In recent years, small-scale urban agriculture has become a popular source for local food production. Finding a location, however, for these smaller farms can be a tall order in highly populated areas with little free land to spare. That’s why rooftops have become the go-to spot for gardens of all shapes and sizes, serving a range of needs in cities across the country. Now, hospitals are joining the trend too, adding farms to their rooftops to help provide patients with the freshest produce available.
One thriving rooftop garden is making headlines at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island. The Stony Brook Heights Rooftop Farm resides on the roof of the fourth floor of Stony Brook’s Health Science tower and is managed by staff nutritionists, dietetic interns and Sustainability Studies students from the University. This year’s crop produced more than 400 pounds with 33 varietals of vegetables and herbs harvested. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, the food that is grown here is served directly to hospital patients.
The farm has been so successful that it is currently serving as a model for each of the 10 community gardens throughout Suffolk County, which, like the Stony Brook Heights Rooftop Farm, are supported by the New York State Department of Health grant. There are plans to expand the program in 2013 to produce enough food to donate to organizations in need of fresh and healthy food.
Vanguard Weiss Hospital in Chicago operates the Urban Rooftop Farm, another hospital rooftop farm where volunteer farmers grow produce and coach community members in their own growing efforts. Twenty planter boxes line the rooftop edge, along with 15 more raised beds, a chicken coop, and water collection and compost stations. In addition to growing a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, collard greens, kale, watermelon and basil, the farmers also maintain an apiary of 150,000 bees.
Crops grown here are used in Weiss Hospital dishes, and are also sold at the hospital’s Thursday farmers market and donated to local soup kitchens. Chicago’s Lt. Governor Sheila Simon toured the Rooftop Farm in August and awarded the Uptown Farmers Market a $1,200 grant for their continued efforts in strengthening local economies with locally grown foods while making their community healthier.
Recently, the volunteer farmers at Weiss Hospital’s Urban Rooftop Farm formed the not-for-profit Loud Grade Produce Squad, which is dedicated to educating community groups, businesses and individuals about the benefit of local, organic food production. The group is striving to educate while constructing projects that are self sustaining and environmentally positive.
Other rooftop hospital farms are thriving at Castle Medical Center on the island of O’ahu, through the ProMedica Health System in Toledo, Ohio, and at Changi General Hospital in Singapore.
While rooftop gardens have long been well established at hospitals, providing patients with a tranquil place to reflect and recover, rooftop farms are taking this concept a step forward. Patients get access to delicious, fresh, healthy food – and the environment gets some real benefits too. A green roof helps reduce a building’s heating and cooling costs, clean the airs, manages storm water and builds habitat. It’s a win-win for everyone.
"With the Stony Brook Heights Rooftop Farm we are changing the culture and how people think about food. The healthiest food to use in preparing meals is food that is least processed like vegetables. This food can have a direct impact on healing and delaying progression of chronic diseases. Serving such food to our patients helps us convey this educational message," says Dr. Josephine Connolly Schoonen, Executive Director, Nutrition Division at Stony Brook University Medical Center.