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American House Senior Living Communities Celebrate Local Agriculture and Seasonal Meals

By Colleen Matts, Farm to Institution Specialist at MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

“It doesn’t matter how old you are - everyone loves corn on the cob,”
- Brian Rosso, culinary director and registered dietitian at American House Senior Living

Shuck'n Ladder #2

Brian Rosso is the culinary director and a registered dietitian at American House Senior Living Communities. Brian has also served as an Advisory Committee member of MFIN since 2016. In August 2017, Brian organized the first annual corn festival to highlight Michigan agriculture and this summer staple. Senior residents took a field trip to the farmers market to pick out the corn. Back on site, they helped shuck it before the cobs went into a Texas corn-roasting machine, lovingly named “Shuck’n Ladder #2” by its owner, a retired Detroit firefighter. With the average age of entry for residents in the mid-80s, Brian was concerned that dental issues may hinder some from enjoying the roasted corn on the cob, but it proved to be a hit for all and they will be celebrating their 2nd Annual Corn Festival this year.

American House Senior Living provides “apartment-style housing with hotel amenities” in 60 buildings across Michigan, Illinois, and Florida, and is still growing. From his home base in Michigan, Brian manages the cycle menus for all of the communities, including food orders mostly made through a group purchasing organization (GPO) to maximize the food budget. Recently, he has been incorporating more seasonal and local foods relative to the locations.  Brian balances aligning with local vendors as needed and meeting special diets, all while honoring regional food traditions, such as serving grits at the Florida residences. Plant-forward plates mean produce is often the star, making Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables easy substitutes for conventionally sourced items. Parsnips, cucumbers, strawberries, and watermelon are popular with Michigan residents. Brian sources 40,000 pounds of potatoes annually, including as many as he can get grown in Michigan, for a range of popular preparations from gratin and scalloped potatoes to potato pancakes.

Meals are an event at senior living sites; Although meal times vary from community to community, Brian always says “you don’t need a watch at American House to know it’s 9, 12, and 5” because the residents are lined up to dine. So, it is no surprise that food is a big focus of activities. Menus are geared toward residents’ tastes, and members of resident food committees now propose new menu ideas and recipes. A “chef challenge” – an in-house Iron Chef-style event – also supplies new menu ideas, including some which showcase local foods. The new public relations and marketing department plans to sharpen its focus on local foods included in meals. Going forward, Brian seeks to improve tracking of his local food purchases as he continues to source and show off more of what Michigan agriculture has to offer.