High above the Boston Medical Center, there is an organic vegetable garden that feeds patients, staff and the poor.
Boston Medical Center (BMC) is a non-profit 567-bed academic medical center located in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the largest safety-net hospital and Level I trauma center in New England, and the principal teaching hospital of Boston University School of Medicine.
The Boston Medical Center Rooftop Farm is the first farm on a hospital in Boston, and it is located three stories up on the lower roof of BMC’s power plant building, with a total roof area of 7,000 square feet, the rooftop farm has 2,658 square feet of growing space.
It is tended by over a hundred volunteers and began as the brainchild of Dave Maffeo, senior director of support services and Robert Biggio, senior vice president of facilities and support services, with the support of BMC’s Office of Development.
In the attempt to find a rooftop and growing system that meets the needs of BMC, Dave worked with Lindsay Allen, who is currently Manager of the BMC Rooftop Farm, and John Stoddard of Higher Ground Farm.
The farm was designed and installed by Somerville-based Recover Green Roofs, and Higher Ground Farm is managing the growing.
It includes various herbs, beans, peppers, kale, collard greens, bok choy, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, and squash. All these crops are grown in organic soil in recycled milk crates and are pollinated by two onsite beehives that provide honey as well.
A sign advertises BMC’s daily farm offerings on a sign outside the cafeteria entrance.
The farm also provides habitat for bees in an otherwise uninhabitable urban setting.
Additionally, it insulates the building, decreasing cooling and heating costs, and absorbs rainwater that would otherwise contribute to sewage overflow in the city streets below.
Yet, its most important benefit is the nutritious food for those who need it most, between 5000 and 7000 pounds of it per year.
Maffeo says that the reason for this is that food is medicine.
Lindsay Allen, the farm’s manager, manages a composting system to keep the soil fertilized and intersperses various crops to ward off pests and attract beneficial bugs. She says she sees the garden as an ecosystem as much as possible.
As a “safety net” hospital, BMC mostly serves low-income and elderly patients. It offers free food to low-income families, as well as gardening, cooking and nutrition classes.
Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health at ProMedica, explains that between 40% and 60% of individual health is determined by non-clinical factors, which include the foods consumed during the period.
Therefore, the healthcare industry should think about issues that impact and drive health such as food access and housing. She adds that it is imperative that the food provided at facilities of healthcare such as hospitals, must be of high nutritional value.
Maffeo adds that as most urban environments are food deserts, one faces difficulties to find locally grown food. Yet, he believes that is something they owe their patients and the community.
This hospital must be commended as a result of the implementation of the roof-top garden program, as it has certainly tackled important social issues like the lack of quality food to in-care patients, lack of employment to marginalized groups within society, poorly maintained sewage systems in urban areas and the effects of urbanization on the ecosystems of species like bees.