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Campus Life + Health & Wellness

A Farm in the Sky

Boston Medical Center’s cultivated rooftop feeds patients with homegrown produce

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,

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) 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.

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.”

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, [https://www.bu.edu/today/2015/at-bmc-food-is-medicine/] 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.

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.

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13 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

13 Comments on A Farm in the Sky

  • Wendy Heiger-Bernays on 10.17.2017 at 6:52 am

    Food, real food. We can figure out how to replicate the gardens and distribute food for prevention of poor health! This is the medicine we need to be funding and marketing. Way to go!

  • SPH Student on 10.17.2017 at 9:03 am

    Where can we learn more about volunteering at the rooftop farm at BMC?

    • Lindsay Allen on 10.18.2017 at 1:09 pm

      Signing up to volunteer on the farm is run through BMC volunteer services. We are winding down on the farm for the season and only have 2 more opportunities to volunteer(see volunteer services for dates) but please check back in next Spring as we will be hosting weekly volunteer opportunities.

  • Elizabeth Ann Flagg on 10.17.2017 at 9:07 am

    This is terrific! Where else can BU put rooftop gardens, I wonder? Could the CRC get in on this and contribute, as well? Keep up the great work!

    • Lindsay Allen on 10.18.2017 at 1:08 pm

      Signing up to volunteer on the farm is run through BMC volunteer services. We are winding down on the farm for the season and only have 2 more opportunities to volunteer(see volunteer services for dates) but please check back in next Spring as we will be hosting weekly volunteer opportunities

  • GT on 10.17.2017 at 9:26 am

    Do you need volunteers from among the staff/faculty/alumni/students for the current site or for a CRC site? Would BU consider gardening in an urban environment as part of a wellness or life long learning series for the BU Community? I’m gardening in an apartment, and although creatively satisfying, I feel I need more education to be effective.

  • BUSM Faculty member on 10.17.2017 at 10:23 am

    What a wonderful service to the patients and community! Large kudos to BMC and can I volunteer to help?

    • Lindsay Allen on 10.18.2017 at 1:09 pm

      Signing up to volunteer on the farm is run through BMC volunteer services. We are winding down on the farm for the season and only have 2 more opportunities to volunteer(see volunteer services for dates) but please check back in next Spring as we will be hosting weekly volunteer opportunities.

  • Kousalya Jagadisan on 10.17.2017 at 12:45 pm

    What a great initiative by BMC and the students involved!! Way to go! I would love to volunteer. Is there a sign up process? It feels so good just to read this article; I am sure its more rewarding for the people who are involved in the set up/maintenance to see the yield of farm put in to use on a daily basis.

  • Lindsay Allen on 10.17.2017 at 3:39 pm

    Signing up to volunteer on the farm is run through BMC volunteer services. We are winding down on the farm for the season and only have 2 more opportunities to volunteer(see volunteer services for dates) but please check back in next Spring as we will be hosting weekly volunteer opportunities.

  • Stephanie H on 10.17.2017 at 5:53 pm

    How wonderful! I’d love to see more rooftop gardens across BU’s campus (Med and CRC).

  • Kristine Sweetland on 10.24.2017 at 12:21 pm

    Not to take away from the wonderful job the roof-top farming at BMC has done, but there is a great non-profit called the Boston Area Gleaners that needs volunteers to pick and pack excess fruits and vegetables from local farms to help reduce food waste and to provide fresh produce to local area food banks such as the Boston Food Bank. Consider signing up on their website to receive emails on upcoming gleaming trips. It’s a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon soaking in the sun in a field.

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