High above the Boston Medical Center grows a bountiful organic vegetable garden that feeds patients, staff and the poor.
More than a hundred volunteers tend the garden, which includes kale, collard greens, bok choy, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, beans, 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 provide honey as well. The 2500-square-foot farm also provides habitat for bees in an otherwise uninhabitable urban setting.
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.
“Food is medicine. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says David Maffeo, the hospital’s senior director of support services.
“Most people associate hospitals with terrible food, which is really interesting because right when we’re at our most vulnerable, in hospitals, you’d think that would mean we need nourishing food,” adds Lindsay Allen, the farm’s manager.
Allen manages a composting system to keep the soil fertilized and intersperses a variety of crops to ward off pests and attract beneficial bugs.
“I try to think of this farm as an ecosystem as much as possible,” Allen says. “How do we keep all of the scraps that we aren’t actually using for food onsite, so that we can continue to create soil and compost up here?”
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.
“We know that between 40% and 60% of individual health is determined by non-clinical factors. So it’s important that the healthcare industry thinks about issues that impact and drive health like food access and housing,” Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health at ProMedica, told Reuters.
“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.