It took three years and the patients and staff of Boston Medical Center are already reaping the benefits of an innovative effort. Patients, especially the poor, are all praise for the remedial properties and the taste of vegetables that are grown on the rooftop of the hospital.
It is a huge effort with over one hundred volunteers looking after the garden, that produces collard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, squash, bok choy, beans, eggplant, and a range of herbs. Many people come to the hospital who are poor and food insecure. The hospital pantry gives such people free food.
The soil on the roof is organic and placed in milk crates. Two beehives on the roof pollinate the crops and also provide honey. This large building covering an area of 2500 sq feet also provides a shelter for the bees, something hard to come by in an urban area bereft of trees.
5000 pounds to 7000 pounds of high-quality vegetables are produced each year. David Maffeo, senior director in charge of hospital support services says that food is medicine and that is the reason that they have been growing crops at the hospital.
Most hospitals serve bland unwholesome foods that do not supply
the nutrition needed for a sick patient. This is when they require a large number of patients who are diabetic which is aggravated due to lack of proper wholesome food. Such patients have to rely on junk food as organic produce is expensive and beyond their means.
The rooftop farming initiative was initiated 3 years ago to produce fresh vegetables for supplementing the demands of the hospital pantry. It was a way to bring down costs. Around 3,500 pounds of food is set aside for the hospital pantry.
A special composting system ensures that the soil remains continually fertilized. Lindsay Allen, the manager of the farm, alternates it
with assorted crops that keep away pests and attract insects that are beneficial. Allen considers the rooftop garden a complete ecosystem. She has devised a way to set aside the scraps which are used to create compost. The food is meant for the poor and the elderly. Dieticians and food technicians offer free nutrition and cooking classes to educate patients’ families and give free gardening classes. Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health at the hospital told Reuters that 40% – 60% percent of a person’s health is determined by factors that are not clinical. It is imperative that our healthcare industry gives more attention to critical issues like access to food and housing.
This provides the patients and their families the tools and expertise for a healthy diet, not just the food. They are educated on ways to stay healthy by eating healthy.
Maffeo points out that the majority of urban environments are food deserts. Little food is grown locally and their rooftop hospital is a contribution to their patients and the community.