“How do you provide Community Service?”
These six words from a ten year old Girl Scout created a turning point that led me on a beautiful journey. Like most physicians, my life revolved around long hours, insurance-based patient care, living through the frustration of paperwork, struggling to stay on time and juggling family and work with little time for self-care.
The current healthcare model left me cynical with little energy or attention to be really present for my patients, my loved ones and myself. I needed to do something to revive my passion and love for medicine.
My transformation started two years ago when I found Integrative Medicine. This was a healer’s journey. I found a tribe of fellow physicians who reminded me that only as I healed, I would have more to offer my patients.
Part of my growth was to personally embrace a healthy lifestyle that included nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress reduction, social connections and then share this knowledge to the lives I touch every day.
So, when I was asked: “How do you provide Community Service?” in an interview with a young Girl Scout, I realized I needed to do more to cultivate awareness of a healthy lifestyle and true wellness.
Through my struggle to find a genuine answer, I searched my heart for purpose, meaning and intention. Like most physicians, I entered into medicine to help people, improve their health, and make a meaningful difference in their lives. How can I make a REAL difference?
It was simple. A community garden.
I wanted to create a safe green space for children and adults to grow organic foods, play in nature, engage in movement and build friendships. What better place than a nurturing garden to build a sense of community, teach kids and adults where real health can be cultivated and rejuvenated. A place where families with limited income could become self-sufficient in creating their own food source and empower them to overcome childhood obesity, chronic disease and disability. A garden would give the young a place to foster personal development, service to their community and learn valuable life skills. Being close to nature will encourage people to change their attitude towards eco-responsibility and engage them in water conservation, composting, and use of recycled materials and save our planet.
So, why should YOU champion a community garden in your neighborhood?
Home Grown Food = Health.
Is there anything more rewarding than harvesting a fruit or vegetable you nurtured from seed? Growing your own food means you have control of the soil, avoiding the heavy metals, toxins, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and contaminated water that can have toxic effects on our health. You can nourish the soil with nutrients and minerals to improve the flavor, taste and phytonutrients in your food. Growing your crops with the stress of the sun and wind also increases the antioxidant potential of your food that creates resilience in the fruit and therefore in you.
Gardening provides an outlet for physical activity. Pulling weeds, digging, planting, watering, and cultivating soil can provide regular exercise for the young and old. Organically grown food provides a long term solution to disease prevention, decreased healthcare costs and healthier communities.
Home Grown Food = Happiness.
Gardening can be a meditative exercise. A connection with the soil, plants, sun and air can promote mental and emotional wellness. It can help distract you from stress, pain, fatigue and worry. Cultivating happiness through a mindful activity like gardening can be a source of self-care and self-healing. Being present in the garden, focusing on the task at hand, escaping the world of stress is a mindful process. The satisfaction of developing a garden releases dopamine in the brain surging a feeling of accomplishment, leading to better mental wellness. Looking forward to your garden growing, planning for the future, and enjoying the fruits of your labor fosters true happiness. Happiness is a state of being that can be achieved through a connection with nature.
Home Grown Food = Harmony.
A garden can build relationships with others nurturing our desire to be part of community, spending time with family and developing new friendships. Research shows social isolation is more detrimental to health than cigarette smoking and obesity. Not only do we cultivate relationships with others, which affects our emotional wellbeing, we work to live in harmony with other animals, birds, insects, plants and the earth. It fosters an understanding of taking care of the environment and leads an effort to conserve, recycle and reduce pollution. Living in harmony with the planet and respecting nature are lessons we can teach our children, family, friends and community.
You are more powerful than the prescriptions you provide. You influence people daily, they listen, follow and share the information you give them. As leaders in our community, we can make the most impact on population health, preventative care and true wellness by promoting a healthy lifestyle and leading by example.
I challenge you to start a grass-roots effort in your neighborhoods, towns or organizations to encourage individuals to start growing their own food, spending time in nature, include physical movement and reconnect with others. Start today by finding your true calling as healers and bring lasting wellness to your communities.