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NSCC student’s idea grows into greenhouse for seniors in Yarmouth

The development of an on site greenhouse was especially comforting for new residents.
David Hurlburt, instructor for the NSCC Burridge social services faculty, with social services student Billy Upton in front of the Villa St Joseph Du Lac greenhouse.

Social services and carpentry students join forces on Difference Dollars project

YARMOUTH - During a brainstorming session with fellow social services students at NSCC Burridge campus last year, Billy Upton says the topic of seniors came up.

“Towards this end of their lives, people seem to forget about them to some extent,” he said.

One of the biggest issues discussed by the group in connection with the elderly was food sustainability.

How accessible is fresh food for them, especially when it comes to growing it? The students discussed as a group.

When the topic migrated to community gardens and greenhouses, an idea began to grow for Upton.

With funding assistance from NSCC’s Difference Dollars for service learning, Upton co-ordinated the construction of a greenhouse for residents with accessibility issues at Villa St. Joseph Du Lac continuing-care facility. The greenhouse would be wheelchair accessible and feature raised planting beds.

Concrete pad poured for the greenhouse at Villa St Joseph Du Lac.
Concrete pad poured for the greenhouse at Villa St Joseph Du Lac.

After receiving approval for his grant, Upton says he reached out to school classes for help.

The project was explained to the residents and a questionnaire was distributed to see which vegetables they were interested in growing.. Social services students brought in seeds and planting materials. 

“The residents were receptive. It definitely sparked conversation. I think once it was built they were excited,” said Upton.

The development was especially comforting for new residents.

“I heard some say, ‘Oh I can grow my garden again,’” said Upton.

Raised beds make it easier for wheelchair-bound users to garden.
Raised beds make it easier for wheelchair-bound users to garden.

For the building of the structure, Upton connected with first-year carpentry students. By coincidence they were being taught framing so the 12 feet x 12 ft. x 12 ft. greenhouse was a good fit. Once completed, it was covered with 6-mm plastic film that had a three-to-five-year lifespan.

The greenhouse was planted with lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and other vegetables.

At the end of the project, Upton says he saw that the greenhouse wasn’t just for the residents, the villa employees appreciated it too.

“When you’re working in a place like this it can be dreary somedays and staff likes to come out here on their break,” he said.

David Hurlburt, instructor for the NSCC Burridge social services faculty, says it’s amazing how Upton’s project went from a brainstorm to a final product.

“I think Billy, along with everyone who was engaged with the project. just has that personal passion to make things better in the community,” he said.

Upton says he learned some important lessons from the experience.

Small harvests of produce grown by seniors and staff were used in meals at the villa.
Small harvests of produce grown by seniors and staff were used in meals at the villa.

“I learned that things can get done and that even if one person is affected, that’s worth it. That was the big thing for me.”

He’s been contacted by several supervisors from seniors’ residences, who inquired about the project for their facilities.

“My biggest barrier is finding donated labour. It’s hard to find people to build it. I was very fortunate to have the first-year carpentry students to help me,” said Upton.

More about Difference Dollars

Billy Upton’s project was one of 25 approved for NSCC’s  Difference Dollars for Service Learning last year.  In recognition of NSCC’s history of combining classroom learning with service to the community, at least 25 student-led projects received investments between $500 and $2,500.

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