Back to search



Improving veterans’ health through nutrition and diet awareness.

How it started

Boston Medical Center has operated a rooftop farm since 2017. In its first year the 2,658 square foot farm produced 5,200 pounds of produce, which was distributed to the hospital’s cafeterias, inpatient meal services, teaching kitchen and preventive food pantry. They estimate a reduction in spending of approximately $10,000 annually on food purchase from external vendors. As cardiologists from diverse backgrounds, we know that many chronic diseases have their roots in poor food choices either from necessity or lack of awareness.

We believe small shifts can be ignited and grow when trusted providers advocate a healthy lifestyle to augment evidence-based medicine. Having each been in practice at major medical centers for over 20 years, we can clearly see that nutrition handouts and even one-on-one counseling are not moving the needle in a significant way. Brief interactions often lasting only minutes are just not enough. Patients need to see their health providers advocating health on a fork, not just health by prescription!

Our patients have limited resources and we need cost-effective and comprehensive programs that replace poor choices with healthy ones.

How it works

VARANDA will develop a sustainable food garden for U.S. veterans and their families, growing fresh fruits and vegetables on the rooftop of a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital where thousands of veterans receive health care annually.

Each year the farm will supply over 5,000 pounds of fresh produce to a preventive health pantry, farmers market and cafeteria on campus. VARANDA will provide not only the raw foodstuff for a healthy diet but will include a comprehensive program that leverages the existing facilities, staffing (physicians, nurses, nutritionists, chefs) and reimbursement structure to enhance community engagement through:

  • raw fresh produce
  • prepared fruits and vegetables for snacking
  • nutrition education (15-minute seminars on topics such as the value of nutrition,how to easily prepare vegetables and food safety)

  • recipes and choices that respectfully accommodate veterans’ individual situations (such as dentition, home environment and physical disability)

  • volunteer opportunities (purposeful physical activity in the farm, community building)

  • employment opportunities (pantry administration, packaging)

  • habituation through a regular schedule of visits to the food pantry for food pick-up

What’s next

This is a pilot program at two VA sites. If successful, it could create a roadmap for expansion to 170 VA hospitals nationwide. Each aspect of planning and implementation during the pilot will be framed by the idea of scalability.

VARANDA project Food Pantry Layout

What’s needed

Additional funding for marketing and connections to organizations and hospitals that provide support and health care to military veterans.

VARANDA (VA Repurposing Agriculture for Nutrition and Diet Awareness) is a pilot program developing sustainable food gardens and education for veterans and their families.