Green House Blog

Fresh, farmed produce debuts at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community

October 7, 2015

Contact: Maureen Pearson, director of Communications

540-438-4205, 540-908-8979

Eating locally is a common phrase in the agricultural heavy Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, but for Virginia IMG_4056Mennonite Retirement Community, eating locally took on an entirely new meaning this summer.

The continuing care retirement community cultivated 1 ½ acres of land from its nearby farm for food production. The Farm at Willow Run owned and operated by VMRC began the growing season with an anticipated production yield goal of $24,000.

“Knowing where your food comes from is important, and the nutritional value of fresh produce grown nearby is excellent,” said Eric Phipps, executive chef at VMRC.

Growers used untreated and organic seeds and plants in plantiIMG_3903ng as much as possible, and with the farm just minutes from the retirement community, shipping and delivery were kept to a minimum.

Produce was integrated by Dining Services into soups, salad bars, side dishes, and desserts with excess sold at produce table.

“The feedback from the Heirloom tomato bisque and butternut squash pie was amazing,” said Phipps, who designed the menus to accommodate the garden produce.

Farm fresh produce also was utilized in assisted living activities of bean snapping and zucchini bread baking.

“The farm made good sense for VMRC as we identified ways to help people live a healthier lifestyle,” said Judith Trumbo, president and CEO.IMG_4043

Nearly 750 residents live at VMRC which also is home to Virginia’s only Green House community – Woodland Park.

Going Home: Ron Yoder, VMRC, and THE GREEN HOUSE® Project

Ron Yoder has a deep memory of being a young child and, every weekend accompanying his parents to visit his grandfather, who had suffered a debilitating stroke. Ron remembers him in a bed in the living room, being cared for by the family. He remembers him in his home…and dying in his home.

Years later when Ron’s father got older and sick, the family got to a point where they couldn’t care for him anymore and eventually his father was transported to a nursing home. Ron was four hours away by car. His father died there. It felt different.

Maybe Ron knew it then or maybe he knew it later, but eventually he admitted to himself, “I’m the generation that’s not caring for their parents.” And he knew he needed to do something about it.

This is what Ron Yoder carried into his office when he became president of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) and Woodland Park, a long-term care facility in Virginia, in early 1999. He also carried with him not a health-care background, but a business background, and a track record of making places better. And he carried his ability to listen.

So when he first came to work, he didn’t go forward. Instead, he went back—all the way back to the founding, planning, and vision documents that VMRC’s advisory board had crafted in the 1970s. What he found were articles about “normalization”—a desire to carry forward the residents’ patterns and conditions of everyday life. That stuck.

What also stuck was VMRC’s track record of following that path and implementing some radical change every decade. He wondered what he would do. He thought of normalization and how its intellectual and philosophical framework could help shape the design of new programs and upgrading of existing programs and facilities. That’s when he found The Green House Project and saw how perfectly the two aligned.

By the time he started, VMRC already had made innovations such as creating “neighborhoods” instead of corridors—an innovation that took place before Ron got there, but residents still needed more private space and still had to share rooms divided only by curtains. Ron knew that wasn’t home. It became a moral imperative to keep moving toward normalization. In The Green House model, Ron and VMRC found what they were looking for.

They found the blueprint for a system that could offer to someone who needs complete living care an environment that is home.
“There were other models out there, but most still used a lot of the same central services,” he said. “None went as far as The Green House Project does in creating a home environment. None rose to our levels of value—our philosophy.”

So VMRC signed on with The Green House Project, who provided a practical model and a plan for success. The Green House Project also gave VMRC a network and an association of project adopters so that it would continue to be a member of and contributor to a learning community.

The Green House Project had data showing increased satisfaction of residents, employees, and families, and it also shared the research it had conducted on other projects showing an increase in positive clinical outcomes. It was that last result, combined with the alignment in philosophy, in caring, and in dignity that solidified VMRC’s decision to work with The Green House Project.

VMRC opened three Green House homes this January in their Woodland Park neighborhood, with plans to build 10 in the future to replace the entire institutional environment. They’re all full. Actually, they were full before they opened. They had chosen one existing “neighborhood” of VMRC with around 30 residents, plus staff, and offered the new model to them as an option. Most residents and staff said yes.

And although the data is just coming in, the stories are already here. Ron was in the wellness center doing his strength training the other day and saw one of the new residents.
“Morris, what’s the news from Woodland Park?” he said. “You still happy?”

“Yes, yes, still happy,” Morris replied. “Actually, I heard one of the other residents say, ‘I never thought I’d live long enough to go home.’”

Celebrating the Opening at Woodland Park

Below is an excerpt from As Our Parents Age, a blog by Marti Weston. Marti’s parents are residents of Virginia Menonite Retirement Community and this blog is her effort to record the experiences of loving and living with aging parents. She highlights interesting issues, identifies high quality web resources, and shares memories.  In this piece, she shares her impression of the Grand Opening Celebration of the first Green House homes in Virginia:

Today (January 5, 2013) we celebrated at the first of two Woodland Park grand opening events — almost one year to the day since the groundbreaking. With these first Green House Homes in the Commonwealth of Virginia, VMRC aims to start a trend, encouraging other providers to recast the way they address aging issues and helping elders age well in a caring community that preserves their independence — even when they need considerable medical support…“This is truly transforming the institutional nursing home model as we know it,” explained Melissa Fortner, VMRC Vice President for Supportive Living. “That’s what we set out to do in the beginning, and now we are doing it.”

To read the full entry, click here:


Cleared trees rooted in furniture in Virginia’s first Green House homes

Residents and staff who gather for meals in any of the three Woodland Park homes on the campus of VMRC will be seated at a table made from trees cleared from the site. Several of the white oak trees were cut, dried then hollowed out for preparation for the woodworking phase.

Marv Nisly, vice president of Design & Construction at VMRC, said that

there was talk during construction if there was a use for the trees in the homes. “We considered some options and estimated the amount of wood we would need,” he said. VMRC received in-kind services in part from Willow Run Saw Mill and Lantz Woodworking for the furniture-making process.

The result was three sets of several pieces of furniture for each home in the Woodland Park neighborhood: a dining room table which seats 14, a hutch, a game table, side table and matching bookshelves. The white oak pieces were then stained and finished to match the furniture decor in the homes.

VMRC officials say the response has been overwhelming when people learn the


story of the furniture. “Many white oak and ash trees graced the property where the original Woodland building was located on VMRC’s campus. When the building was razed to clear the site for Woodland Park, we intentionally kept as many trees that we could,” said Maureen Pearson, VMRC’s director of Communications. “Using the wood from


the cleared trees means that the residents of Woodland Park will continue to enjoy those trees but in a different form.”