The Boston Medical Center – BMC, located in Boston, Massachusetts is an academic medical center that has a unique garden on its roof. The garden produces organic vegetables that are food for the patients, staff and for the people in need.
This hospital is a non-profitable medical institution with 567 beds and the largest safety-net hospital and Level I trauma center in New England with a roof area of 7,000 square feet. In addition to this, it is a principal teaching hospital of Boston University School of Medicine. What makes it unique is the rooftop farm which is the first farm of this type in Boston. The garden is placed on three stories up on the lower roof of BMC’s power plant building, and has 2,658 square feet of growing space.
Dave Maffeo, a 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 developed this garden. This garden is taken care of by hundred volunteers whereas various veggies and herbs are being grown like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, kale, collard greens, bok choy, carrots, and squash.
In order to find the right rooftop and growing system of BMC, Dave cooperated with Lindsay Allen, who nowadays runs the BMC Rooftop Farm, and also with John Stoddard of Higher Ground Farm that currently manages the growing process. Somerville-based Recover Green Roofs installed and designed the farm.
The veggies and the herbs thrive in organic soil being pollinated by two beehives, which is an extraordinary thing to have bees in an uninhabitable urban setting, but on the roof of this hospital it is possible. Every aspect is looked after, namely, the crates where the veggies grow are from recycled milk crates and thanks to the beehives this farm can also offer an organic honey. Every produce from the farm is being advertised outside the cafeteria entrance with posted signs of the daily offerings. This farm can produce nutritious food between 5000 and 7000 pounds annually.
The presence of the farm brings benefits to the building itself as it insulates it, lowers cooling and heating costs, and absorbs rainwater that is beneficial for the city streets as it decreases sewage overflow.
Nonetheless, according to Maffeo the most important benefit of this rooftop farm is the availability of organic nutritious food for the patients who highly need it. Food can be a medicine as much as it can be the trigger of certain diseases, Organic food can treat the body and in some cases more than the administrated medicines.
As per Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health at ProMedica, 40% to 60% of individual health is determined by non-clinical factors, including the consumed food. Hence, the healthcare industry should carefully consider the issues that impact the health and as well as boost it like available food access and housing. Ms. Sommerfeld emphasizes the importance of high nutritional value food, especially in facilities that offer healthcare like hospitals.
BMC functions as a “safety net” hospital and it is in service of low-income and older patients, and aside taking care of its patients this institution provides free food to low-income families too. In addition to this, anyone can attend their cooking, gardening, and nutrition classes.
The manager of BMC farm, Lindsay Allen, is in charge of a composting system that keeps the soil fertilized. This garden is in a way an efficient ecosystem with crops that naturally keep the pests at bay and at the same time attract beneficial bugs.
Maffeo stated that the cities are food deserts where having locally grown food is almost impossible, but thanks to this new initiative of BMC we can have it also in urban environments and thus the patients can receive fresh and organic food and also the community.
BMC should be taken as example how we can contribute to the community and to the ones who mostly need help. This hospital has tackled important social issues such as the shortage of quality food to patients and for the people belonging to the marginalized groups within society. Plus, the existence of poorly managed sewage systems in urban areas and contribution to the extinction of bees as a result of the massive urbanization.