ALTON — Senior Services Plus, a nonprofit agency dedicated to providing seniors in the Greater Alton and surrounding areas with programs and services that encourage independent living, has branched out in the last several years to include more inclusive programs and other services that reflect “thinking outside the box.”
In an effort to increase community involvement, offset state cuts and help seniors eat more nutritious food, an overhaul of the facility’s garden and the addition of a greenhouse are in the works and should be completed within the next month.
The plans have been made possible through a $10,000 grant from the Mid-America Transplant Services Foundation. White’s Greenhouses in Godfrey also has discounted and donated materials for the project, the stables at Pere Marquette donated horse manure for compost, and Lenhardt Tree and Lawn Service in Alton is going to help with mulch and other services.
“Increasing access to fresh vegetables locally grown will have a positive impact on senior health,” SSP Executive Director John Becker said. “This whole thing is really exciting.”
Becker headed up an effort to start the garden in 2008, using as little chemical mixtures as possible and focusing on organic foods.
“This takes it one step further,” Becker said. “Everything is about sustainability, and you have to have revenue streams to keep Meals on Wheels going.”
Becker says as of Sept. 1, the state owes SSP nearly $1 million. That money cuts directly into what senior programs such as Meals on Wheels can offer.
The Compassionate Growers Program, a partnership between SSP and the foundation, will provide the community with fresh produce as well as learning opportunities centered around organic growing techniques.
“One unique aspect of the Compassionate Growers program will be the use of Hügelkultur, which is a composting process that uses decaying wood and other plant materials,” information and assistance coordinator and SSP Garden Club volunteer Kelly Chapman said. “Hügelkultur improves soil fertility and water retention, which will improve the quality of the produce and increases the sustainability of the project.”
Plans include expanding the garden, adding 10 to 12 raised container boxes to the existing 13 boxes, as well as the addition of a greenhouse. The greenhouse will be equipped with a heating and ventilation system and hydroponic system. With the addition of the greenhouse, SSP will be able to provide fresh produce year round.
The greenhouse will be behind the building, near the Schoolhouse Grill, while the raised beds, including tomatoes, lettuce and squash, will be moved farther back on the property to make room for the expanded fitness center later this year.
“The majority of this food goes back to seniors,” Chapman said. “They help themselves, and we pick things and bring it in to the café; we have a really great salad bar and this garden contributes to that.”
Roger Glotfelty, owner and CEO of Advanced Sustainable Technologies in Collinsville, is assisting with the sustainability process.
“My goal in all of this is to get carbon in the soil and make people aware of the farming practices we should be using today,” Glotfelty said. “With these beds, we will go down about three feet and put as much organic matter (logs, leaves, compost) as possible into the ground, put a layer of topsoil on top of that, and over time the microbes start the decomposing process. The plants will never need to be turned and the need for water and fertilizer is drastically decreased.”
Beginning Sept. 23, volunteers will begin digging and filling holes with organic matter. On Sept. 28, construction of the greenhouse will begin.
To help offset lack of funding by the state, plans also include selling a portion of the produce to the newly opened Grassroots Grocery at 415A Ridge St., a cooperative entity selling organic food products.
Partnering with the Sierra Club, SSP will offer educational opportunities to the public on the greenhouse and its uses. The group is seeking volunteers; anyone with greenhouse experience or who has a passion for gardening can contact SSP at (618) 465-3298, ext. 115.