Campus, News

Boston Medical Center winds down inaugural rooftop farm season

Children in the Boston Medical Center’s Summer Culinary Camp harvest produce on the BMC’s green roof. PHOTO COURTESY MATT MORRIS/ BOSTON MEDICAL CENTER

The Boston Medical Center, Boston University’s affiliated teaching hospital, is winding down its first growing season on the center’s new rooftop farm with thousands of pounds of fresh, farmed produce.

Timothy Viall, a spokesperson for the Boston Medical Center, said the farm is the first hospital-based farm in Massachusetts, and it was established to provide healthy and fresh food to patients and the local community.

“The goal of a pergola AZ rooftop farm is to provide fresh, local produce to as many of our patients, employees and community members as possible,” Viall wrote in an email. “This initiative also supports BMC’s mission to address social determinants of health by improving access to healthy fruits and vegetables.”

Viall said the farm has harvested 4,614 pounds of crops, including green beans, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, scallions, squash, and tomatoes. That number is expected to exceed 5,000 pounds by early November, according to Viall.

BMC’s Preventive Food Pantry, which works to address nutrition-related illness and malnutrition for its low-income patients, has received approximately half of all the produce grown on the farm to date with the hospital’s kitchens receiving the other half, Viall wrote.

“The kitchens ensure the food is widely distributed to cafeterias across campus and that it is used in patients’ meals,” Viall wrote. “Programs through BMC’s Demonstration Kitchen have also given the BMC community opportunities to visit the rooftop farm and learn about cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients.”

Viall explained that in addition to providing fresh and organic produce for the BMC community, the rooftop farm also reduces the center’s overall carbon footprint by “increasing green space, adding carbon-breathing plants and reducing the building’s energy use,” he wrote.

BMC worked with local organizations in order to make the dream of the rooftop farm a reality. Higher Ground Farm is managing the growing while Recover Green Roofs, a Somerville-based organization, worked with BMC to design and install the farm, according to Viall.

John Stoddard, the founder of Higher Ground Farm, came to BMC with plenty of experience establishing rooftop farms – in fact, his organization started one in the Seaport District about five years ago. He said he was very pleased with the results of the first growing season at the BMC.

“I think everyone was very happy [with the growing season],” Stoddard said. “The employees of the hospital were very excited to come and volunteer and tour the farm, so I think it was very successful.”

Stoddard said the farm is valuable because of its ability to provide healthy food to those who may not be able to afford or access it and for its positive environmental effects.

“Folks who might go to the Boston Medical Center Food Bank are referred by a doctor because they’re food insecure, and so this food bank has your staples in it, but you’re also getting fresh fruits and vegetables that are going to help folks heal better and have a healthier diet,” Stoddard said. “There’s also environmental benefits, so when you’re adding carbon breathing plants, it’s a climate change strategy to some degree.”

Serena Galleshaw, a representative from Recover Green Roofs, wrote that the BMC’s rooftop farm is the organization’s “most efficient farming system to date.”

Galleshaw explained Recover Green Roofs’ role in the creation of the BMC rooftop farm.

“Recover Green Roofs designed the farm and irrigation systems to provide maximum growth potential for the size and scale of the roof,” Galleshaw wrote in an email. “Beyond construction, Recover’s role is to manage and maintain irrigation and system components over time.”

The organization prides itself on constructing the largest rooftop farm in Boston, according to Galleshaw, and the first rooftop farm on top of a hospital.

“We’re proud that our work is benefitting hospital patients, and inspiring the city to think about what’s possible in terms of sustainable building design,” she wrote.

According to a post on ProperlyRooted, keeping with the idea of community farming, several of the farm’s volunteers are local community members or students studying in Boston. Reann Gibson, a graduate student in BU’s School of Public Health and a volunteer on the farm, said her day-to-day duties vary and include weeding, planting, changing crops and watering.

Gibson said she decided to volunteer because there aren’t many opportunities for farming and gardening in urban areas like Boston.

“The work the farm is doing is really great in getting more fresh fruits and vegetables available to the Boston community, especially in neighborhoods that don’t really have access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Gibson said. “It’s also environmentally sustainable hyper-local food, so that’s really cool.”

Several Boston University students said they thought the rooftop farm was a great way to provide healthy, organic food to patients and reduce the BMC’s environmental impact.

Justin Luu, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he appreciates the concept and thinks it contributes to the notion of personal as well as environmental responsibility.

“That’s a good way to be healthy for nature and sustainability,” Luu said.  “Having green food helps with the climate and with what people view as what’s good for the environment. If it’s not too costly, it would be good for it to spread.”

Sally Chen, a senior in the College of Fine Arts, said she sees the farm as a great learning opportunity and a way for the community to come together.

“Bringing a garden to campus could teach a lot of kids who are from cities who have never learned how to grow their own vegetables, which could be incredibly important to them in the future,” Chen said. “It also teaches a lot to the community about coming together to grow. It brings back a little bit of nature to us all.”

Grace Yang, a CAS junior, said she sees the sustainability of the farm as a step in the right direction.

“Resources are the biggest issue in this world,” Yang said. “We’re trying to use our resources to the most that we can. Obviously, there is an uneven distribution of wealth. Of all the things we put our money and time towards, this is the kind of thing that benefits the most people.”

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