The folks at MOSES (that's the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) were kind enough to allow me to reprint this summary of Dr. Alan Greene's keynote at the 2009 Organic Farming Conference, written by colleague and friend Bridget O'Meara; this is part two.
Crisis and Transformation
Dr. Greene did not always understand the link between farming practices and human health, however. In fact, although he has long had a keen interest in nutrition, his pediatric medical training and his early years in practice were very conventional--until an unforeseen series of events changed the course of his life.
As pediatrician in the 1990s, Greene enjoyed his relationship with families in his care. Then the payment system changed and, in a year and a half, he went from seeing 3 families an hour to 8 families an hour; visits went from 20 minutes to 7 minutes. This changed quality of healthcare he could provide. He and his wife Cheryl started Dr. Greene's website (www.drgreene.com), the first of its kind, to stay connected and make health information available to families. The response was enormous, as more and more people sought out information online.
It was during this time that a lump was found in Cheryl's breast. Greene pauses and, with his voice full of emotion, recalls that Cheryl's primary concern was what to feed Austin, their nine-month old son. "There is this deep instinct in all of us to feed our kids the best. Sometimes we run into obstacles and it might be something like cancer or it might be school lunch program or TV advertising or fast food, but the instinct is there, in all of us, to feed our kids great stuff." The crisis led Greene to explore more deeply the questions of "What is best?" and "What are real differences in the quality of food we feed our children?" He could no longer say it was all the same. "How we feed babies and all of us changes us--it changes our minds, how we think; it changes our immune system; it changes how we grow; it changes our mood, our behavior, our attention. It changes so much about our lives." He began to realize that conventional medicine had significant gaps regarding the relationship between nutrition and health.
Further research into causes of breast cancer revealed direct and well-substantiated links between pesticide use and cancer rates in agricultural communities. Cheryl had grown up on a seedless-grape farm in central California and had been exposed to pesticides throughout her childhood. The pesticides used on her farm when she was girl had already been linked to breast cancer. "In fact," as Greene notes, "the closer that a woman's room is to the field the higher the risk of breast cancer--you can measure it in feet." He had learned nothing in his conventional training about this research... it was outside the vision of medicine.
"It was then I really got it: Good food, grown right is not just some optional nice little side-dish but it is actually the core issue of human health."
(Cheryl survived and is healthy today, thirteen years later, in large part to good food.)