This year I've been thinking about it a bit ahead of time, instead of after the fact like last year.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I consider myself fortunate beyond words to still be alive, and also alive and thriving, after my multiple cancer diagnoses and medical problems that have all been related to late effects of my various cancer therapies. Sometimes I do feel as though I might be duct-taped together, but be that as it may, I can also say that my husband and I started a farm at age 59 and we are still here after four years of long hours and daily hard work, appreciating and relishing the opportunity to sink roots into and nourish our community by growing and selling healthy food locally at four farmers markets within 12 miles of our farm.
Our greatest joy is having our family, i.e. our two sons and our daughters in law, come home to the farm. In addition, having friends (from both near and far) come visit the farm also gives us great pleasure. We may or may not be 'cleaned up', and we may hand you gardening gloves or some type of tool to help us, but you can be sure that we'll always end the day with something delicious to eat and some of my husband's home-brewed (and award-winning) beer.
Next up is the pleasure of having dietetic students and dietetic interns come work with us. Some come for an hour or two, some come for a day, some come regularly, and some also come to live with us for several weeks participating in a program called The School to Farm Program developed by The Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, a sub-group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). I confess that I enjoy feeling like the student when we work together, as I learn so much from them, from their questions but also their answers to my questions.
Although we could easily recruit young people from a wide variety of backgrounds and a wide variety of future careers who would like to work on an organic farm, I have felt a special dedication to 'recruiting' the students in my profession, to give them an opportunity to move backward a few steps from a traditional starting point of our profession which has always been 'we are what we eat' to instead develop an understanding and appreciation for a starting point of a food system to be 'we are what we grow'.
I hope that through the wide variety of experiences I try to provide for them within the community (they never weed with me for two straight weeks, even though that is a very very important job on our farm) that they also develop a profound and urgent awareness that the dietetics profession along with society as a whole must switch its current focus on paying (or not) for treatment of disease (Hello! That expensive horse is now out of the barn) to investing in strategies the lead to prevention of disease (especially chronic diseases), even better yet, using food and nutrition to create health and wellness as the primary and life-long achievement.
I certainly don't have all the answers for how to do this, but the main point I want these dietetic students to understand by working with me on the farm (and in my community) is the profound influence their future professional recommendations as RDs will have on individuals, on families, on communities, on organizations and institutions, AND on our agricultural systems and natural resources, which are the foundation of our food systems and the health of our communities.
My long-time readers know that I enjoy ending my blog posts with quotations that I find meaningful. Today I will finish with a favorite quote but first I would like to share a new word I recently learned that I feel encapsulates an image I have for the future, with both purpose and feeling. I cannot describe it any better than that, except to say that when I recently heard this word with its meaning, I said to myself 'That's it! That is what I see for our future, and that is what I am trying to convey, instill, and nourish within my profession and particularly these students who are our future.'
The word is Ujima, a Swahili word that means 'collective work and responsibility'.
Adding to that short definition, one can say Ujima means "to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our own and to solve them together." Bingo! Thank you, Malik Yakini, Founder and Director of the Detroit Black Food Security Network for giving me language to convey my values and what I hope to share with my current work as one small part of the needed change on the path of developing food systems that will provide 'good food and good health for all'.
I think every Registered Dietitian I know became an RD in order to work as a health care professional with the fundamental desire to create and nourish healthy communities, which must start with protecting, creating, and nourishing healthy soil in order to produce healthy food. Thus my final words are directed to all RDs and RDs 2B:
"Soil is the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization."
~~ Steven Stoll, The Larding of the Lean Earth, 2002
I have used this beautiful quotation in previous blog posts. I consider these words, and the image they convey, to be a touchstone for me. I never tire of reading and imaging with these words. I still love the image of our precious fertile, healthy, life-supporting topsoil being the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization (read the book Dirt: The Erosions of Civilizations by David Montgomery for an in-depth view of the importance of soil to the rise and fall of entire civilizations throughout history). That image gives me both joy and purpose while working every single day as an RD - Organic Farmer - Community Member.
More information about the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group's School to Farm Program is on HEN's website. Come work with us while we are contributing to the health of our local community. We welcome you! Please note - you will work. Just ask the students who have already been to our farm. :)
Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD