The soil is tilled and plans are in place to plant leafy vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers and more. But this green space isn't on a farm or even in someone's backyard: it's on the top of Boston Medical Center.
When you're visiting or a patient at an urban hospital, it can seem that green spaces are very limited. Having access to freshly grown produce can be extremely beneficial to your health.
Vegetables are harvested from the rooftop garden twice a week. On Mondays, the Boston Public Health Commission Food Pantry picks up veggies, which are distributed at Healthy Infant, Healthy Child pantry in Mattapan. On Wednesdays, BNAN Youth Corps teens simply wheel the harvest down a few corridors to the hospital pantry.
Why was a rooftop garden installed at Boston Medical Center?
David Maffeo, Senior Director of the Support Services team shares the many benefits of Boston Medical Center's rooftop garden.
David Maffeo is the Senior Director of Support Services at Boston Medical Center.
Melanie Cole (Host): The soil is tilled, and plans are in place to plant leafy vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, and more, but this green space isn’t on a farm or even in someone’s back yard. It’s on the top of Boston Medical Center. My guest today is David Maffeo. He’s the Senior Director of the Support Services Team at Boston Medical Center. Welcome to the show, David. Why is there a rooftop garden at Boston Medical Center, and tell us how this came about?
David Maffeo (Guest): Sure, thanks, Melanie. We had talked about this for a couple of years. We’re doing a lot of great work around sustainability, so it fits well with our vision. More importantly, we have a food pantry and demonstration kitchen on site that feeds 7,000 patients a month. We used to have a rooftop garden on our other building on a smaller scale that would supply the food pantry with produce on a monthly basis, so we thought this was the perfect marriage to support our families who come to the pantry, and also in our cafeterias on our patient trays. It’s a perfect marriage of our sustainability.
Melanie: David, I know about gardening, and who manages the garden? Who works the garden, because that is hard work?
David: Yeah, that’s a great question. We have a partnership with Healthcare Without Harm and a gentleman by the name of John Stoddard, who has one of the largest rooftop gardens in the country, advise me on this, so we work closely together. He is definitely passionate about bringing local food to urban communities. He worked with me on this – we actually visited Fenway Farms and got the idea in terms of – conceptually from Fenway Farms. He recommended a gardener, who’s now the master gardener on the roof.
Melanie: Tell us about what you’re growing up there.
David: Sure, we actually just planted a couple of weekends ago. We are starting with more leafy vegetables. We planted over a thousand heads of lettuce – various different types of lettuce. We have carrots planted right now, radishes, and basil. At the beginning of June, we’re going to plant tomato and cucumbers. We’re also installing, in the next couple of weeks, a beehive – two urban beehives, which will be located on the roof, as well.
Melanie: That is so cool. Where are you getting your seeds?
David: We get our seeds through Healthcare Without Harm, though John’s farm, Higher Ground. I order them directly from him.
Melanie: Somebody is obviously out there weeding, sewing, and tilling, then picking the vegetables. What are you doing with these vegetables, David?
David: What we will be doing is – I oversee many of the ancillary departments here, and one of them is the Food Services, which feeds over 500 patients a day. We will utilize this food on the patients’ tray. It will be utilized on the salad bar in the cafeterias. I mentioned the food pantry, so we’re doing to supply the food pantry, as well. And then, based on our production, if we have any excess -- we also have a Farmer’s Market on-site once a week, we could feature something at the Farmer’s Market, as well.
Melanie: Tell us a little bit about the food pantry – a little bit more about that and how the rooftop garden is helping with that.
David: We have a preventative food pantry that’s been in place here at Boston Medical Center for 14 years. It’s run by a gentleman by the name of Latchman Hiralall. He’s a diet technician. The way it works is patients have to be prescribed to the food pantry by their practitioner. They come to the food pantry once or twice per week based on their needs. My team on sight supplies them with a healthy mixture of foods – a lot of produce, a lot of vegetables. We also have a demonstration kitchen, Melanie, where they can go upstairs and learn how to cook with the food they just picked up at the pantry.
Melanie: That’s amazing, and what a wonderful service to the community, David. Tell us about how you explain to people about vegetables and the benefit to getting people to try some vegetables that they may not have tried before?
David: We have a chef dietician by the name of Tracey Burg, who’s just fantastic. She’s been with us for over five or six years. She does a great job, really maximizing the knowledge around healthy foods and outcomes, as well. We see a lot of patients who are on cardiac diets or diabetic diets, so we really gear it to diet-centric, and she’ll just teach based on the food they picked up in the pantry and how it impacts those diets.
Melanie: And it’s so hard, sometimes, for people that are suffering from diabetes or heart disease, as you say, to learn how to be healthy. Are they able to use that demonstration kitchen, and also learn what to do and how to cook with these things?
David: Yeah, we’re doing a lot more branching out into the community. We do a lot on sight with our employees and different patient groups, but we have a greater vision. One of our long-term visions of BMC is to make Boston the healthiest urban population in the world, and we know the impact of food and wellness to get to that goal. Tracey, and I, and many groups here at Boston Medical Center have been strategizing on how she can outreach into the community. We’re partnering with many community groups that are helping us get there in terms of education in the community.
Melanie: It’s such a great prop for patient education, and vegetables can be some of the most expensive parts of the grocery store, so it’s a really great way to get everybody involved. Wrap it up for us, David. Tell us what you want people to know about the rooftop garden at Boston Medical Center?
David: Really, what I’d like to say is it is a great addition to the medical center. Being a Center of Wellness in an Urban environment, it’s not that easy to get local farming, so this will really give us an opportunity to give back to our community, to our employees, to take care of our patients both in the food pantry and in our inpatient rooms. It’s very exciting. We expect about 15,000 pounds of produce this growing season, which has already begun and will end sometime in late October. We’ll see once we learn a lot from that, and hopefully make it bigger, and better for next year.
Melanie: Thank you, so much, David, for being with us today. You’re listening to Boston Med Talks with Boston Medical Center, and for more information, you can go to BMC.org, that’s BMC.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks, so much for listening.