"Still Growing" Intergenerational Rooftop Garden

"Still Growing" Intergenerational Rooftop Garden

United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

We are growing vegetables on our roof because it's the only land we have. We’re growing more than peas and tomatoes. We’re growing independence and self-sufficiency among us seniors. We’re growing mentoring opportunities with young school children. We’re growing awareness of the many contributions older adults still have to offer. We’re growing a stronger community.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Life happens: medical conditions, physical challenges, retirement, shifts in daily routines and income, and loss of friends and family all present new obstacles. "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. People stop thinking of you as “useful” or seem to just stop think of you much at all. The rooftop garden and its related activities help address these challenges and meet many seniors' existing needs, as well as creates many new opportunities for meeting their desires. Further, the rooftop garden and the opportunities for intergenerational relationship building that it creates is making seniors -- their wisdom, their skills, and the contributions they can still offer – more visible and valued in our community.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

There is much that is unique about our garden, including its location. Our garden is growing high above Downtown Bangor, Maine, on the roof of an historic building that barely a decade ago was vacant, virtually abandoned and in disrepair. Rather than a service "for the benefit of" seniors, creating a garden on the roof of what is now the Hammond Street Senior Center was the brainchild of a few “older adults” who took it upon themselves to climb out a window because they wanted to grow some fresh tomatoes. They have done all the work, too. All of the raised beds and containers have been planned, constructed, planted, maintained, harvested, and now expanded exclusively by members of the senior center – including getting all that soil and compost up to the roof. A membership survey revealed that not all of us had easy or affordable access to fresh, locally grown, healthy vegetables. Most of us live alone now and won’t buy fresh produce because it will spoil before we can use it all. As a generation, we’d rather go without before we’d waste money. Many of us have been downsized out of the family home and now live in apartments in town, in subsidized retirement communities, or in one of the many trailer parks in the area. Those of us who may still be able to garden on our own, may not have land to do so. So, the center’s roof is now our land. Even members who aren’t able to go out on the roof are enjoying viewing the garden from the second and third story windows; reveling in all the media and public attention the garden is receiving because of the garden; and, buying up the vegetables as quickly as it is picked. The garden has gotten a lot of press and even won an award this summer. Suddenly everyone in the region seems to be interested in what we seniors are up to on the roof. We have made our garden intergenerational and host gardening tours for interested community folks and sustainable living workshops for young children.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

This effort is about much more than just planting a garden. Healthy eating is positively linked to healthy aging. Continued social engagement, physical activity and meaningful work also contribute to healthy aging. The opportunities for regaining a sense of independence and forging new friendships later in life that are inherent to this garden project are even more important as the fresh vegetables it produces. Even members who haven’t or aren’t physically able to go out on the roof are enjoying viewing the garden from the second and third story windows. All our members are reveling in the vicarious attention of the garden and the increased visibility of their Senior Center. Not to mention, members are buying the daily vegetable harvest as quickly as it is picked. The attention that building a garden on the roof has generated has also raised new awareness in our community for the many contributions that older adults can still make. As one member in her late 80s said, “It’s like we’re no longer invisible. You know, you get to a certain age and then no one seems to notice you – unless they think you’re in their way. This is nice to see people coming to see the garden and watch them be surprised by all that we do here.” Membership, which is free for anyone at least age 60, is growing in direct response to the name recognition gained from extensive media coverage of our garden. Likewise, we are enjoying the skills of several new individuals who came to see the garden and decided to become on-going volunteers once they saw all that we offer area seniors. As stated above, new relationships between the Senior Center and other nonprofit organizations in our community are forming because of the garden. For example, two summer camps for young grade school children hosted by the Maine Discovery Museum have toured our rooftop garden to learn from seniors about sustainable living and growing their own container gardens.
About You
Hammond Street Senior Center
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About You
First Name


Last Name



Hammond Street Senior Center


, ME, Penobscot County

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Hammond Street Senior Center

Organization Phone

(207) 262-5532

Organization Address

2 Hammond Street, Bangor, ME 04401

Organization Country

, ME, Penobscot County

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, ME, Penobscot County

Do you have a patent for this idea?


When we began our rooftop garden, our focus was on supporting our own healthy aging and that of our fellow seniors. Our garden ensures seniors have easy and affordable access to fresh vegetables; and, the opportunity to continue to garden and make new friends in the process. Our garden also supplies regular healthy lunches offered at the senior center and is a focal point for monthly Healthy Eating = Healthy Aging workshops.

As our garden, and the public interest surrounding it, has grown, so too has our understanding of how the garden may address a wider range of issues seniors face in our community, indeed, in society at-large. We now envision our rooftop garden as a community organizing tool to foster intergenerational relationship-building. Specifically, we want to address the invisibility and devaluation that too often is part of the aging experience.

In our garden, we are working to grow awareness of and appreciation for the contributions we can continue to offer our communities. We are sharing our garden with children and groups and whomever else has an interest so that we can create conversations and collaborations that are the seeds for changes yet unknown.


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 the aging experiences they want. In the big picture, the result is seniors creating the best lives they can.

The immediate result is that more than 2,000 members have access to senior-oriented classes in which they are developing and expanding knowledge and skills to support their own healthy aging goals through healthy eating and meal preparation. Seniors are enjoying access to fresh vegetables by grow healthy produce right on the roof. In addition to the garden, community lunches prepared on-site by member volunteers ensure the social aspect of healthy eating is enjoyed by all.

The long-term result is a greater level of intergenerational collaboration and mutual respect within the broader community as a result of conversations and projects spun-off from the rooftop garden.

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

Year 2010: With a recent grant award, we are planning on expanding our garden to 15 raised beds for in preparation for next season. We are also working with our local Cooperative Extension Office to design and implement an irrigation system. We would also like to add cold frames to extend our rooftop growing season. Community outreach is being done to fill in our knowledge gaps, and gather younger, stronger volunteers to make the expansion process efficient, effective – and hopefully, painless. We also feel strongly about producing an instructional DVD so that other senior-oriented organizations can use our project as a model for gardening and intergenerational community building. We have several students at the New England School of Broadcasting who are willing to help us produce a video documentary.

Year 2011: As more seniors and newly identified community supporters 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 intergenerational collaborations and increased participation in the garden or related programs by seniors. We envision incorporating 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 rooftop garden to the point 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 (easier, safer access) to expand to our third story rooftop.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

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 experimenting with forms 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.

We are confident in our ability to continue to realize success toward meeting our original goal of supporting the healthy aging of senior center members through healthy eating-oriented activities and our rooftop garden. Generating interest and sustained involvement are unlikely to be issues, in part because this idea came from and is being implemented by members themselves.

However, meeting our broader goal of effecting attitudinal change regarding the role and valuation of seniors in society will be a much harder task, both to measure and accomplish. Fully resourcing community outreach will be vital. It is foreseeable that with limited resources, as seems to always be the case with nonprofit organizations, the question of prioritizing programming and evaluating return on investment will potentially delay or defund these outreach and intergenerational incorporation efforts periodically.

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

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 a non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


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


Does your organization have a 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 planning, planting, etc. 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. Employees of Martin's Point HealthCare are given paid-time off to volunteer assisting us with preparing healthy lunches and other related program activities. 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 you led 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

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