Part of Stony Brook Hospital’s room service program allows patients to choose their lunch during breakfast service, “eating with their eyes” photos of salads for lunch prepared with truly local ingredients. “We found that we get more interest in the featured item when we include a photo, and the dining ambassadors encourage the patients to try these items for lunch for dinner,” says Kathleen Logsdon Carrozza, MS RD CDN, assistant director of food and retail services at Stony Brook, a hospital with a kitchen serving between 1,800 and 2,000 meals per day.
The rooftop farm, called Stony Brook Heights, took root in 2011 with funding from the New York State Department of Health. The farm is located on the third-floor deck of the hospital’s Health Science Center. Like many on-premise farms and gardens, the purpose isn’t just to grow produce; the farm is meant to inspire and get people thinking about farm to table, or in this case, farm to bedside. The farm is visible from patient rooms and also from the new Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
Found on the roof is 2,242-square-feet of growing space, including 36 raised beds. The herbs and veggies are used to supplement patient meals and some of the produce is donated to the Stony Brook University student food pantry and Stony Brook Home (a free student-run clinic), the Stony Brook WIC program and Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.
A signature item served in summer and into early fall is the special salad of the day, which uses freshly harvested veggies and is otherwise low in fat and sodium so the majority of patients can order it.
While the rooftop farm is primarily growing for hospital patients, there’s an overlap into retail “if we have more than we can use for patient meals, we send the special salads to the Market Place Café for the salad bar,” Carrozza says. “Sometimes we have too many tomatoes all at once, so we incorporate them into a special hot entrée.”
For example, “we make an awesome swordfish dish which has multicolored tomatoes as part of the topping,” Carrozza says. “The special entrée of the day is offered at the café and for patients who have regular diets with no food allergies.”
The cherry and grape tomatoes play a part in side salads and bell peppers become part of fajitas. Vegetables are varied each year, with chefs experimenting along the way.
“Before we begin planting we consult with the executive chef and assistant director of food service about items that can be best utilized by the kitchen,” says Annemarie Ng, MS RD CDE CDN, from Stony Brook’s Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine.
Last year, radishes were all the rage, including colorful watermelon radishes. This year, squash is the star, with butternut squash and spaghetti squash showing up a lot. There are also pickling cucumbers and lots of herbs. The volume of leafy greens needed for hospital use can’t be produced, so the focus is instead on high-yield crops like the aforementioned cherry tomatoes.
This past summer, Long Island kids, in groups ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 11, participated in healthy cooking and baking classes, a three-day series happening right on the rooftop farm, taught by Sotiria Everett, a dietitian and clinical assistant professor at the university. The classes combined growing and cooking with a focus on healthy eating.
“During the classes, the kids were able to learn kitchen safety, etiquette, how to harvest produce, how to read and follow recipes—mixing, measuring and seasoning—and how to make and enjoy healthy meals,” Ng says. The students made watermelon-feta salad with fresh mint, quinoa tabbouleh salad and chocolate zucchini muffins.
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