on Advancing Regenerative Organic Agriculture to Health Care
by Kirby Baldwin
During the last century, the rise of chemical-based agriculture has severely changed the way food is produced, and we have failed to recognize its unintended consequences. Research has revealed that if we continue on this path, our soil will give out and we will be unable to feed our children and grandchildren within the next 60 years. Thankfully, there is still time and positive transformation is possible through regenerative organic agriculture, which has its roots in Indigenous, traditional, ecological knowledge.
For more than 70 years, the Rodale Institute has been on the leading edge of the movement to promote a better, natural and more responsible way of modern farming by conducting research into the cultivation of healthy, living soils. Today, Nadine Clopton is advancing its related efforts through regenerative health care.
Clopton has been an NGO youth representative to the United Nations for more than six years, was the first young person to serve as a director on the board, and is now serving as an elected vice president of the Global NGO Executive Committee. In her role as program manager with Rodale Institute, Clopton combines her loves of health, advocacy and the ecosystem. Learning about food as medicine was transformative in her own health journey with chronic illnesses, and she hopes that others are also able to experience the transformative sense of well-being and connection that comes through such a lifestyle practice.
What does the regenerative health care movement mean for both human health and agriculture?
Regenerative health care carries potent “medicine” for a lot of the things that are ailing us in this country: the epidemic of chronic illnesses, the climate crisis, global food insecurity and ecological health. We believe that healing our soil is a prerequisite for healing ourselves. Regenerative health care draws the link between agriculture and health care because we need those two systems to talk with one another, and the answers are right beneath our feet.
How do we better connect our farming, food and healthcare systems?
The best thing we can do is take those three things out of a silo and look at them as part of a complex, interconnected web. In Rodale Institute’s “farm to hospital” model with St. Luke’s Hospital, we have a working farm at the hospital and much of the produce grown there ends up on the patient’s plates, in the cafeteria or in a CSA [community-supported agriculture] share that the hospital employees can take home. At Rodale Institute, we’re hoping to build that bridge between agriculture and health care, and invite doctors and farmers to be part of the cycle of health care: thinking about the health of our soil and the health and the nutrient density of what’s on our plates.
What is next in your plans for the future of regenerative health care?
The heart and soul of what I’m working on right now centers around connecting health care and agriculture with Rodale Institute’s first-ever Regenerative Healthcare Conference. We’re inviting doctors, nurses, RDs [registered dietician], nutritionists and others with interests in health and well-being to the farm for four days to get their hands in the soil and learn about how soil health is directly correlated to human health and how food is medicine.
We’re working closely with Dr. Scott Stoll’s team at The Plantrician Project and bringing together some incredible luminaries like Dr. Uma Naidoo, Dr. Maya Shetreat, Dr. Rupa Marya, Dr. Michelle Perro, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and others. To our knowledge, this is the first-ever medical conference to be taking place on a living, breathing, working farm. We’re passionate about the idea of getting doctors out of their practices and letting them get their hands in the soil. There’s no better way to learn about the real fundamental difference between conventional and regenerative organic agriculture than by picking up a scoop of soil in our conventional model and picking up a scoop of soil in our regenerative organic model.
Healing our planet begins with healing ourselves and how we relate to the planet and to one another, so through these tangible, in-person experiences, we can get even closer to that ultimate goal of a healed system.
What are some tips for consumers and practitioners to help this movement?
Get to know a farmer! Go get your hands in the soil, talk to your local farmers and start to rebuild that web of connection and relationship. Look around you and see how the Earth responds when we’re operating in a way that’s regenerative and allows natural systems to thrive. And for practitioners, get curious! Start breaking out of the siloed worldview of health and medicine and learn about the potent medicines that are all around us in our food and our soil.
Kirby Baldwin writes for KnoWEwell, the Regenerative Whole Health Hub and collaborative partner of Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp.