Book Review: Farmacology
By Thea Maria Carlson
Director of Programs, Biodynamic Association
Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Biodynamics
What does farming have to do with human health? For those steeped in biodynamics, the connections between the two may be clear, but in the wider world—and especially that of the traditional Western medical profession—much remains to be explored. Taking up that charge, family physician Dr. Daphne Miller spent time on six ecological farms across the United States looking for inspiration, and shares her insights in the recently published book Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing.
The picture Dr. Miller paints of each farm is vibrant and full of detail, with enough technical information to satisfy a seasoned farmer’s curiosity as well as sufficient explanation for the lay person without an agricultural background. Readers get to share in her experience of a biodynamic vegetable CSA, a cattle ranch, two adjacent egg ranches, a vineyard, a collection of urban community gardens, and an aromatic herb farm. She gives us a vivid description of each farm: the farmers, the lay of the land, the crops and livestock, the community context, and the unique quirks of the place. Relating conversations with the farmers and others she encounters, she outlines some of the challenges that farmers often face and the innovative practices these particular farmers have adopted to overcome them. Dr. Miller then brings in a case study of a patient from her medical practice, drawing parallels between their ailments and the problems faced by the farm and exploring how the practices that make these farms thrive might be adapted to improve patients’ health.
In the case of Jubilee Biodynamic Farm in Washington State, when farmer Erick Haakenson purchased his twelve acres in the 1990s, the soil was deeply degraded and overrun by invasive weeds and trash. Haakenson first tried to remediate the soil through extensive soil testing and carefully calibrated mineral inputs to correct deficiencies, but then shifted to incorporating livestock and biodynamic practices as a more holistic way to heal and restore fertility to the farm’s soil. For Allie, a patient suffering from nutrient deficiencies and allergies, Dr. Miller takes inspiration from Jubilee’s shift from mineral inputs to cows and compost, and encourages Allie to shift away from taking a plethora of daily medications and supplements and toward joining a “farm cycle”—becoming a member a CSA, eating local produce, and getting outside to help out at a community garden. In both the farm and the patient, Dr. Miller reports positive results from the holistic, ecosystem-oriented approach.
Dr. Miller seems to aim her book toward medical professionals and the general public interested in improving their own health, but it is also a great read for those of us more directly involved in food and farming. We would do well to take inspiration from the innovative approaches she outlines both to nurturing our land and to nurturing ourselves.
Dr. Daphne Miller will be a keynote speaker at the 2014 North American Biodynamic Conference: Farming for Health.
Miller is a family physician, writer, and Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of California San Francisco. In 2000 she founded WholefamilyMD, San Francisco’s first integrative primary care practice, where she still cares for patients across the lifespan. Part clinician, part ecologist, and part anthropologist, Miller approaches medicine with the idea that opportunities for health and healing are found not only in the medical system, but in such unexpected places as home kitchens, school gardens, community organizations, spiritual centers, farms, and nature trails. Throughout her career, her teaching, writing, and advocacy work has reflected this perspective.