Healthy Farm = Sustainable Body
Going to cooking school was a no-brainer decision. All of the nutritional theories floating through my head needed some good ol’ fashioned practical application in order to provide my clients with substantive advice and not just words. Now, my most recent educational journey takes me back to somewhere I thought I’d never go: formal education. Even though a Master’s of Science in Sustainable Food Systems may seem like a far cry from my current line of work, like cooking school, it will connect the dots even further.
I have a long road ahead before I receive my degree and fully absorb the information being thrown at me on a daily basis, but the first 5 weeks of the program have already revealed some very interesting parallels between a healthy farm and a sustainable human body. Or is it a sustainable farm and a healthy human body? Or is it synonymous? My first light bulb moment occurred when I realized that creating and managing a sustainable farm is theoretically identical to maintaining a healthy human body, as you shall shortly see. With the help of my new hero, Frederick Kirschenmann, and his book Cultivating an Ecological Conscience, let’s examine some excerpts that help illustrate this concept and why understanding it can you with your own path towards optimal health and wellness.
1) Adopting a sustainable system for a farm is a process, not a technique. The task of developing a sustainable system is never done. Sustainable practices require constant attention to new ways of responding to the same problems as well as a lifelong commitment to nurturing the system.
If you’ve ever had a personal conversation with me regarding health, you know I’m obsessed with concept of processes. It’s not a goal to be healthy. It shouldn’t be a New Year Resolution. Health is not a destination. Health is transient. It ebbs and flows with each passing moment of life. This is precisely why being healthy is rooted in consistently making the right lifestyle choices that add, rather than detract, from health. No one is exempt from this universal principle. Even those individuals fortunate enough to be born with what society considers “amazing” genes can ruin their health by continuously neglecting their own health and relying too heavily on their genetic blessings. Yes, genetics matters. It’s your starting poker hand. How you play your hand is up to you. Like Kirschenmann’s excerpt says, you must make the lifelong commitment to nurture and care for your genes, and thus your body.
2) As in the rest of nature, biodiversity and genetic diversity are essential to resilience on a farm.
The principle of biodiversity is probably the most important aspect of sustainability. It provides the foundation upon which all other decisions are based. The reason sustainable farms rotate crops and incorporate livestock is to maintain soil fertility, which is the most important raw material in the food equation. Healthy soil creates healthy humans. If the soil’s fertility is lost (as is the case with industrialized farming practices), the resulting crops will be inferior, if they grow at all. Ever heard of The Fertile Crescent and Ancient Mesopotamia? This is where modern civilization and agricultural are said to have begun. Rampant urbanization and the over-use of the land resulted in the decline and eventual abandonment of these cities of the Fertile Crescent. Lush lands and precious topsoil were destroyed, leaving behind dried up rivers and desert landscapes. Without sounding like too much of a hippie… this is precisely what we are doing with the monocrops being harvested all over our country. It’s just not sustainable. Biodiversity prevents disease outbreaks, provides effective weed control, improves soil structure, and helps maintain a healthy balance of nutrients in the soil. Sounds awesome, right? But what does this have to do with human health? In terms of providing nutritional advice and dietary suggestions, it has everything to do with human health.
Humans need a diverse variety of micronutrients, from various sources, to maintain balance and prevent disease. There are over 800 known varieties of vegetables and 2,000 types of fruit. And when it comes to meat, most people only eat the muscle, yet the modern-day body yearns for traditional—yet forgotten—bone broths and organ meats for their nutritional contents. Yes, availability in your bioregion has a lot to do with the selection available to you, but if you list how many foods you eat within a month and that number reaches 20 items, you can pat yourself on the back. Most are below 10; with corn, soy, and wheat topping nearly every list. Here is a study and an article discussing the importance of diversity and variety in diet for health.
3) Recognizing problems in a timely manner through close, personal observations is crucial to making a sustainable system work.
Listen to your body. When you feel “off”, haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days/weeks/months, get lethargic after meals, have colds multiple times a year, or irregular bowel movements, stop and listen. These are the personal observations you must reconnect with so that you can investigate what is causing these changes in your life. The body wants to be healthy. When it is out of balance, it lets you know very quickly. Instead of reaching for pills, drinks, and coffee, reevaluate some of your lifestyle choices instead.
4) No standard recipe exists for organizing or managing a farm to make this system work.
Once you understand that there is NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO LIVE HEALTHY, the sooner you will reach a state of happiness and acceptance for yourself and those around you. Don’t listen to marketing. Listen to your body. It’s much smarter than the opinions of others.
These parallels should not be that surprising. Sustainable farms are living organisms. They are not the mechanical machines or units of production industrialized agriculture has made them out to be. The human body operates under these same principles. These differences in thought processes and associations make all the difference. Remember these important points: Your health is lifelong journey, not a destination. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meat to ensure your health, not for some arbitrary and nonsensical carb/protein ratio. Listen to your body when symptoms arise. And lastly, there’s a million different ways to lead a healthy life. Create your own path using fundamental principles, not cookie-cutter programs.