Brooke Staton, Biruk Tammru, and Gabriela Arvizu worked with client the Golden Age Home in Kingston, Jamaica to gather information to improve and diversify the diet options of the residents at an affordable price.
There it was, the towering waterfall, staring down at us from above. Each of us had probably scaled a similar height before—after all, its gentle climb in elevation probably didn’t exceed that of a moderate hill. However, climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica was something else altogether, hiking against the direction of the water along its picturesque length.
And yet, that was our vacation from the true challenges and adventures we faced while traveling to Kingston, Jamaica for our Eat.Think.Design project. Our group—Golden Age Home Cooking—was sponsored to travel to the vibrant island nation at the invitation of the Golden Age Kitchen (GAK). A provider of food at the Golden Age Home (GAH), a self described home for the elderly and destitute, the GAK was looking for insight on how to diversify their menu within the constraints of their limited budget. While this task may sound simple on the face of it, we would come to find many different layers that complicated the goal.
First was the complexity of the food operation itself. The larger Golden Age Home facility provides residential and comprehensive care for roughly about 460 residents who might not otherwise have the kind of support they need to live day to day in society. The kitchen is responsible for feeding the entire residential population three times a day – breakfast, lunch and supper. In addition, the kitchen also provides additional meals for diabetic residents, and for those with special dietary needs. They accomplish all this on a budget of around US $2.50 per resident, per day.
Despite the hard work and dedication of the kitchen staff, the limitations in resources have resulted in some repetitiveness in the food selection that the kitchen can provide. Residents dine on chicken, rice, and bread more often than they would prefer. Yet, the Golden Age Kitchen and the Golden Age Home in general are truly experts in figuring out how to creatively use their resources to keep the facility serving residents as well as possible. It took a ‘journey within a journey’ through conversations with administrators, staff, and most importantly, residents, in order to figure out how our perspective as visitors could be valuable.
During our conversations with folks at the home, we heard over and over that residents could benefit from more ways to stay active as well as greater variety in the food. To address these broader needs that our field work revealed, we came up with two proposed solutions that can hopefully contribute to the mission of the Home in the shorter and longer term. Our recommendations for the home include a recipe book of new dishes we put together based on the ingredients the Kitchen already has access to, and a plan to turn an underutilized storage area on the Golden Age campus into a greenhouse in the future.
The Greenhouse in particular is intended to provide the residents with the way to engage with their food production in a way that is not available to them at present. The home has garden in which some residents have been involved in cultivating produce that they can then sell to the kitchen. However, we incorporated wisdom we gained through our ethnography into designing a solution that can resist the drought conditions that Jamaica has faced in the recent past.
While the days of interviews we conducted at the Golden Age Home and Kitchen were instrumental in informing our recommendations, the information we learned was not at all limited to the scope of our project. Several times each day, we had to connect with one another to debrief about the incredibly rich content of our interviews as people favored us with a glimpse into their lives and stories. The complex circumstances under which residents have come to reside at Golden Age in many cases offered us insight into intense slices of life that none of our group members have experienced. However, the grace and strength which with the Golden Age Home community at large continually adapts to challenging circumstances with wisdom taught us more than the design-thinking process even could. Our trip helped us grow as students and professionals, but most of all as people through the relationships and connections we established during our moment in the Jamaican sun.