With patients at the core of everything, over the years BMC has developed three services to enhance patients’ exposure to foods high in nutritional value. The Rooftop Farm, Food Pantry, and Teaching Kitchen provide patients and employees a way to get and stay healthy while striving to make the city of Boston and its residents among the healthiest in the United States. All three programs work hand-in-hand to ensure patients and their families have access to healthy nutritious foods, sourced sustainably and responsibly.
A growing need for fresh vegetables in the food pantry and kitchen inspired BMC leadership to invest in an urban Rooftop Farm with 2,658 square feet of plantable space on top of one of BMC's buildings. The Rooftop Farm yields 5,000-7,000 pounds of healthy produce each year, with crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, kale, cucumbers, peas, potatoes, spinach, peppers, zucchini, carrots, herbs, and others. This produce is given to patients in the Preventive Food Pantry, on inpatient hospital trays, and in the cafeterias.
The Rooftop Farm also advances BMC's goal to be the greenest hospital in the nation by 2020. BMC has already reduced carbon emissions by 50% two years ahead of schedule and just signed a solar farm deal that will make the hospital carbon neutral in two years. This garden adds to our green efforts by reducing storm water runoff, mitigating the formation of urban heat, and deviating waste.
Created in 2001, the Preventive Food Pantry and Teaching Kitchen were the first of their kind in the nation. The Teaching Kitchen provides patients the opportunity to learn how to cook healthy meals at a low cost. This unique space allows the BMC community to come in and view first-hand how to prepare foods they love in a manner that coincides with a healthy lifestyle. Simple, cost-effective recipes are taught while disease and condition specific nutrition education is available for weight management, diabetics, cardiac rehab patients, cancer survivors, pediatric patients and their families, and more. Participants can actually smell and taste the food while learning beneficial nutrition practices. Many of the items used in the Teaching Kitchen are available in the Food Pantry and classes are open daily for patients to drop in and learn new recipes.
When a primary care physician determines that a patient is food-insecure, the patient receives an open-ended prescription to the Food Pantry. The prescription outlines the foods required for the patient to promote physical health, prevent future illness, and facilitate recovery. Families can visit the Food Pantry twice per month and receive three to four days’ worth of food for their household each time. A key feature is the provision of perishable goods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and meats all year round – items that are often costly and therefore often lacking in a low-income family’s diet.
The BMC Food Pantry currently serves 7,000 people a month; nearly half of whom are children. In 2017, the Preventive Food Pantry provided food to 83,288 patients and their household members (an average of 6,941 monthly).
BMC is committed to providing healthy food options to nourish our community by providing easy access to food for a medically underserved patient population. Many patients experience nutrition-related illness and under-nutrition due to poverty and the limited food choices that come with living in an urban food desert. With a rich history of helping people, BMC’s three key nourishing our community initiatives continue to promote healthy eating and living for a population that is mostly urban and on the go.