America has the finest high-tech medical care in the world. If a person is in an accident, the emergency care is exemplary. We also have dedicated, energetic scientists working hard to develop new treatments every day.
I think one area we have not fully accessed is nature and indigenous knowledge. There is still a place for science within this realm, working in harmony with the natural world and people who live in close communion with it to learn from them how we too can do so more gracefully. Preventative health care begins with focusing on sustainable agriculture. This will also help stabilize the climate and prevent war, as hungry people are more belligerent. If you think I am joking, try fasting and working at the same time, and see how long you last.
Traditional crossbreeding of plants is safer and wiser than genetic engineering. Researching and testing the most reliable healing plants and fruits in each region of the earth provides a fertile field for academic and commercial institutions. If we try to leave nature behind, we will not get far, as evidenced by our current state of crisis.
For example, blackberries are incredibly healthy. They grow wild all over the Pacific Northwest of the United States. There is a wonderful blackberry breeding program at Oregon State University that has developed a number of delicious (thornless even!) blackberry varieties. If everyone in this region had a blackberry bush or free blackberries available, many health concerns could be assuaged. Daily berries (in season) really do make a difference in health. Blueberries could be cultivated freely throughout the Northeast. Mangos, avocados, and peaches can be grown in the warmer regions of the country. People’s health is in part determined by the quality of their food and drink. Organic farming will restore the land.
Before you protest and say this will never happen—asserting that we have public space set aside for nature and parks, but only planted with ornamentals—get a load of what the city of Seattle is doing!
In the neighborhood of Beacon Hill a seven acre plot is being planted with grapes, apples, raspberries, blueberries, pears, plums, pineapple, guava, persimmons, and other fruit trees, as well as herbs, chestnuts, and walnuts! It is called the Beacon Food Forest, and was designed in 2009 by students in a permaculture class. beaconfoodforest.weebly.com
The trial plot of two acres is being planted this summer, with the remaining five acres to be completed at a later date. This will be a true, sustainable food bank! Here is a video showing the first plantings:
The founding members of the project hope to educate the community of the benefits of permaculture through the site. Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect, states, “This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park!”
Jenny Pell, permaculturist, explains, “People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season then it means we’re successful.”
Local residents have been enthusiastically pitching in and signing up with comments like, “Put me to work – I can’t wait to get my hands dirty,” and, “Let me know when I can show up with my wheelbarrow.” Help with propagating, mulching, and pruning is welcomed. “People will come in and for example help cut the raspberries back and then be able to take home five or ten raspberry plants to put in their own backyard!” proclaims Pell.
“When we met with all the different people from the community, what they wanted actually was fruits and berries and big nut trees- that was their biggest request. So, we’re looking at paths with berry bushes on both sides, and we’re going to have mixed fruit orchards, and big nut orchards. It will be the largest food forest on public lands in the United States.”
A couple of other folks worldwide have been at the forefront of this movement to get free produce to everyone while reforesting the earth. Kenya’s Queen of the Trees Professor Wangari Maathai inspired the planting of 47 million trees in Kenya and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Her vision of environmental stewardship rather than plunder of natural resources (which has been the accepted norm) has inspired many people. She especially encouraged women to plant trees, beginning the www.Greenbeltmovement.org in 1977.
When she started her work, Professor Maathai saw that “behind the everyday hardships of the poor—environmental degradation, deforestation, and food insecurity—were deeper issues of disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and a loss of the traditional values that had previously enabled communities to protect their environment, work together for mutual benefit, and to do both selflessly and honestly.”
Simply put, Professor Maathai said, “If you destroy the forest then the river will stop flowing, the rains will become irregular, the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation… We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.”
Anthony Anderson of www.growparadise.com states, “When we realize that we can quite easily and quickly begin to grow paradise right where we live, our power returns to us! Growing paradise requires nothing but the spirit of love and growth within us. We invite you to become a part of this, whether directly or by spreading the ideas and growing paradise in your own backyard and local community. Grow paradise. It is ours if we really want it.” He has seeded food forests in Minnesota, California, Arizona, and Cape Town, South Africa.
David Wolfe started the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation www.ftpf.org, which is a nonprofit charity dedicated to planting 18 billion organic fruit trees to “benefit the environment and all its inhabitants!”
“We envision a place where one can have a summer picnic under the shade of a fruit tree, breathe the clean air it generates, and not have to bring anything other than an appetite for the healthy fruits growing overhead. A world where one can take a walk in the park during a lunch break, pick and eat a variety of delicious fruits, plant the seeds so others can eventually do the same and provide an alternative to buying environmentally-destructive, illness-causing, chemically-laden products.”
A pioneer in community agriculture, Farmer John of www.angelicorganics.com states, “Agriculture is an underpinning of our culture. The irrepressibility of life on a farm continually manifests in myriad splendid expressions of life. This glorious unfolding provides us with the sustenance of food, while endlessly nourishing the creative spirit.”
I am very grateful for the amazing hospitals and health care workers we have in this country. They are overburdened, however, because of a lack of preventative and conservational care. With a focus on collective, populist, sustainable agriculture to grow healthy food and medicine for all, chronic disease will diminish, as much chronic degenerative disease is caused by diet and stress related to survival. Food is our first primary need. A plant-based diet is advocated as a foundation for health by leading physicians like Dr. Oz, Dr. Weil, Dr. Chopra, and Dr. Mcdougall.
Combining the skills of doctors, nurses, herbalists, midwives, doulas, shamans, gardeners, farmers, artists and other healers in the community, medicine can evolve beyond a solely symptoms-oriented approach to exploring the source, the roots of imbalance and disease. To do this we must look for help toward our origin and our sustenance – the earth.
For those interested in getting closer to the earth in the LA area and visiting the local farms, go to www.pickyourown.org/CAla.htm.
By Ashley H.
1. Blazing a Trail for a Better Bounty of Oregon Berries. (2011, July 26). Retrieved from www.oregonlive.com.
2. Seattle Food Forest. (2012, March 9). Retrieved from www.loe.org.
3. Husted, K. (2012, March 1). Seattle’s First Urban Food Forest will be Open to Foragers. Retrieved from www.npr.org.
4. Leschin-Hoar, B. C. (1, February 2012). It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’s First Food Forest . Retrieved from www.takepart.com.