Nourishing Our Community

With three key initiatives to promote healthy eating and living for a population who is mostly urban and on the go, the Nourishing Our Community program at Boston Medical Center has a rich history of helping people. The Rooftop Farm, Food Pantry and Teaching Kitchen provide patients and employees a way to attain health 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 nutritious wholesome foods, sourced sustainably and responsibly.

The Rooftop Farm

High above Albany Street on Boston Medical Center’s campus resides a 2,400 square-foot farm, which is home to more than 25 crops. Harvests from the Rooftop Farm—including colorful fruits, vegetables and herbs—provide fresh, local produce to BMC’s hospitalized patients, cafeterias, Teaching Kitchen and Food Pantry. The fauna is not alone, though. Listen closely and hear the distinct buzz from the farm’s resident bees. Two brightly-colored urban beehives, painted by BMC’s pediatric patients, help the produce pollinate while also providing local honey. In total, more than 10,000 pounds of fresh produce are harvested each year, making a positive impact on patients’ health and lives—a true hallmark of BMC’s mission.

The Rooftop Farm also benefits the environment. Recycled plastics were used to construct the garden and its design decreases storm water runoff while reducing urban heat. These key features make meaningful contributions to BMC’s commitment to going green by reducing the hospital’s carbon footprint, increasing green space and reducing energy use.

The Food Pantry

BMC created the Food Pantry in 2001, feeding approximately 7,500 patients and family members each month. It was the first hospital-based food pantry in the United States and has served as a national model for other hospitals. The pantry addresses nutrition-related illnesses by providing healthy foods that are often lacking in a family’s diet due to cost and accessibility. Individuals with special nutritional needs are referred to the pantry by BMC providers who write prescriptions for supplemental foods that are both medically and culturally appropriate for all family members. “When a patient comes to our emergency department with stomach pain, one of the first questions we ask is ‘when is the last time you ate?'” said Thea James, MD, vice president of mission and associate chief medical officer at BMC. “The Food Pantry helps fill the gap for those who would otherwise be unable to access affordable, nutritious food.” The pantry relies totally on philanthropy, including food drives, to keep the shelves stocked.

The Teaching Kitchen

In addition to obtaining healthy food from the pantry, patients also learn to cook nutritious meals with the help of the Teaching Kitchen. The bulk of the food used in the Teaching Kitchen comes directly from the Food Pantry, allowing patients to see and learn first-hand how to prepare meals with the food they have received in a manner that coincides with a healthy lifestyle. Simple, cost-effective recipes are demonstrated while disease and condition specific nutrition education is implemented for weight management, diabetics, cardiac rehab patients, cancer survivors, as well classes for pediatric patients and their families, among others. Participants can actually smell and taste the food while learning beneficial nutrition practices.