps meet existing needs, as well as creates many new opportunities for meeting desires.
About You
Hammond Street Senior Center
Section 1: You
First Name


Last Name



Hammond Street Senior Center


, ME

Section 2: Your Organization
Organization Name

Hammond Street Senior Center

Organization Phone

(207) 262-5532

Organization Address

2 Hammond Street, Bangor, Maine 04401

Organization Country

, ME

Your idea
Country and state your work focuses on

, ME

What makes your idea unique?

Hammond Street Senior Center is located in the heart of Downtown Bangor, Maine’s second largest city. Our three-story historic building is a hub for more than 2,000 seniors in the Greater Bangor Region who want to stay active, keep learning, meet new friends and age well. Membership to the Senior Center is free and open to any person at least 60 years old living in the Bangor Region.

The "Still Growing" Senior Community Rooftop Garden is unique in its origin and implementation, its unparalleled role and place in our region, and for the practical and social outcomes it produces.

First, it is a member-driven initiative. Rather than being a service project "for the benefit of" seniors, or something that "advocates think" seniors "need", the idea of building raised beds and planting containers for a garden on our roof came from members of the senior center. They have taken it upon themselves to get permission from the city’s planning board, buy and install a walk-out window for easier access and recruit outside experts and other members who know about gardening to plan the project.

Second, we are not aware of another business or organization within the Greater Bangor Region that has transformed or lent its rooftop to a communal garden or to a food-producing garden of this scale. We are hoping that our skyline oasis starts a trend to use otherwise wasted real estate in a tight urban Downtown setting for green space and local organic food production.

Third, this effort is more than just about planting a garden. Healthy eating is positively linked to healthy aging. Continued social engagement, physical activity and meaningful work are also contributing factors in healthy aging. The opportunities for physical activity, meaningful work, regained sense of independence, and forging new friendships later in life that are inherent to the process of building and cultivating this garden are even more important than the fresh vegetables it produces.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had?

This is the second year that we will convert part of our roofline to a growing space. We tested the garden on a small scale last year and are going much bigger this year with the project in terms of physical size, number of senior gardeners involved, and related programs that will build on utilizing the garden and its produce.

In anticipation of figuratively and literally "growing" the garden project this year, new senior volunteers have come forward to organize monthly all-vegetarian lunches utilizing the gardens abundance for interested seniors throughout the region, whether or not they are currently members of the senior center. Likewise, another group of senior volunteers have committed to providing monthly workshops for other area seniors covering topics such as container gardening, home composting, cooking with herbs, and food preservation and safety. So far, there are already five lunches and five workshops scheduled from May through September.

The enthusiasm and activity buzzing around this garden is exciting. Every day someone brings in news of the latest contact they have made to make the plans a reality -- local retailers who have been asked to extend us discounts on materials; a new contact at the University of Maine's Co-operative Extension who can advise us on bed design and layout; a town that is selling composting bins; a Maine-based business who will lend us some of their employees for a day to lift the heavy lumber and bags of soil up to the second floor roof access; and potential funders for securing whatever remains to be pulled together.

These are examples of how, even months before planting season begins in Maine, the "Still Growing" Garden is facilitating social engagement, activity, interest and renewed involvement in the broader community among its senior supporters.


We have conducted a thorough membership survey to assess the level and nature of interest in the garden. We are in the process of securing funding and materials to build 15 raised garden beds, lay an irrigation system, fill with soil and plant these beds. We have already received partial financial support from the Maine Community Foundation. We have received both financial support and a commitment for able-bodied volunteers from Martin's Point HealthCare for assistance with heavy lifting during the construction phase. We have consulted two building contractors including one who specializes in renovating historic buildings. We have received a permit from the City of Bangor Planning Board to replace the existing roof access with a more senior-friendly, safer walk-out window and contracted with a local building supplier to construct this customized window. We have secured commitments from several senior-aged guest speakers to conduct healthy eating, food preparation, nutrition, food preservation and container gardening workshops. We have secured a commitment from volunteers to produce at least five all-vegetarian lunches featuring organic produce from the rooftop garden.


As in any family, members of the Hammond Street Senior Center want to see each other thrive to their fullest. The idea for creating a communal garden on the Senior Center's rooftop is completely an idea the members themselves came up with and brought to the organization. We think this idea-into-action is a great example of the Senior Center's mission to support seniors as they create they aging experiences they want. In the big picture, the big result is seniors creating the best lives they can.

Membership to the Hammond Street Senior Center is 100% free for all Greater Bangor Region residents at least 60 years old. The immediate result is that more than 2,000 members will have access to senior-oriented classes in which they can learn how to support their own healthy aging goals through developing and expanding their knowledge and skills relating to healthy eating and meal preparation. Seniors will enjoy increased access to organic fresh vegetables by being able to grow healthy produce right at the Senior Center. In addition to maintaining the garden, community lunches prepared on-site by member volunteers will ensure the social aspect of healthy eating can be enjoyed by all.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Year 2010: This year we are expanding our garden to include up to 15 raised beds. We will promote and share the abundance of the garden by offering five vegetarian lunches. We will host five gardening and healthy eating workshops to increase seniors’ knowledge of the role healthy eating plays in supporting healthy aging. To be successful, we need technical expertise, materials and physical assistance. We are working on securing donations of materials. We are working with our local Cooperative Extension, Master Gardeners and local growers to fill in our knowledge gaps. Community outreach is being done to gather enough younger, stronger volunteers to make the building process efficient, effective – and hopefully, painless.

Year 2011: As more seniors become aware of the rooftop garden we will be able to cultivate and sustain vegetable beds growing across the entire second story rooftop. A survey recently indicated there is great interest among members to purchase fresh produce from our garden. An indicator of success will be the incorporation of a program through which members could obtain a bag of produce weekly by volunteering a certain amount of hours in the garden each week; making a weekly payment; or a combination of the two. If the monthly vegetarian lunches and informational workshops are popular, we will turn the monthly workshops into semester courses that we will offer through the HSSC Senior University, our on-site life-long learning program.

Year 2012: Our intention is to have grown the awareness of, involvement with, enthusiasm for and commitment to the “Still Growing” Senior Community Rooftop Garden that we will need to expand beyond our second story roof. In order to expand the garden we will need time, money, labor and additional structural alterations (an easier and safer means of access) to expand to our third story rooftop.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

We have already City approval and consulted with contractors regarding structural feasibility and safety concerns. We are making structural changes accordingly. Generating interest and sustained involvement are unlikely to be issues, in part because this idea came from and is being implemented by members themselves. As with any garden project, the weather can be a huge determinant in the success or failure. We found during our first test year of the garden that keeping up with watering was a major challenge, and that was with a much smaller garden. Our rooftop offers no shade and the “ground” is a black rubber that really holds heat. We are moving from entirely container-based gardening, which can dry out more easily, to utilizing raised beds, which may hold moisture better. We are also laying an irrigation system in the beds that will hook up to a sink in our second floor pottery studio. It will be much easier for our seniors to turn the faucet than haul buckets of water through the window like they did last year. Another factor that could challenge us is too much water – rain. Our members are designing a form of inexpensive removable tenting that can protect the garden from absorbing too much water without stifling growth, oxygen, or light or promoting the growth of mold.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, ME

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Hammond Street Senior Center

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

The University of Maine Office of Cooperative Extension is advising our members on bed design and garden planning. An Extension Officer is scheduled to give a presentation open to all members at the Senior Center. Another UMaine professor also with Cooperative Extension is scheduled to provide a workshop open to all area seniors on food preservation and food safety as part of our related Garden Summer Speakers Series.

A restaurateur is teaching cooking. Local nutritionists and nursery managers are also being contacted to speak at workshops. As mentioned elsewhere in the application, employees of Martin's Point HealthCare will be given paid-time off to volunteer assisting us with construction, heavy lifting and other related program activities. We are also looking for non-monetary donations of seeds, seedlings, and planting supplies from area businesses and growers. Several members have already committed to donating such items, also.

Many of the towns in which our members reside will be helpful with posting information and getting the word out to their seniors about activities like the rooftop garden tours, vegetarian lunches and related workshops that we will be providing.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Because this rooftop garden is such a complete and natural expression of the senior center’s mission in action and has originated from the membership itself, the three most important actions to grow our organization and our rooftop garden initiative are the same:

1) Continued and expanded leadership development opportunities and support and facilitation of volunteerism among our current members;
2) Continued and expanded outreach and networking among community allies and prospective new members; and
3) Reflective evaluation to ensure associated programs such as the lunches, informational workshops, possible cooking classes and the like are responsive to the needs and desires of our membership and provide an unparalleled service to the senior community at large within the Greater Bangor Region.

We understand that this is one of the sections in which many organizations emphasize the need for securing funding and that we did not list that among our top three actions or even in our "criteria for success" response. Of course the availability of funds is crucial to launching and maintaining innovations such as this. Our belief is that if we have a quality program that is well executive, serves a need valued and recognized by our community, and provides a benefit not otherwise obtainable then the needed resources, materials and money will come. How we ensure our fundraising is successful is by first ensuring that our community is successful. In the context of the Hammond Street Senior Center "successful" means that seniors in the Greater Bangor Region are able to create a healthy and satisfying aging experience for themselves.

The key to growing the rooftop garden initiative, growing the Hammond Street Senior Center, changing how society relates to seniors, and changing how seniors experience aging all come from the actions of supporting seniors' development as leaders in this stage of their lives; honoring their experiences and expertise as volunteers; generating recognition within the broader community for their contributions; facilitating external support for their efforts and ambitions; and respectfully listening and responding to the needs and desires they identify for themselves...and that means if seniors really want to grow their own tomatoes and the only land they can access is our roof, then we figure out how to garden on the roof.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Hammond Street Senior Center is in the second year of a three-year process transitioning from staff-run into a truly member-directed organization. As part of this move toward having the membership drive the programming and operations, we are becoming more evaluative. With assistance from university student interns, members worked to assess their own wellness levels. Staff and members have collaborated to incorporate programs that bridge the gap between where seniors feel their health is at and where they want it to be.

This process identified a desire for increased information and support with:
• Ideas on how to add easy and affordable variety to meal preparation;
• Help with adjusting to cooking for one;
• Affordable access to fresh vegetables in smaller quantities;
• Nutrition education that is fun and specific to our stage of life and health concerns; and
• Lots and lots of opportunities to prepare and share meals together.

These requests speak to integrating how we approach food and eating into the broader discussion of our overall wellness. After we publicized these findings, members spontaneously began organizing projects and programs that addressed these collective needs – truly taking ownership of the Senior Center and their own aging experience in the process! The rooftop garden project is an outgrowth from this process.

How the actual garden initially came into existence was a bit of a lark. A member, who had always gardened, composted and enjoyed cooking and grilling fresh foods, was daydreaming in the warm sun that poured in through a window in our pottery studio. This 74 year-old man was living in an apartment, recently displaced from the house he had built and the land he had always worked after a late-in-life divorce. The warm sun had him thinking about the upcoming growing season and how this would be his first year without a garden since as far back as he could remember. As he stared at the second floor roof below the window, the idea came to him that the roof offered a great sunny space for growing some tomatoes. He talked about the idea with another member in the pottery class who happens to be a Master Gardener. They got so excited by the possibilities that they climbed out the second story window to investigate the possibilities further first-hand. The garden and members' involvement has been growing ever since.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

It's hard to identify just one specific person behind this idea because this is such a collaborative community project. We have more than a dozen deeply involved members who are volunteering with the rooftop garden and participating with the related Healthy Eating = Healthy Aging workshop and vegetarian luncheon series. In addition to the seniors who are tending the rooftop garden, members volunteer as cooks, workshop presenters, builders, food preparation assistants, etc. Almost every volunteer has come forward to add a new program component, so the rooftop garden project is already so much more than "just a garden" and the "innovation" stretches far beyond the original idea of gardening on the rooftop.

If we had to highlight one driving force behind the rooftop garden it would have to be Charlie Taylor. In the previous section above, we talked about Charlie, who originally thought of getting a few tomato plants going in buckets on the roof last summer. Charlie and another member, who also climbed out the window to help, conducted our first test garden on the rooftop last year and they are taking the lead again on expanding the size and diversity of this year's garden. Charlie has recruited outside experts to consult on design; recruited family, friends and other members to help with construction, and assisted with shepherding approval for structural alterations to our historic building through the City Planning Board. In June, Charlie will co-facilitate a Container Gardening 101 workshop at the Senior Center open to all seniors in the region whether they are members of the Senior Center yet or not. He and another member have also been busy soliciting discounts and donations on building materials, seeds, soil and gardening tools and supplies.

The founding members of the rooftop garden make a great leadership team -- inspiring others to get involved with their enthusiasm and can-do attitudes. Charlie is without a doubt a natural innovator, his excitement is infectious as he starts a conversation with "Hey, listen..." and proceeds to quickly rattle off his latest idea. As we previously stated, though, there are many seniors who are actively involved in the planning and resource development of this year's rooftop garden, monthly vegetarian lunches and garden-inspired health and wellness workshop series. As the growing season extends to Maine, we expect dozens more members to become involved.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Friend or family member

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer