Farmacology — A Book Review

By Carrie Caselton Lowe Early one August morning, as I drove through the kettles dipping and rising out of the low hanging summer haze to set up for the Saturday farmers market, I exchanged the simple quiet for a little NPR. I settled on The People’s Pharmacy as I typically do on these mornings. I heard the interviewee’s opening comments about sustainable, organic farmers being healers, specifically healers of the Earth. Her interview continued to intrigue me through discussions of good tilth as good health, community gardens as public health interventions, and the connection of diverse microbial life in healthy soil to healthy humans and communities. The speaker was Daphne Miller, a practicing physician, professor of family medicine, and author of Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing. Here was a professor outlining what many in the sustainable farming community, especially here in Eastern Wisconsin, already know to be true, not through the science she was reviewing, but through life experience and farm cred. I was hooked. Early the following week, I ordered the book from our downtown bookstore. I finished the book before the farming season was over — not usual behavior.

Early in the book Miller discusses how her exploration into sustainable agriculture began when she picked up The Soul of Soil at a used bookstore. Upon reading it, she confesses, “it suddenly dawned on me that the carbon, nitrogen, and every mineral and vitamin that is a building block in our own bodies is derived from soil. In other words, we are not simply nourished by the soil, we are of the soil. By the last chapter, I realized this book was not just a farmers’ manual but one of the most engrossing medical texts I have ever read.”

She goes on to describe her process of learning how to integrate sustainable agriculture and apply its principles to human health and well-being. In the book, she visits six farms across the country from a Pacific Northwest biodynamic farm to an urban community farm in the Bronx, places that are approaching sustainable farming differently but have something to offer modern medicine and human health. Each chapter aligns the farm’s work to build a healthy agricultural and ecological system with nourishing lifestyle and integrated medical practices.

The book starts at the biodynamic farm where good tilth is metaphorically and literally a prescription for patients’ vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The Bronx urban community farm, La Familia Verde, is a poster child for how gardening, specifically community gardening, has shown to improve chronic health problems such as diabetes, obesity, depression, as well as decrease crime rates. That’s right — community gardening has been linked to a decrease in crime rates! This chapter also discusses an idea called collective efficacy. Collective efficacy describes how residents in a community can control the behaviors of other residents in the community. Think Neighborhood Watch. She writes, “The multigenerational collaboration, the storytelling, the shared (delicious) meals, the incubation of businesses, the political discussions, the physical labor in the sunshine, the kindness to neighbors, the volunteerism at the market, the connection to family tradition, the sense of self-sufficiency… these were all sparks of collective efficacy that the (garden) had ignited in the once blighted mid-Bronx.” Wow! Who doesn’t need more of all of that!

So if you are looking for a well-written book that encourages a close connection to community gardening and your local farms, that offers new and insightful science behind the food and health choices we make, get your hands on Farmacology. One copy is available at the Mead Library through the EASICAT Library system, or Book Heads in Plymouth (920.892.6657), Sheboygan County’s independent bookstore, can order the book and get it quite quickly.

The link to the People’s Pharmacy interview is here.