It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Actually, it’s a farm. Three stories above busy Albany Street, the Boston Medical Center (BMC) rooftop farm’s inaugural season is winding down. Farm manager Lindsay Allen (above) says the University’s affiliated teaching hospital started the farm atop its power plant “to provide superlocal, organic produce” for patients and staff and to reduce the environmental costs of procuring food. By season’s end, volunteers will have harvested about 5,000 pounds of vegetables for patient meals and the hospital’s cafeterias, food pantry, and teaching kitchen.
The city’s largest rooftop farm and the only hospital-based farm in Massachusetts, this Astroturf-ed oasis, outfitted with an irrigation system, grows produce in 2,300 milk crates that cover 2,600 square feet. This season’s yield, which includes tomatoes, peppers, various greens, carrots, beets, herbs, eggplants, green beans, and cucumbers, was nurtured in a compost-soil blend.
Reann Gibson (SPH’18) (right) volunteers at the farm because she’s “really interested in…sustainability and food justice,” she says. She’s planted lettuce and spinach, pulled up peas and green beans, and watered and weeded. BMC is a federally designated safety net hospital, with a medically underserved patient population that often lacks access to “healthy, fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. I think that what the farm is doing is really, really important,” Gibson says.
Produce ends up in several venues, including BMC’s Demonstration Kitchen, where classes are held for patients and staff on cooking healthy meals. Kitchen manager and dietitian Tracey Burg (right photo, center), aided by Maureen Worrell (foreground) and Amazine Bodden, prepared fresh-off-the-farm oven-fried green tomatoes and harvest kale salad recently. Worrell has a heart stent and started attending classes at the kitchen two years ago to improve her cardio health. Her verdict on the farm’s food: “Really, really good. Today was the first time I’ve had fried green tomatoes that taste so good.”
More than half of this year’s yield went to BMC’s Preventive Food Pantry, which supplies healthy food to patients referred by BMC care providers. Patrons’ reaction to homegrown produce? “Huge hit. The patients love it,” pantry manager Latchman Hiralall says. The pantry averages 7,000 customers monthly.