Trailside Organic Farm is in the swing of its second season growing fresh, organic produce for Cornwall Manor, a senior living facility in Cornwall, Pennsylvania. The farm is a collaborative effort between Cornwall Manor and the Rodale Institute, the regenerative agriculture nonprofit in eastern Pennsylvania.
The farm provides hyperlocal produce (produce consumed where it's grown) for dining services to incorporate into meals. "The idea of prescription produce, how we can use eating well to be preventive in our healthcare, Rodale is interested in that. And we as a senior living community are too," says Cornwall Manor Vice President for Advancement Vicki Deitzler. The project was announced in March 2021 and held its inaugural growing season last year.
Trailside's seasonal harvest includes green beans, cantaloupe, corn, collard greens, cucumbers, eggplant, gourds, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, potatoes, pumpkins, scallions, spinach, summer squash, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and tomatoes, along with a variety of herbs, edible flowers, and cut flowers.
Cornwall Manor's foodservice is run in-house. "Having hyperlocal produce influences our menus," Deitzler says. "Our culinary team works directly with the farm team to come up with what and how much they want to grow. It's all based on what we're looking to get for our dining program," Deitzler says.
Cornwall Manor's daily salad bar consistently incorporates fresh offerings from the farm, with signage highlighting the items that were grown at Trailside. Vegetables are also frequently highlighted in a veggie special of the day, like spinach sauteed with garlic. A recent dinner event featured skewers with Trailside-grown tomatoes and basil plus mozzarella cheese. "The flowers on the table were even from the farm," says Deitzler.
This summer Trailside has also been busy applying for its USDA organic certification, having recently finished its required interviews and inspections. While the farm has followed organic growing practices since its inception, "the certification will make it official," Deitzler explains.
Residents have been invited to get involved with the farm beyond mealtime. The start of the growing season brought a weekly farmer's market held in Cornwall Manor's lobby. "It's a volunteer program run by the residents, and it sells out every week," Deitzler says. Residents are also invited to tour the farm and participate in educational workshops like flower-arranging and potato planting. Those who really want to get their hands dirty can do volunteer work on the farm including planting, harvesting, and packing freshly harvested produce in the packhouse.
Improvements and enhancements are also being made to the farm itself. Trailside has been putting the finishing touches on a two-level, 3,840-square foot barn, which broke ground in November 2022. The bottom level will be used for storing farm equipment and washing and packing produce; it'll also serve as office space for the farm staff. The top level will be designated as a community and event space. "It's where we'll hold future educational programs," says Deitzler. There will also be small garden plots in front of the barn where independent living residents can grow their own produce.
The barn should be completed by mid-August. When it's ready, Cornwall Manor plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the local chamber of commerce.
Another area of focus has been installing much-needed irrigation lines. Prior to the lines, the farm team was filling up giant tanks to water the plants. "Having the irrigation lines will make things much easier," says Deitzler. They're also constructing a second hoop house to extend the farm's growing season and create a controlled growing environment.
The farm itself is expanding and improving. The farm is working on increasing its capacity from one acre to two, as well as continuing to build healthy soil structures. "That will allow us to expand the quantity and offerings we're harvesting even more," Deitzler says.
Trailside Organic Farm is Rodale's first collaboration with a senior living facility. But the hopes are that it won't be the last. "There's interest to look at this as something that can be scaled, that we could use as a model for other senior living facilities," Deitzler says.