Growing a Healthier Health Care System in Albuquerque’s South Valley

 

Travis McKenzie

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” – Hippocrates

Fresh, local, organic food heals our minds, bodies and souls. Foods and herbs have been used to heal and sustain our lives for a long, long time. It is only recently in human existence that we have been forced to deal with a bombardment of cheap, processed, industrial junk food that is poisoning people and creating health disparities for low-income communities while creating big profits for huge corporations. It is only in recent times that we have been devaluing and losing our connection to traditional medicines, replacing them with pharmaceutical and synthetic products. For thousands of years, food and agriculture were dependent on community efforts, and medicine was more than pills. Now, more than ever, with our fast-paced, changing world, we need to rediscover our traditional knowledge of food as medicine and cultivate healthy, organic food.

In 2015, Cornelio Candelaria Organics, Grow the Future New Mexico, Arts in Medicine (a program of the University of New Mexico) and UNM Hospital’s Southwest Mesa Clinic together presented the Food Is Medicine workshop series at the clinic in Albuquerque. The topics included diabetes, obesity, parents and children, pain management and depression. Arts in Medicine’s director, Patricia Repar, helped bring farmers, educators and health care workers together to develop these workshops. Says Repar, “Who better than those who are deeply engaged in health and wellness through food, to facilitate practical and meaningful learning experiences for people suffering from chronic pain and illness? The workshops are part of a broader ongoing effort to create an array of diverse interventions and engage people in their own healing processes.”

Doña Dora Pacias helped lead Food Is Healing Medicine workshops as a result of the knowledge and wisdom she achieved through her personal journey. “I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2001,” she said. “I was prescribed medication and advised to go on a diet. The medication lowered my blood sugar but came with side effects. After many years of frustration, I decided to try to get off the medication. I stopped eating processed foods, ate as many organic fruits and vegetables as possible, and exercised. Six months later, I was able to gradually stop taking the diabetes medication, and, soon after, I was off the prescription for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I am now off all prescription medications, and my diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure are all within normal ranges.”

The final workshop of the series featured esteemed speaker Don Antonio Medina, a long-time health care activist from Mora and former president of the New Mexico Acequia Association. The event included a community conversation focused on envisioning a healthy community and what the community would like to see offered at the clinic.

Seeking to strengthen the connection between farmers and the people of the Río Arriba and Río Abajo, and to expose participants to different approaches to health and nutrition, in 2016, thanks to support from the Northeastern Regional Grant Fund of the New Mexico Community Foundation, the Food Is Medicine workshop series will be presented in Mora County. Farmers, who are setting an example through their holistic approach that incorporates traditional foods, values and cultural practices, will be featured, along with acequia-grown produce. The New Mexico Acequia Association, Cornelio Candelaria Organics and Grow the Future New Mexico will coordinate the workshops, in partnership with Mora Valley Community Health Services and the Mora County Health Council.

After the first workshop series was completed in Albuquerque, the FARMacy was created as a way to bring fresh organic fruits and veggies to the Southwest Mesa Clinic to inspire and educate the community about the importance of healthy eating and working together on the journey toward health. The FARMacy was initially set up at a clinic flu- shot event. It was a huge success. Having a plethora of fresh organic fruits and vegetables right in the lobby was quite a transformation. It was truly inspirational, giving hope for the future of community health and our health care system. The clinic has invited the FARMacy to be there on a regular basis and has also invited the farmers to create a garden at the clinic, so that patients, staff and the community can learn how to grow food, cook healthy meals and be reminded that food is medicine and medicine is food.

The Food Is Medicine workshop collaborators want to continue building partnerships in order to launch a program in which families or individuals with diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other ailments could be prescribed a weekly share of fresh organic fruits and vegetables grown at a local farm. Patients could also be brought from the clinic to the farm to experience the healing that comes from working with land, water, plants and earth.

Imagine edible landscapes in our hospitals and clinics, schools and libraries, affordable housing units and parks, so there is an abundance of healthy organic food, along with widespread cultivation of a consciousness that cares about our sacred Mother Earth and future generations.

For more information, call 505.331.6390 or 505.382.5447, email growthefuture@yahoo.com or visit www.growthefuturenm.org or www.candelariaorganics.com
Travis McKenzie is devoted to planting seeds for community needs. He is cofounder of Lobo Gardens, Project Feed the Hood, Grow the Future, and a member of the Rooted in Community National Advisory Council and the New Mexico Acequia Association’s Sembrando Semillas Intergenerational Network. McKenzie is currently farming at Cornelio Candelaria Organics in partnership with Lorenzo Candelaria and Dora Pacias.