Green Wizardry and the Elderly

David Trammel's picture

One of the commenters, on this week's Ecosophia post A Conversation with Nature said this:

"Although, in less than 6 months, most Green Wizardly decisions will be totally out of my hands. I’ll be living in an apartment complex my daughters found for me, with dining halls and campus shuttles and buses to take you places. Which is a lot greener than having a driver take me on errands in sprawling Albuquerque. An apartment, with only one outside wall, should use a lot less energy. And like many an old lady, I don’t buy my clothes, I have my clothes. If not, Ye Olde VIntage Shoppe should supply things to my taste."

I got me thinking about what activities and projects that we advocate you do and learn on this site, as a way to be more sustainable, live lighter on the Earth, and have a better life in general, could be done by people in their senior years? Not just people living on their own, but people who have been forced to move into a more communial senior living arrangement, or assisted living.

I should mention that my Father developed Alzheimer's disease and after we tried to care for him at home for a few years, we eventually made the family decision to put him into assisted living. I remember that home had a small garden in the courtyard, raising melons and other vegetables along with a cage of rabbits, a couple of house cats and even a small pony, which was always begging for treats. So living in a more communal setting doesn't preclude doing green activities.

Gardening and Growing Things

I'm 61 and I certainly feel my years when I'm out in the small garden I have, on my hands and knees trying to weed and prepare the soil. One of the reasons I'm going to be making short raised beds at my sister's where I plan to live my retirement years. I plan on continuing to garden and raise vegetables too.

Gardening is one of the best activities for older people, because of the moderate exercise we get in caring for the plants. It also helps keep us sharp, stimulating our senses and connecting us with Nature but there are challenges. Bending, lifting, kneeling all can be difficult, not to mention dealing with sun, heat and bugs.

One way to minimize the bending required is to bring the garden up off the ground. Raised beds can be good, as well as large pots, but don't overlook a more vertical solution like a rain gutter wall garden or one made of small containers when space or access to the Sun is limited. Check these out

10 Impressive Rain Gutter Gardens That Will Make You Say WoW

Often an assisted living arrangement goes to communal eating arrangement, so your senior garden might not contribute to your meals BUT that just gives you the opportunity to advocate to the management the benefits of buying local or group outings to local farmer's markets.

Here are some tips I came across while researching:

- Paint tool handles in neon colors or wrap them with brightly colored tape so they are easy to find if dropped.
- Wrap handles in foam tape to make them larger and easier to control.
- Downsize things like spray bottles and watering jugs so they are lighter.
- Consider automated irrigation systems.

That last one is good. Let's face it, my memory has a hole or two sometimes. Raise your hand if you've had a "senior moment" of not being able to recall something this week?

(raises his hand)

There is a lot of technology that has come on the market the last decade, to help manage your garden. While philosophically, I'd rather not contribute to the ongoing techno exploitation of the planet, somethings that aren't sustainable come at a cheap enough price and usefulness to be for me, in that "Use It While Its Here" category. Kind of like pvc pipe.

These are two trestles I made from pvc pipe and clothes line bought at the local hardware store. I grow great cherry tomatoes and very poor cucumbers on them in the Summer. Consider growing plants that vine and climb as a way not to have to get down on the ground to tend to them.

Not all gardens are outside.

Sometimes as you downsize you are forced into a situation where access to the outside, via a patio, yard or porch isn't there anymore.

If you can still get out, trips to local parks or community gardens can allow us to appreciate the cycle of life. Visiting a special bench where you can see a flower bed or garden grow over time can reconnect you to Nature. Taking pictures can be shared with friends. Check local news and find activities that do the same. St Louis has a world renowned botanical garden which has events almost every weekend.

If mobility and circumstances prevent you from much travel, then bring the garden inside. Anyone remember when terrariums were all the rage?

There are many ways to liven a room up with plants and bringing Nature inside.

Getting Involved In Your Community

Green Wizardry is all about building communities and the most important one is the one you live in. Take a look around and see what are the issues that people living in your city or town are talking about. Read your local newspaper. Visit your local city council meeting. Take an active interest in what is going on, decide where you stand on the issue and then advocate at the top of your lungs for change.

Volunteer is a cause. That could be supporting a local candidate for office, whose position on issues matches yours. I'll bet that any politician would welcome someone who wanted to participate, be it stuffing mailers or manning phone banks, and would make accommodations for the physical restrictions a senior has.

You don't have to let retirement force you into a four sided box and call you useless.

If politics isn't your cup of dandelion tea, then seek out other causes. I volunteer with a local animal shelter, doing odd jobs around their store, since I know how to work with tools and my hands BUT I also foster a couple of animals. Fostering is a great way to have an animal in your Life and yet if medical necessity or family issues means you can't care for the animal for a time, then shelters will take the animal back until you can resume fostering.

Seniors have more time and the patience to work with scared animals. There is something very rewarding to be able to win the trust of a animal who first comes to you frightened and mistrustful, then over time comes to trust your intentions.

The hardest part is learning to give them up when they are adopted and find their "forever home".

Not just animals, Seniors are wanted to be mentors and teachers of the young as well. Look around your community for organizations that work with young adults and see which one interests you. The shelter where I help out, has several young adults who care for the animals. Apparently now to graduate high school, there is a community service requirement, where young adults must volunteer themselves and work in the community.

See Yourself as a Resource, not a Liability

Seniors have a rich life behind them and a store of knowledge just waiting to be shared. Don't waste that treasure by letting yourself fade away, hidden in some drab room. Get out and find a way to contribute to your Community.

Look for ways your experiences and expertise can be of use. One thing I want to try and organize this Summer is a "Repair It, Not Trash It" event, getting retired crafts people like electricians and electronic techs, together at a local recreational center, for a day where people can bring in their small appliance and such, and get it repaired. Sometimes its something as simple as a broken cord. Rather than throw it out, and buy something new that will last half as long, why not repair it and save the money.

Or later in the year when harvest starts coming in, organize a "food swap" at your church or community center.

That's where people in the community, who garden, make jams and preserves, or home can (or even home brew) get together. Each brings something to the table, and then they wander around the room checking the other items out. They write bids on pieces of paper. "I'll trade two jars of home canned green beans for a six pack of home brewed beer". Then at an agreed time, each person checks the bids on their items, and decides which they will accept.

This could easily be done in a assisted living community, but having the children of the residents, not the residents themselves come in and supply what they have grown. A way to bond across generations. There are many ideas like that, which Seniors can help organize, since they have time on their hands to spend it as an investment in their community.

If not physically, then do it online. If not Green Wizards then someplace else that interests you. No one cares if you are 70 years old and in a wheelchair online. They do care when you can give them a solution to a problem or information on how to solve a situation. Or take up HAM radio?

All of this is Green Wizardry, and being old doesn't mean you can't still be a Green Wizard. You just have to not let your limitations, limit your imagination.

David Trammel's picture

Meet Gema, she's alot more relaxed now that I've had a couple of months working with her.

David Trammel's picture

A great article, very timely to this discussion.

What Do 90-Somethings Regret Most?