How One Boston Hospital Is Feeding Patients Through Its Rooftop Farm

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Above Photo: Matthew Morris. Boston Medical Center’s rooftop farm spans 2,658 square feet.

Food is medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Carrie Golden believes the only reason she’s diabetes free is that she has access to fresh, locally grown food.

A few years after the Boston resident was diagnosed with prediabetes, she was referred to Boston Medical Center’s Preventative Food Pantry as someone who was food insecure. The food pantry is a free food resource for low-income patients.

“You become diabetic because when you don’t have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive,” Golden says. “Because of the healthy food I get from the pantry… I’ve learned how to eat.”

Three years ago, the hospital launched a rooftop farm to grow fresh produce for the pantry. The farm has produced 6,000 pounds of food a year, with 3,500 pounds slated for the pantry. The rest of its produce goes to the hospital’s cafeteria, patients, a teaching kitchen and an in-house portable farmers market.

The hospital joined a handful of medical facilities across the country that have started growing food on their roofs. The initiative is the first hospital-based farm in Massachusetts and the largest rooftop farm in Boston. The facility’s 2,658-square-foot garden houses more than 25 crops, organically grown in a milk crate system.

“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 urban environments are food deserts. It’s hard to get locally grown food and I think it’s something that we owe to our patients and our community.”

Lindsay Allen, a farmer who has been managing the rooftop oasis since its inception, says her farm’s produce is being used for preventative care as well as in reactive care. She says 72 percent of the hospital’s patients are considered underserved, and likely don’t have access to healthy, local organic food.

What people put in their bodies has a direct link to their health she says, adding that hospitals have a responsibility to give their patients better food.

“I generally feel that hospital food is pretty terrible and gross, which I always find ironic since that’s where we are sick and at our most vulnerable and we need to be nourished,” she says.

In addition to running the farm, Allen teaches a number of farming workshops to educate patients, employees and their families on how to grow their own food. The hospital’s teaching kitchen employs a number of food technicians and dieticians who offer their expertise to patients on how they can make meals with the local produce they’re given.

This is part of the medical center’s objective to not only give patients good food, but also provide them the tools to lead a healthy life.

Golden, who has used the pantry for the last three years, says the experience has changed the way she looks at food.

“I’ve gone many days with nothing to eat, so I know what that feels like when you get something like the food pantry that gives you what you need to stay healthy,” she says. “I appreciate all the people that put their heart into working in the garden. If only they knew how we really need them.”

  • voza0db

    I read a lot of stupid stuff online but this one just earned a place in the TOP 10!

    Carrie Golden believes the only reason she’s diabetes free is that she has access to fresh, locally grown food.

  • Arakiba

    Show us your degrees in biology, nutrition, or medicine and maybe your opinions will be worth something.

  • voza0db

    Another one for the top!

    So you’re one of those that still don’t know how to use your brain and Thought without having a piece of paper telling you “you are certified”?

    Move along…

  • Margaret Flowers

    I can tell you, as a physician, that diet has a tremendous impact on health. Nutritional medicine is not taught in our medical schools, but it should be. There is an excellent textbook, “Nutritional Medicine” by Dr. Alan Gaby that I use. And, yes, people can reduce/eliminate certain types of diabetes through diet and other interventions as well as heart disease.

  • voza0db

    Dear Margaret…

    The reason I wrote that in that way it’s because of the simple FACT that one can have access and eat “fresh, locally grown food” and still have diabetes Type II because one also eats a lot of sugary garbage!

    So like many catchy phrases out there that one leaves the impression that if one start to eat “fresh, locally grown food” but doesn’t stop to eat the rest of the garbage that the health unbalances will go away.

    That was just my simple point.

    (Off topic:

    You’re a Mod! Can you tell me why pre-censorhip of comments with embedded vids take so long to approve/disapprove?)

  • Margaret Flowers

    To prevent spam, any post with a link has to be approved. We try to get to them as quickly as we can.