Roots of Health

It might seem like a doctor’s office is the opposite of a farm. Think of a sterile exam room filled with medical equipment—a place where dirt is definitely not welcome. But for physician Daphne Miller, what happens in the exam room is directly linked to agriculture, from the microbes in the soil to the nutrition of the food itself.

“What is so striking about my work, and for most doctors, is that you realize that the majority of problems that ail us have food as their root cause. So years ago I started to become interested in the connections between nutrition and health,” Dr. Miller says.

She embarked on a journey that took her out of her primary care practice in San Francisco and onto farms across the country. In her book, Farmacology, she visits seven farms, ranging from a ranch in Missouri to an urban farm in the Bronx. It’s an experience that shifted her perspective on healthcare.

“Traveling to these various farms and interning with farmers was a way for me to begin to understand everything from soil ecology, to different farming systems, to the connection between water cycles and our health. So it really was like going to medical school all over again,” she says.

Dr. Miller visited a biodynamic produce farm in Washington state called Jubilee. While she was weeding broccoli and learning about healthy soil, she thought about a patient she calls Allie. Allie was struggling with irritable bowel syndrome and stomach pain. When she first came to Dr. Miller’s practice, she had whittled her diet down to soy bars and not much else.

“She asked me, ‘What can I eat that would be healthy?’ Rather than giving her a list or referring her to some invented diet, I thought the best thing for her to do would be to actually connect with a farm that is a diversified farm, that’s growing this whole rainbow of fruits and vegetables, that’s treating its soil in a very healthy way, and promoting healthy soil microbes. If she were to eat from that farm and really follow the diversified farm diet, I thought that would help her gut on so many levels both, in terms of the microbial load that she would get from the food, but also from the nutrients and from the diversity of the food itself and from the healthy fiber.”

So Dr. Miller gave Allie what she calls a “farm prescription” to eat a diverse range of farm-fresh produce and engage with local agriculture. Allie joined a CSA and started eating fresh vegetables again. She also volunteered at a school garden where she came in contact with soil each week, absorbed Vitamin D from the sun, and engaged in physical activity.

“I can’t tell you what piece of this made a difference, but the whole package made a tremendous difference in her health,” Dr. Miller says. “So it got me thinking about the fact that these farms that are producing healthy food year-round with healthy soil and a diversity of foods are kind of offering us template for a diet.”

Dr. Miller is one of a growing number of physicians and healthcare professionals who are working to close the gap between medicine and agriculture. She will give the keynote address at ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice conference, held August 26-29 in Asheville at the Omni Grove Park Inn. The conference aims to change the culture of healthcare to better support healthy eating and prevent chronic diet-related diseases.

“I’m encouraging the healthcare profession to look more broadly at our environment in general as a determinant of health, but specifically to pay attention to agriculture and the way our food is grown.”

Learn more about ASAP’s Healthy Eating in Practice Conference at

Aired: August 6, 2018

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