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In the Garden with Executive Chef Eileen O'Donoghue of NewBridge on the Charles Dedham

HSL community chef gives a tour of the culinary team’s garden
In the Garden with Executive Chef Eileen O'Donoghue of NewBridge on the Charles Dedham

Residents aren’t the only ones with green thumbs at NewBridge on the Charles. In addition to the raised communal garden beds situated around our campus, one large plot is set aside each spring just for our culinary team. There, fresh produce is grown to supplement our kitchen’s “farm to fork” offerings with vegetables, lettuces and herbs. Executive Chef Eileen O'Donoghue recently spent a few moments with a member of the HSL blog team to chat about what’s new this year.  

This is the third year that NewBridge has had a garden specifically for our chefs’ use. And each year it seems to grow! What’s up for 2015?

Each year we learn from our experience as to what works, what the residents like best, and where we can improve in the next season. This year, we are experimenting with several innovations. First, a local sustainable gardening expert named Peter Swanson, came to teach us his special technique that combines “Square Foot Gardening” with the use of a unique blend of composted soil, peet moss and volcanic soil. This year we are using composted soil he gave us, with his help we’ve begun composting too, so next year, we will use our own composted soil in the garden. Right now, a corner of our garden is set up with a wooden box that divides the soil into small square sections in which broccoli, kale, garlic, tomato, lettuces, radishes have been planted. In these areas only we have used the nutrient rich soil mixture Peter recommends. We are excited to see how this corner of the garden does!

Wow, composting! How does that work?

Well, we’ve set up two composting bins near the garden and added special red worms that came recommended. And then we add produce scraps as we generate them in the kitchen – things like melon rinds, strawberry tops, celery leaves. We’ve learned that some items are especially advantageous. For example, banana peels add potassium to the soil, and seaweed adds iodine. Then it does take some maintenance. One of us comes out here every day not only to feed the compost by adding scraps but also to rake the compost, providing aeration to both the soil and the worms. The soil we create here will be used for next season.

What are these rows of straw on the ground? 

That’s our other big innovation this year. It’s called loom drills and the straw you see is actually salt marsh hay. By arranging the plantings in rows like this, with salt marsh hay on each side, we avoid the need for manual weeding. We can already see a decrease in unwanted growth and are hopeful the rest of the season goes as well.

How much does the garden yield in relation to the significant amount of food the NewBridge kitchens prepare?

I’d say that our fresh herbs in the summer are totally supplied by what’s produced here. We have basil, chives, mint, oregano and flowering thyme. The other produce is more supplementary. We’ll take the eggplant, squash, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce here and make various recipes, which are then presented family-style in our restaurants as a garden feature. Given the garden’s closeness to the Assisted Living kitchen, cooks often come out to grab items as needed.

Your team is very busy cooking. How can you manage the garden too?

The whole food and beverage team works together to plant and maintain the garden. I’m out every day monitoring and tasting and then we hold “garden days” every 3-4 weeks when the group comes together to put an hour or two of work into it together. Group days are good for morale. It’s a beautiful way to spend a day at the office.  

Dana Gitell's picture

About the Blogger

Marketing Specialist, Senior Living

As a marketing specialist, Dana Gitell provides strategic marketing and digital communications support to Hebrew SeniorLife’s senior living communities. Her career spans communications roles in nonprofit, government and Jewish communal organizations. She is credited with coining the word “Thanksgivukkah” to mark the 2013 confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and launching a social media campaign which made the hybrid holiday a worldwide phenomenon.

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