Healthcare and agriculture, while inextricably linked, have sat in separate siloes for far too long.
Both sectors share a common set of challenges— the pervasive use of antibiotics and other synthetic inputs, a symptoms-based approach to addressing problems, and disconnection from being part of a much greater whole.
Yet many solutions to their shared challenges are also held in common— focusing on promoting biodiversity in both the soil and gut microbiomes, taking a root-cause approach, and looking at an individual or a farm as part of a much greater whole.
Before the advent of pharmaceutical interventions and synthetic agricultural inputs, we relied on the Earth to give us the food and medicines we need. While modern medicine and innovation in agriculture have given us many tools that enhance our quality of life, something sacred has been lost along the way.
We are part of a deeply interconnected, living, breathing ecosystem. The health of our soil and planet is not separate from the health of our own bodies.
Regenerative healthcare is a vision for the future in which healthy farming practices inform a prevention-based approach to human health. Rather than relying on toxic chemical inputs to solve agricultural issues and pharmaceutical intervention to cure disease, regenerative healthcare aims to prevent disease through an organic, whole-foods diet that starts on farms that work in harmony with nature.
Rodale Institute is at the forefront of creating partnerships, programming, and focused research on how food, and the way food is produced, can regenerate human health, communities, and the earth.
Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The challenges facing both our healthcare and agricultural systems are deeply interconnected, as are many of the solutions to these challenges. But how did we get here?
Many conventional farming practices, including mono-cropping, heavy tillage, application of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, have left our soil stripped of the microbial biodiversity it needs to grow nutrient-dense food and make our watersheds more susceptible to erosion. Persistent use of chemicals such as polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAs), known as “forever chemicals,” and herbicides such as Glyphosate, contribute to diminished soil health and are proving to be detrimental to human health.
For additional reading: Exposure to glyphosate in the United States: Data from the 2013–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — ScienceDirect
Food As Food, Medicine as Pharmaceuticals
The modern medical paradigm focuses primarily on treatment and symptom management more than getting to the root of disease. 90% of the United States’ $4.1 trillion in annual healthcare expenditures are spent on the management of chronic and mental health conditions. That’s $3.7 trillion per year on management of chronic illnesses alone.
On average, doctors receive only 19.6 hours of nutrition education in medical school. As a result, nutrition is seldom considered in either prevention or treatment protocols. In the current system, food is food, while medicine is used to refer to pharmacological interventions.
Separation From the Local and Nature
How many miles did your food have to travel to get to your plate? That number is often staggering. We have been disconnected from our local farms, food-sheds, and ecologies. The longer food takes in transit to you, the lower the nutrient density, the higher the climate impact.
Additionally, humans have lived interconnected with their ecosystems for thousands of years. Over time, this interconnection gave way to traditional ecological knowledge — an intimate ecology of place — grounded in an understanding of the plants, fungi, and cycles surrounding us that we are inseparable from. Before the advent of pharmaceutical interventions and synthetic agricultural inputs, we relied on the Earth to give us the food and medicines we need. While modern medicine and innovation in agriculture have given us many tools that enhance our quality of life, something sacred has been lost along the way.
Traditional ecological knowledge plays a critical role in practices such as herbalism, homeopathy, and integrative medicine. Indigenous communities, even in the face of colonization, have managed to maintain their unique cultures and wisdom traditions grounded in living in right relationship with Earth, including a knowledge of the medicines all around us. Western society’s disconnection from nature and our ecologies has diminished our awareness and understanding of looking to Earth for support with what ails us.
A ROOTSCUP SOLUTION
Regenerative healthcare is a return to our roots. By regenerating our soil, we regenerate ourselves and our communities.
Regenerative healthcare holds within it the potential for transformative healing of our food and healthcare systems by operating at the intersection of soil health and human health. J.I. Rodale, 75 years ago, took a piece of chalk and wrote what still serves as the core of Rodale Institute’s guiding philosophy: “Healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people.”
It is well established that the health of the soil is directly linked to the health of the plants that grow in it, and in turn, the health of the people and animals who consume those plants. This is because the soil acts as a vital source of nutrients and minerals for plants, which are then passed on to humans when we eat them.
However, the link between soil health and human health goes beyond just the nutrients provided by plants. The microbes found in healthy soil, such as bacteria and fungi, also play a crucial role in our overall health. These microbes form a complex ecosystem known as the microbiome, which is essential for many bodily functions including digestion, immunity, and even mental health.
Our gut microbiomes and the soil microbiome are not too different from one another. Both are comprised of billions of microbes, thrive on biodiversity, and the health of each depends on its environment and its inputs.
By providing leading edge education to healthcare professionals that bridges healthcare and agriculture together, filling key gaps in education, we can shift the paradigm of healthcare to be more integrated, prioritizing systems of roots-up healing rather than disease management.
Originally published in Organic Matters – Winter 2023
Nadine Clopton is committed to co-creating a world that places compassion, communities, and ecosystems at the root of positive change.
She holds a master’s in environmental policy design from Lehigh University where she was a Presidential Scholar. In her undergraduate studies, she studied Health, Medicine, & Society (Public Health) and Political Science with minors in Sustainable Development and Environmental Studies.
As a Program Manager at Rodale Institute, she runs the Regenerative Healthcare program. Through leading edge events and education, Regenerative Healthcare seeks to educate the healthcare community about food as medicine and human health’s inextricable links to soil health. She also manages the Grow Clean Water program, which explores the link between watershed health and how we farm—with a specific focus on how supporting regenerative organic agriculture keeps harmful chemicals out of our watershed and off of our plates.
Outside of Rodale Institute, Nadine serves as the President of the Global NGO Executive Committee (GNEC) and as an NGO Representative to the United Nations. In her work with GNEC, she works to amplify civil society voices and advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Nadine is also the Founder of Conscious Consulting, LLC, rooting individual & organizational change in self-inquiry, purpose, & embodiment through workshops and coaching.
She lives & works in southeastern Pennsylvania on unceded Lenni Lenape homelands.