Lining the courtyard just off the side to the main entrance to the hospital is the Montefiore Hospital Farmer’s Market, a new initiative by the hospital to extend their comprehensive care to include healthy nutritional options for staffers and community residents, in addition to providing open community space that all can enjoy together.
The care that patients receive at Montefiore Hospital reaches far beyond the hallways and medical facilities of the campus.
Step into the hospital garden, by the campus’ main entrance on East 210th Street and Rochambeau Street, at lunchtime on any Thursday from now til late October, and you will find an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables, and freshly prepared foods that are in keeping with the season.
Montefiore's President and CEO, Steven Safyer, MD, envisioned the farmer’s market as part of a comprehensive plan to promote healthier nutritional options for Bronx residents.
Paul Ammirato, Director of Engineering at Montefiore, was responsible for making the market a reality. He explained that the vision for the market is part of larger plan to bring fresh food and healthy initiatives to the patients.
“This is our third year holding the market. We’ve learned that it has really turned into a space for the community, the patients, and the associates of the hospital,” said Ammirato. “We are a healthcare organization and that [health] is exactly what we want to promote.”
As Dr. Safyer envisions it, with conscientious choices, the larger community can avoid being treated for many of the preventable side effects that emerge from conditions like obesity, hypertension and diabetes, all of which the Bronx has high numbers in.
And despite the overcast sky on a recent weekday, during the lunch time rush, the Farmer’s Market did brisk business with a host of residents, and nurses and doctors who stopped in for a bite.
For Yona Amsalem, owner of Yona’s Gourmet Delights in Brooklyn, business was good on that day.
Standing under a tent, while offering quiche, carrot cake, and potato pastries she said that she enjoyed being part of the Montefiore Farmer’s Market because it was always a good turnout. “I would stay here all week if I could. The customers are all very nice and everyone loves the spinach quiche,” said Amsalem.
“The market provides another great option for lunch, and it’s in a really nice space where you can retire from work for a few minutes,” said Elizabeth Armstrong, a social worker at the hospital. “This is my third time visiting, and every time I’ve bought something really tasty. Today it’s carrot cake.”
Over on the opposite end of the courtyard, Eddie Leon stood behind a series of boxes filled with several varieties of nuts. Among them was the “Dr. Oz’s Box,” an arrangement of six different types of nuts used to battle high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other ailments ,as per the recommendations of the television medical guru.
“I also have the sweet box, the salty box, the roasted box, and the raw box,” said Leon, who hasn’t missed a day at the market. He says every Thursday so far, both hospital staff and neighborhood residents come looking for their regular “fix,” as he put it.
“Nuts make for great snack because they have nutritional value,” he added.
So we offer the sweet and the healthy, depending on your needs.”
Perhaps one of the largest impacts the market has had locally has been the creation of the “Eat Healthy Shop Smart” initiative.
The program, geared towards cancer patients who visit the hospital for radiation treatments, is designed to provide expert advice for patients on how to choose fresh and healthy food to help fight their disease and minimize the side effects of treatment.
“The patients come down with the oncology nutritionists and they get to learn about which fruits and vegetables can help them on their road to recovery. Each patient is guided through each table where they learn the benefit of each food depending on their unique needs,” said Ammirato.
Hector Reyes, who sets up his tent in the center of the market, offers everything from kale, zucchini, tomatoes, avocadoes, to peppers, all depending on the month. Reyes also offers fresh fruit throughout the summer, which he said was very popular among the staff and patients. He also sets out the flowers of the season, to the delight of many passerby.
By all accounts, the hospital’s farmer’s market has become both a focal and nutritional point for local residents and hospital staff, far surpassing the expectations of the people who worked to create it three years ago.
“The market has really turned into something the entire neighborhood looks forward to,” said Ammirato, adding that they also host summertime concerts that offer entertainment for the community. “It has really helped to further our mission for healthy living and nutritional education, and that is our main goal.”