The Farmacy

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Farmacology: New Book Holds Secrets for Your Health

Daphne Miller, MD finds keys to health on family farms in her new book.

“And what is this top antidepressant, Dr. Ramsey?”

Standing in her sundrenched backyard garden in Berkeley, California, my pop quiz was administered by Dr. Daphne Miller, holistic family physician and author of the recently published book Farmacology: What Innovative Fmaily Farming Can Teach Us about Health and Healing (William Morrow 2013).

I paused, stared at the plant, and shakily guessed, “St. John’s Wort?”  The moment seems to capture a major theme of Dr. Miller’s new book, Farmacology: the disconnect between our modern medical system and the roots of our health. I’ve prescribed St. Johns’ Wort to patients, reviewed the scientific trials, and written about it; yet, this was the first time I had ever seen the plant. There flowering in Dr. Miller’s garden was Mother Nature’s top antidepressant, St. John’s Wort.

I’ve been quite moved and inspired by her new book and hope you will be too. I reached out to Dr. Miller when I was in San Francisco while attending the American Psychiatric Association conference. We had planned to meet up for lunch. Instead, the day prior I received an invitation to come over for dinner. As she darted about the garden plucking herbs and fresh lemons for a salad dressing, she pointed out other medicinal herbs she grew and it was clear Dr. Miller is the real deal. I’d read her book, The Jungle Effect in which she examines the health benefits of traditional diets and lifestyle of several native cultures.  She is an engaging writer and the combination of travel and observations of a practicing physician is a wonderful mix. Her new book, Farmacology, focuses on my favorite source of health: small farms.

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Farmacology traces Dr. Miller’s trip to unique family farms and to the labs of top-notch researchers as she seeks a deeper understanding and appreciation for farms and their connection to our health.  She discovers concepts that we should consider for our own personal health, many of which will be surprising to readers, like the power of dirt and what a chicken farm can teach us about stress. She begins with a trip to Wendall Berry’s farm in Kentucky where he helps frame the questions to ask the farmers she meets and introduces the notion of the “genius of a place”.  She then completes two weeks working on a biodynamic farm outside of Seattle and learns about the importance of vibrant living soil. Her reading and curiosity guide her to a leading researcher examining the importance of the kinds of bacteria that live in our guts. And then the chase is on as Dr. Miller travels to urban gardens in the Bronx, aromatic herb farms outside Spokane, Washington, and many more seeking the ways in which our health and small farms are intertwined.

Having a foot firmly planted in traditional medicine and another foot planted in the world of integrative health gives Dr. Miller a great perspective. She never seems to have an agenda or that she is trying to convince you of anything. She is open about her questions and quibbles. She winds her way around the US finding wisdom from farmers and builds a great case for why small farms matter to our health. On a cattle farm in Missouri she bravely drinks a glass of raw milk, sure her lactose intolerance will mean an evening of discomfort. The results surprise her. She meets with a top researcher on allergies who has noted that inflammatory conditions like asthma and eczema are nearly non-existent in farm-raised kids.  She gowns in sterile clothing and enters a modern egg farm, a huge building full of de-beaked chickens pecking at her feet and ammonia levels that make it hard to breath. She follows this with a tour of an alternative system that produces free-range eggs. With each of these trips, she takes observations researchers in search of answers. She also takes us into her clinical practice where she prescribes much of the information she has learned like “become part of the farm cycle” with remarkable results.

As a fellow physician and farm-raised kid myself, I’m a bit biased (she also mentions Indiana several times and I’m a Hoosier). I deeply believe the key to our collective health is to re-connect with our food supply and the bounty of medicine on small farms. And while I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject, Farmacology was a true pleasure due to the tremendous amount I learned from Dr. Milller in this book.

I couldn’t imagine a better book to review for this blog The Farmacy than Dr. Daphne Miller’s Farmacology. I highly recommend you pick up a copy and enjoy the trip with her to some great farms around the country.  The lessons you learn will translate to better health for both you and our food supply.

Until the next post, Cheers to your brain health. Keep eating to build a better brain.

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Drew Ramsey, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and author of The Happiness Diet.

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