The University House features an herb garden that’s growing on its residents

August 11, 2009

By Angelo Grosso

Herbs used in meals for University House residents grow in 14 planter boxes on a patio near the dining hall at the Issaquah retirement center. By Angelo Grosso

Herbs used in meals for University House residents grow in 14 planter boxes on a patio near the dining hall at the Issaquah retirement center. By Angelo Grosso

The University House in Issaquah has something new cooking in its dining facility.

Executive Chef Elon Wagoner and Facilities Director Keith Drinkwine have been shopping at the Issaquah Farmers Market and buying herbs from local farmers.

At first, employees bought the herbs for meals. They soon realized they could grow their own herbs as well.

Employees and residents then grow and harvest them for preparation and use in the food that they serve the residents at The University House.

“It started with resident feedback,” Wagoner said. “We asked opinions about the food we were serving and herbs were brought up. They gave us directions and we followed.”

Those directions led to the Issaquah Farmers Market. It was there that Wagoner and Drinkwine bought herbs, such as cilantro, parsley and sage.

“We believe, as a company, that it’s important to buy local,” Wagoner said. “It’s from the farm to our table.”

Everything about the herb garden is from local companies.

Squak Mountain Nursery provided herbs, flowers and other materials. Mel’s Cedar Yardcraft donated planter boxes.

“It was originally a small concept,” Drinkwine said. “But now it has become something much bigger. At first, we had 12 herbs and now we have 35 and growing.”

The new herbs have been a success with the residents. The Food Committee, made up of residents, has asked others for feedback and the majority of reviews have been favorable.

“People are now noticing the herbs in the food,” resident and Food Committee member Joyce Zimmerman said. “They look for it in their food and try to guess what it is.”

“A lot of people here have a far range of tastes,” resident Baps Gray said. “These herbs should appease everyone. They did it right, there really is a community relationship with this herb garden.”

The herb garden has become something in which the community can take part.

“The residents have been great helping us,” Drinkwine said. “Whether it’s educating others or giving us ideas for maintaining it.”

The benefits extend beyond taste, Wagoner said.

“Herbs make foods healthier,” Wagoner added. “So flavor is not the only goal. We want nutritional food served to our residents and the herb garden helps us with that.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony for the herb garden will be held at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 18. Drinks and appetizers featuring the herbs will be served. The event is free and open to the public.

“This is not a one-time deal,” Drinkwine said. “We will continue to grow and harvest the herb garden.”

Employees at The University House could bring residents to the farmers market. Employees envision a field trip in which they pick herbs for the garden and residents are present during the selection process.

Reach intern Angelo Grosso at Comment on this story at

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