Boston Medical Center has a rooftop farm that produces over 5k pounds of fresh food for its patients
A rooftop farm at a medical center in Massachusetts could serve as a model for hospitals that seek to encourage healthy eating, a new report says.
Boston Medical Center (BMC) is taking its reputation as the greenest hospital in the Boston area literally, as the once barren roof on top of its power plant building has been transformed into the largest rooftop farm in the city.
High above the Boston Medical Center grows a massive organic vegetable garden that feeds patients, staff and low-income families.
More than a hundred volunteers tend the garden, which includes produce like kale, collard greens, eggplants, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, squash and a wide variety of herbs.
The crops are grown in organic soil in recycled milk crates and are pollinated by two onsite beehives that also provide honey as well. The 2500-square-foot farm also provides habitat for bees in an otherwise uninhabitable urban setting. Two urban beehives, painted to be bright and colorful by BMC’s pediatric patients, were installed on the rooftop.
The eco-farm insulates the building reducing cooling and heating costs and absorbs rainwater that would otherwise contribute to sewage overflow in the city streets below.
But most of all, the rooftop garden provides nutritious food for those who need it most, between 5000 and 7000 pounds of it per year.
“The goal with our rooftop farm is to provide fresh, local produce to as many of our patients, employees, and community members as possible,” said David Maffeo, BMC’s senior director of support services.
“Food is medicine. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he added.
Maffeo worked with Lindsay Allen and John Stoddard of Higher Ground Farm to find a rooftop and growing system that would work best for BMC’s needs.
“I think one of the other important ‘harvests’ from the farm is the knowledge exchange that will happen around health and local food in relationship to the farm,” said Lindsay Allen, the farm’s manager.
“We are what we eat, so the more people we can provide healthy, nutrient dense food to, the healthier our communities will be,” she added.
According to Stoddard, founder of Higher Ground Farm, rooftop farms function similarly to ground level farms and generally can accommodate the same crops as other farms. The main constraints on a rooftop are soil depth, wind, and access – you cannot simply drive a truck right up to the farm for a compost delivery.
As a “safety net” hospital, BMC mostly serves low-income and elderly patients. It offers free gardening, cooking and nutrition classes, and free food to low-income families.
“Most urban environments are food deserts. It’s hard to get locally grown food and I think it’s something we owe our patients and our community, Maffeo said.
The farm also helps the hospital reduce its carbon footprint and has boosted its image, which helps attract more donors.
Operating costs for the farm total around $50,000 a year, a sum BMC intends to fund through endowments, donations and grants. The hospital held a fundraiser to cover start-up costs.