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This hospital has a farm on its roof, and the produce is going right to patients

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Posted at 8:40 AM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 13:40:35-05

BOSTON — Annabel Rabiyah's morning walk to harvest crops looks much different than most farmers. They have to make their way up a freight elevator and past a series of power generators to harvest crops.

On the roof of Boston Medical Center, Rabiyah is surrounded by rows and rows of fresh produce: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and corn.

"Since it's such a small space, we do a lot of interplanting," she said. "We're constantly trying to maximize space."

While this might look like a typical urban garden, the 5,000 pounds of produce they grow is bound for patients inside the hospital.

David Maffeo, who oversees the hospital's support services department, helped launch the rooftop garden and food pantry located in the basement.

"If we grow spinach, we'll say to a patient that we just grew that outside your window. They love that," he said.

As the idea took root, it grew into something much larger than anyone planned.

Latchman Hiralall, who oversees the food pantry, spends his days helping to fill prescriptions for patients. Not for antibiotics or ointments, but for fresh vegetables grown on the roof.

"We want to build food-resilient infrastructure in the community we serve," he said.

It only takes five minutes to get food from the roof to the food pantry.

Adding another layer of freshness to the entire concept, the program also has a cooking component, where Olivia Weinstein helps to teach patients about the importance of using fresh produce.

"It's one thing to help recommend dietary changes, it's another to teach," she said.

The entire program recently gained national attention at the White House Food Summit. The hope is to get more funding to better connect resources for patients.

"Across the country, there are a lot of hospitals like ours, and we'd love to help them replicate that," Maffeo said.