By Stephen Kopfinger, LNP Contributor
This article was published in the LNP on May 18, 2016
At Landis Homes, the outside is coming inside to help the retirement community sustain — and even grow — with the cooperation of man and nature.
And at Masonic Villages, what comes from the earth helps feed the kitchens, teach city-raised kids how vegetables come to their table and even help nourish the grounds of the Elizabethtown residence for active retirees.
As with many businesses and communities, there was a time when few thought of working with Mother Earth on their very properties to furnish food, save water, shape the land and even influence the design and climate controlling of buildings. That’s changing, as retirement communities, to use the popular term, “go green.”
“Some forward-thinking retirement communities are offering residents everything from greener buildings to energy-efficient lighting to community gardens,” an August 2015 article in Forbes magazine noted on the subject. The story also hinted that retiring baby boomers, raised during the earth-friendly “ecology” movement of years ago, are more conscious about green living.
Linford Good, vice president of planning and marketing at Landis Homes, off East Oregon Road, would agree with that. Among some residents, that even includes the birds and the bees — maintaining boxes to attract birds and cultivating pollinators, or nonstinging bees which produce beneficial pollen.
On a larger, overall scale, “we have various things we do in being eco-friendly,” Good says. “Our main efforts have to do with water.”
The land on which Landis Homes sits is home to Kurtz Run, a stream typical of Lancaster County farm country. A combination of factors, including erosion and the past presence of small rural dams later removed, led to the run becoming a soup of sediment. That was not good for the land, or floodplain management. Plus, “we were concerned about pollutants and sediments getting into the Chesapeake Bay,” Good recalls.
An ambitious floodplain restoration project not only benefited nature, but Landis Homes as well.
“It’s part of our storm water management on campus,” says Good.
The stream of Kurtz Run now meanders, discouraging rushing water that can cause flooding and erosion. What was once a sediment-choked pond is now a lush wetland, which provides not just a pleasing view, but a sanctuary for wildlife, including butterflies.
[Most of all, land was made free to build additional cottage homes. This land would normally have been used for storm management control, but now it houses residences which blend in with the landscape and overlook Kurtz Run.]*
Inside Landis Homes, a geothermal climate control system, which taps into the earth’s version of steam heat, helps regulate internal temperatures. “It keeps pulling heat out of the water,” Good sums up.
But if Mother Nature is giving you a helping hand, you must sometime get your own hands dirty in return. That’s fine with several residents at Masonic Villages, where Ken Burd, known as the “Garden Czar,” Tim Spangler and Mary Ellen and Jim Tarman literally live the green life. Their garden plots are among 44 vegetable beds where what grows is put to good use.
Burd’s own garden is a bountiful example. He grows “red raspberries, strawberries, Swiss chard, eggplant, Pomodori Longhi (a kind of Italian tomato), peppers, green beans, yellow beans, blackberries, zucchini, garlic and onion. That’s it!”
But it’s more than a hobby. Burd, 69, helps supply six restaurant kitchens at Masonic Villages. He’s been a resident of the community since 2012, and the Hershey native has been gardening “since I was 5,” he says. He jokes that he wouldn’t have moved into Masonic Villages if he wouldn’t have been able to plant.
The Tarmans note an educational element in their gardening, citing Masonic Villages’ “Garden to Fork Program,” which provides a connection with nature for residents of Masonic’s Children’s Home and the Bleiler Caring Cottage, which houses those with developmental disabilities.
“We really enjoy getting children from the Children’s Home involved,” says Mary Ellen Tarman, 67. “They might not know where a potato comes from.”
Many of the young residents, says Jim Tarman, 72, are from large cities, where vegetable patches and connections with the origins of food are scarce. The Tarmans themselves retired from nearby Hummelstown.
As for his own harvest, Jim Tarman says “I’m big on garlic.” He also grows exotic lettuce variations which also find their way into Masonic’s kitchens.
Spangler, 77, an Elizabethtown native, fancies “onions, potatoes, radishes — everything but corn. Corn I gave up on.”
He supplies the communities’ kitchens with cucumbers and radishes, among other produce. And his efforts are returned to the soil. “They usually give it back to me as compost.”
Green retirement living isn’t entirely new. The Forbes article cited Pennswood Village in Newtown, near Philadelphia, an environmentally sustainable retirement community founded in 1980. As Landis Homes would do later, Pennswood installed a geothermal heating and cooling system for some common buildings and built a storm management system under a natural meadow.
But in some ways, both Masonic Villages and Landis Homes have that community beat. Masonic residents “came here and worked (in gardens) back in the 1910s and 1920s,” says Burd.
And at Landis Homes, Good notes the community’s long ties with the centuries-old Mennonite faith.
“Mennonites,” he says, “are known for being good stewards of resources.”
*This sentence was edited from the original article to correct the information presented.
Landis Homes completed a floodplain restoration project on Kurtz Run, creating a wetlands that attracts birds and waterfowl. The community’s hybrid homes are shown at right.
Landis Homes resident Don Ziegler, center, teaches Lancaster Mennonite students about pollinator bee boxes.