Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Farmacology with Daphne Miller

I just read this book and I certainly recommend it. What it captures is the ongoing effort by individual farmers to achieve an holistic protocol for agricultural production. This is not mainstream as yet and what we understand as organic practice is very much a work in progress even if it is now clearly shown to be superior to industrial ways.

This is still a glimpse of the true future of agriculture.

To fully emerge, holistic agriculture needs to integrate the people themselves and overcome a long history of the low grade abuse of the land's servants. This can be done today with the computerization of inputs and the internalization of the communal economy. Once done correctly, a mutually rewarding lifeway can be established that supports both the land and the people in terms of optimal health.

The author shows us that the same approach works in medicine as well and now informs her own practice.

Berkeley doctor and author tills soil for medical answers

By Lou Fancher

Posted:   04/23/2013 

BERKELEY -- In Dr. Daphne Miller's new book "Farmacology" (2013), sustainable agriculture and holistic medical practice find each other as soul mates.

The Berkeley resident, author and family care physician first addressed food's relationship to health by sticking to the global plate in "The Jungle Effect" (2008), an examination of world diets and what they teach us about our bodies.

"Farmacology" finds Miller back in the United States on a gastronomic journey as she travels to seven distinct locations to dig in the earth -- and the salty, fecund minds of veteran farmers -- for buried medical treasures.

She will discuss her experience and findings at 4 p.m. April 27 at Mrs. Dalloway's book store in Berkeley.

Inspired by authors Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie's five-chapter "The Soul of Soil," and catapulted into action on the agrarian wings of writer and farmer Wendell Berry's philosophies, Miller set out to learn from dirt what medical school had never taught.

She visits a bison ranch in Missouri; two chicken farms in Arkansas; a winery in California's Sonoma Valley; a community garden in the Bronx; and a biodynamic farm and an aromatic herb farm in Washington.

At each location, farmers share wisdom gleaned from years, or even decades, examining their land, filtering the soil through their fingers, and watching an animal or plant go through natural birth-to-death cycles.

And while the farmers tell their stories,

Miller hears the echoes of stress-induced illnesses, chemotherapeutic and other pharmaceutical supersizing and unhealthy diets leading to an acre of maladies.

Recognizing the commonality of the seemingly-disparate, complex medical and farming systems, Miller draws correlations between busy Carl and Mike, two of her patients, and 15,000 "de-beaked," ammonia-stressed hens.

But the learning doesn't stop at this simplistic duality. She ventures on, to a second hen farm where "poultry plasticity" and personal adaptability mean "good stress" is restorative, even healthy.

The lessons shift from patients to personal, after her pierced and multicolor-haired 16-year-old daughter works on a Missouri cattle ranch and returns, transformed into a "tan woman with popping biceps." The ranch's holistic system fosters healthy calves and heifers, causing her to reflect, "Little had I expected when I was on Rockin' H that my own gangly calf would be a beneficiary."

And bringing the full weight of her medical background to bear while sharing the story of Scribe Winery's integrated pest management systems, a common assumption about cancer treatment receives push-back. The "kill cancer" message is replaced by a new thought: Instead of cancer being the pestly enemy, make cancer the teacher.

"In this view ... cancer is a chronic challenge that must be contained and only sometimes reversed ... striving for containment rather than eradication is more likely to control the disease in the long run," she writes.\

Ironically, arriving from the antiseptic land of medicine -- and never completely leaving it -- is the perfect setup for the connections Miller makes between healthy agricultural practices and healthy patients. "Farmacology" could easily have been preachy, but it's not. By relating her patients' tenderly told pathology to intimate farmer profiles, she keeps it human. This is a book about people, not politics. Childlike, hand-drawn maps of each farm add a homey touch.

Which is not to say "Farmacology" is "green reading light" or that the political implications aren't enormous. By extension, the issues raised deal with profound economic, social and cultural dilemmas.

Perhaps the book's importance resides here: a medical professional dares to climb out of the mainstream river and stand on the bank's edge in order to gain perspective on what lies under the surface. And Miller's hearty, personable writing style makes it a good read for travelers, lovers of character studies and medical and farming professionals alike.

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