Growing Grassroots Health Options
By Sandra Lucas
Would it surprise you that a revival of community gardens is growing at a steady pace in towns and urban areas, including Silver City? Perhaps you have seen or helped with the Guadalupe Montessori School garden or the developing garden at Jose Barrios School.
Community and school-based gardens are the foundation of grassroots healthcare. They come in all sizes and shapes: from neighbors' backyard ventures to tiny city plots, from schoolyards to privately owned gardens that can no longer be tended by their owners because of age, injury or disability. Volunteers of all kinds, including those looking for work in exchange for food, have the opportunity to participate in cooperative gardening. The food, herbs and flowers grown in these gardens benefit the owners of the land, the caretakers, adults, children and the soil.
Without a strong nutritional basis from affordable, locally grown organic food, it is difficult to improve the standards of health in society. With food costs in stores continuing to rise, gardening makes healthy, locally grown food a viable option. When neighborhoods are transformed into gardens, numerous social problems are also resolved: Crime decreases and community and family bonds are strengthened. Gardens are places of beauty and spiritual solace that bring peace and happiness to the stressful lifestyles and emotional challenges faced by many if not most folks today. Individual growers can exchange food and herbs with others who grow different plants, thus increasing the variety of what is available.
David Crow, an acupuncturist, meditation teacher, herbalist and author, travels to communities teaching grassroots healthcare options. Brought here by the Silver City Herb Guild in May, Crow shared these and other ways to develop healthier communities. He talked about understanding and overcoming the root causes of illness--namely, lack of good nutrition, environmental pollution, socioeconomic stresses, spiritual emptiness and complications from medical treatments and drug toxicity. He emphasized his conviction of the urgent need for adding a parallel system of medicine, specifically grassroots, community-supported, cost-effective, plant-based healthcare, accessible to everyone, using medicinal and nutritive plants grown in our own neighborhoods.
Some reasons for this urgency include:
By helping to create and support community gardens, information about the propagation, cultivation, harvesting and use of medicinal plants and essential oils becomes part of the collective process. The high-quality nutrition provided by such gardens, along with the physical activity of gardening, improves the overall health of students, volunteers and teachers alike.
School gardens are not only reaping the rewards of food, flowers and medicinal herbs; outdoor classrooms result in more enjoyment of learning, so behavior problems and attention difficulties are reduced. Emotional growth and social skills are enhanced when students observe the process of nature at work and are given the responsibility for caretaking plants and animals.
An example of a successful school-based garden that Crow founded is the Learning Garden. It is a cooperative effort with Venice High School in California, Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the local community. Their purpose is to bring high-quality nutrition and medicinal plants into the public school system, to deepen the level of herbal education for students of traditional Chinese medicine, and to educate the community about plant-based healing systems. He said these projects are the seeds of a sustainable future for natural medicine and grassroots healthcare in general, and medicinal plants in particular.
The 60,000-square-foot, mostly abandoned agricultural lot in Venice has been transformed in about three years to become an extensive organic garden. A pond was renovated and filled with water-loving medicinal plants, and a garden of Chinese medicinals is growing. A large Tai-Chi platform was built near the pond, where classes are held regularly. The garden has received funding to plant an extensive collection of fruit, nut and medicinal trees, as well as a large Ayurvedic herb garden. This project is an example of how linkages in the community increase the benefits for more people, according to Crow.
He believes the overall health of society is determined more by its nutritional, hygienic and environmental status than by the sophistication of its medical systems. If medicine does not address these underlying levels of well-being and illness, it is not holistic. Physicians and healthcare practitioners of all disciplines have a responsibility to support planetary ecological health by identifying the causes of diseases and educating patients about how to remove those causes. As this holistic consciousness increases throughout society, the recognition of plants as agents of both medical and ecological healing will also increase. This awareness, in turn, has the potential to dramatically change the destructive priorities of modern society and lead to the creation of sustainable, prosperous and peaceful plant-based cultures. In David Crow's opinion, this is the most important goal of medical practice today.
As a holistic nurse and wellness consultant, I know optimal health depends on the food we eat, the air we breathe, the quality of our sleep, and the water we drink. Wellness is also enhanced by empowering ourselves and others to experience love and joy, and being part of something greater than ourselves.
Grassroots school gardening at the Guadalupe Montessori School and Jose Barrios and the Silva Creek Garden Committee's planning efforts with Silver City are just the beginning of grassroots health care in Southwest New Mexico. More folks are coming together in a caring, respectful way to promote this grassroots health care option. Working out differences through a cooperative process benefits everyone. Penny Park in Silver City exists as an excellent example of how the vision of three or four women became the vision and reality for thousands of children and adults through persistence, cooperation, negotiation and fundraising.
We live in a time and place where people, including the medical and hospital-based healthcare providers, are embracing a wide variety of health choices for body, mind and spirit. Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City has pilot programs utilizing massage, aromatherapy and pet therapy, for example. A labyrinth funded by the Rotary Club is now in the medical center's courtyard for the whole community to use, day or night.
Whether we are gardeners or not, we can all become part of the greater vision for a healthier community. Community-based gardens need planners and organizers, computer-skilled persons to develop an e-mail list of new and existing supporters (many signed an interest list on May 19), laborers, teachers, city and county planners, speakers, writers, herbalists, gardeners and bulletin-board creators. These efforts need garden tools, perennial herbs, money, land, construction materials, drip-irrigation systems, hoses, wheelbarrows and more.
Some local resources to contact are: