The poor quality of residents’ food has recently joined the public discussion around the aged care crisis. But it’s something that ANMF and iconic Australian cook, food author and TV personality Maggie Beer have been trying to address for several years.
For the past half decade or more, the Maggie Beer Foundation has been working with aged care facilities around the country to establish wellbeing gardens, not just for the nutritional benefits they can offer residents but for their physical and emotional benefits as well.
The Wellbeing Gardens Program started in Victoria in 2015, offering grants to aged care facilities to establish, expand or maintain an edible or aesthetic garden space. But what exactly is a wellbeing garden?
‘Our classification of a wellbeing garden is twofold,’ Maggie explains. ‘First of all, it’s a kitchen garden from which the cooks and chefs can pick fresh herbs and vegetables. Fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens and bitter greens, that are picked right at the last moment and cooked that day are so full of flavour and antioxidants, and that is an essential part of wellbeing.
‘The second aspect is about empowering residents. It’s about having a garden where residents can actually do – by which I mean somewhere that they can have an outlet, depending on their ability, to decide what they want to do.’
‘What the scent of real food does is just enormous.’
She gives the example of a garden for residents with dementia, saying ‘it doesn’t matter whether they are pulling something up and putting it somewhere else. It doesn’t matter if it gets mucked up. It’s just about giving them things to do, for those that want to, and having the chance to do.’
This is vital, Maggie says. She references the Maria Montessori quote ‘everything you do for me, you take away from me’ to explain the necessity of providing space where residents have not only the option to engage, but to make that choice for themselves.
A scent-ual garden
A wellbeing garden is also about the senses, and about scents. Planting the easy-to-grow lambs-ear bushes, for instance, can be comforting for residents as the soft, velvety leaves are pleasurable to the touch. Rosemary or basil fill a garden with beautiful scents, and smell can be an important memory prompt.
‘What the scent of real food does is just enormous,’ Maggie explains. ‘And cooking smells activate parts of our brain that are hotwired for good memories. It’s also how we stimulate a saliva, which is really important because as we age, we lose saliva and therefore our digestion doesn’t work as well.’
A wellbeing garden can also be a flower garden, full of nasturtiums or other brightly coloured flowers that the residents can pick for the table. ‘Colour and vibrancy are really important because we eat with our eyes too. So the dining experience is enhanced if there are flowers on the table,’ Maggie says. ‘Even more so if the residents have picked the flowers themselves and helped set the table, if they want to.’
The key, she emphasises, is that a wellbeing garden is ‘not just one thing. It has many meanings. But either way, they add so much to the lives of the resident.’
In addition to providing garden grants to facilities, Maggie has also been running master classes for facilities’ cooks and chefs. With ‘virtually no specialised training for cooks and chefs in aged care’, the masterclasses were developed to share everything that she knows ‘about how to make every dish, every mouthful, count with regards to nutrition as well as pleasure and scent. And to give them the impetus, skills and support to be able to bring change.’
But one woman (and her team) can only do so much, so recently the Maggie Beer Foundation released 11 online modules of training. Two years in the making, the modules are interactive and designed to be engaging and exciting learning. ‘We hope it will go to about 2,500 homes for the cooks and chefs.’
‘It is everybody’s right to be able to be in a home where food is real. We all have to want to do better. We’ve got to do it collectively.’
But even with the best training and all the good intentions in the world, the cooks and chefs cannot make change by themselves. ‘Cooks and chefs can go back into their homes all fired up but if their management doesn’t support it, and if you don’t have other champions within a home, it makes it difficult,’ Maggie says.
‘But when there has been a cook or chef who has been ignited by the possibilities, and has the support of management, the results have been wonderful; they’re beautiful stories. There are really good things happening. But it is everybody’s right to be able to be in a home where food is real. We all have to want to do better. We’ve got to do it collectively.’
Health & Environmental Sustainability Conference
Maggie Beer will be the keynote presenter at the 2022 ANMF (Vic Branch) Health & Environmental Sustainability Conference. She will be discussing her work with the Maggie Beer Foundation to improve health and wellbeing in aged care via wellbeing gardens, as well as other moments in her career.
Other presenters at the conference will be speaking to topics including:
- food waste
- uniform recycling
- surgical blue mask upcycling
- the healthcare waste packing project and circular economy
- the bottle top project for sustainable theatres
- the upcoming single use plastic ban in Victoria, and what it means for healthcare
The in-person conference runs from 8.30am–3.45pm on Friday 13 May 2022, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. It counts for seven hours of CPD and conference registration may be tax deductible (please seek independent financial advice). Register now.