The Case For Farms in Dietetics

By Garnet Bruell

I first came to The Farm on a beautiful September morning. I got off the city bus and walked down the cracked and dusty pavement as I began to hear birds that seemed to drown out the cars from the busy road behind me. I could see the twin curves of the hoophouses to the west, behind the ridge of a small green hill where a fence draws a line around the whole area. Farmer Dan would tell me later that the fence is to keep the deer out – they can decimate crops.

The Farm lies in plain view of the large main tower of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, and the realization strikes me, as I walk up the dusty path to the little trailer that doubles as an office, that this environment, swirling with birds and sky, incredulously, is part of a hospital.

When I think of hospitals, I think of being inside an MRI machine; waiting to see someone in urgent care; falling asleep under fluorescent lights waiting for my doctor to see me, and more recently, pouring over medical records as part of my supervised practice to become a dietitian. I do not think of wind and rain breaking against the walls of the hoophouse making it sound like I exist inside the great pumping artery of a beating heart, or the calm of watching the November sunset as we dusted the dirt off after planting garlic bulbs in raised beds of dark compost.

Hospitals are teeming with cutting edge technology. The list is long: x-rays, radiation therapy, prosthetics, laparoscopic surgery, parenteral nutrition and many other methods of investigating, restoring, and healing life. My time on the Farm led me to this conclusion: Agriculture is technology too, and moreover, a health focused technology.

Agriculture is an act of homeostasis. The hoop houses need to be opened in the heat or else the plants bake; watering is done after taking the environment into consideration; seeds are planted at what we hope are optimal points in the season. Records are kept, methods improved: farming is science.

Agriculture in health care offers Dietitians a unique opportunity to use the very raw material of health – food – as a backdrop for providing therapy and education to individuals and communities. The potential, to me, seems to be endless. Once you plant a seed and it rushes forth, drawing itself from the very ground you stand on, it is no longer simply lettuce, kale, squash, tomato, carrot, or beet. It’s a device for changing thoughts and teaching about real food, real work, real lives. How can we best use this technology, as dietitians? The question lies unanswered, but I want to find out.

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