Hospital’s Rooftop Farm Creates a More Sustainable and Healthy Way To Care for Patients
By Sara Tipton
“Our food should be our medicine.” – Hippocrates
Food is medicine and having access to foods that provide sustenance and health during illness and recovery is vital. One hospital wanted to ensure each patient was given nutrient-rich food during their stay and did the unthinkable: they made a rooftop farm.
According to an article on Reuters, one Boston hospital has taken health and nutrition into their own hands and they are literally using food as medicine. “Most urban environments, including hospitals, are food deserts and it’s difficult to have access to locally grown food. Having a thriving organic farm at your disposal is a more sustainable way to have local foods and ensure that patients receive healthy foods.”
The rooftop farm also led to other initiatives. In 2017, Boston Medical Center (BMC) began operating a 2658-square-foot farm on a roof terrace to supply the hospital’s kitchen and food pantry with fresh produce. BMC’s teaching kitchen now has free classes that use fresh produce from the farm to teach employees, patients and their families how to cook healthy meals.
“We know that between 40% and 60% of individual health is determined by non-clinical factors. So it’s important that the healthcare industry thinks about issues that impact and drive health like food access and housing,” Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health at ProMedica, told Reuters.
Importance of Fresh Vegetables and Fruit
Fresh vegetables and fruits are incredibly important when it comes to health. There is a real problem that’s at epidemic levels in the United States too. Most people are well-fed to the point of being overweight or obese, however, at the same time, they are chronically malnourished. Most Americans fill their bodies with “food-like” products such as Cheetos and frozen TV dinners, and while they feel satisfied, they aren’t getting any nutrients. There is very little in the way of vitamins or minerals in processed foods, but that’s what the American diet mostly consists of.
In the United States, “the land of plenty,” calories are not hard to come by. In fact, the average American consumes a whopping 3,600 calories per day, a 24 percent increase from 1961! However, emerging research demonstrates that despite being extremely well fed calorically speaking, and overweight as a result, Americans suffer from a wide range of nutrient deficiencies with significant health implications. More than half the calories Americans consume come from nutrient-depleted, ultra-processed foods, including refined flours and industrial seed oils. It comes as no surprise that so many people are undernourished.
Researchers looking into these shocking statistics made the conclusion that “a low proportion of the U.S. population has an adequate diet.” This discovery goes against the commonly held belief that malnutrition is a rarity in the United States. To make matters worse, the statistics presented in this study may represent an underestimation of the true scope of nutrient deficiency in the United States.
A simple way to correct this is to just eat more vegetables and less processed foods. Refined flour, sugar, and treats should be used sparingly in the diest, and healthy fats like avocadoes and olive oil can easily be incorporated into the diet. But most Americans are blissfully unaware that there’s a problem, to begin with, and even if they understood the health ramifications, they are still not able or willing to give up the “food-like products” they have been consuming.
And more studies have suggested that doctors prescribe food as medicine for those patients who are severely undernourished.
In comes rooftop gardens on hospitals! In its first season, BMC’s farm grew more than 5200 pounds of produce, including leafy greens, herbs, and vegetables, researchers found when they evaluated the farm’s operation. The farm “struck me as a really interesting, unique way of addressing food insecurity among (patients) while also providing environmental benefits,” said Aviva Musicus of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, who co-authored a report on the farm in the American Journal of Public Health.
A “safety net” hospital, BMC mostly serves low-income and elderly patients. These patients are often those who cite finances as a reason for not improving their diet. And, to be fair, it certainly costs a lot more right now to eat a healthy nutrient-dense vegetable loaded diet than it does to just stock up on boxes from the frozen foods section. Once again, this is where BMC is really making a difference.
The majority of the food grown in the garden’s first season was sent to the hospital’s pantry. Once there, primary care doctors can provide patients who are struggling financially with “food pantry prescriptions,” which allow them to visit the pantry to receive free food for their households.
Food is medicine, and in our society, it has become clear that the Western diet is failing too many people.
Here are some swaps that have worked well for me and my family personally.
But, a quick disclaimer first: neither my husband or I buy sugary foods or drinks, to begin with, and our kids grew up eating a big leafy salad with every dinner. In fact, they don’t get dinner unless they can finish their salad. We also had to cut out dairy after our daughter had a severe reaction and can no longer have it. That said, all of this can be done and made kid-friendly too!
Instead of high fructose corn syrup loaded juices, try sparkling water. La Croix brand has no added sweeteners and uses natural flavors. My kids’ favorite flavor is mango, but they also like the lemon.
Instead of potato chips or crackers, try Nut Thins. They are made from nuts, not refined flour and sugar and taste great!
Instead of soy sauce, try coconut aminos. It’s not as rich as soy sauce, but it’s similar and has a sweeter and milder flavor. And it doesn’t taste like coconut.
Instead of bottled ranch dressing, make your own! Get high-quality organic buttermilk and add an organic seasoning packet and viola! You have a non-soy, sugar-free, high fructose corn syrup free dressing. We also make our own balsamic vinaigrette. You just need organic olive oil, lemon juice (if you want), and balsamic vinegar. The best part about making your own dressings is that you are eating better and you can make them taste exactly as you want!
Do you have any substitutions to help others pack more nutrients into their diets? If so, share them with Ready Nutrition’s readers!
This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on October 30th, 2019