Blood, Sweat, and Food – How buying local farm products boosts vitality for you and your community
Interview with Aryn Young & Beau Burgess
Hello everyone and welcome to Field Notes, an exploration of functional medicine. I’m Rob Downey, a family practice MD and Institute for Functional Medicine certified practitioner. I’m coming to you from Seaworthy Functional Medicine in Homer, Alaska. Today we are fortunate enough to have with us Aryn Young and Beau Burgess from Blood, Sweat and Food, a local farm. Thank you for being here today!
Beau Burgess: Hey!
Aryn Young: Absolutely, we’re excited. Thank you for having us!
This is the part of Field Notes where we are interviewing local experts, and this gets paired with additional content in interviewing thought leaders in functional medicine around the country. As we put together our educational series, we felt it was really important that local experts bring this together for Alaskans. We also want to take concepts that can sometimes feel like they’re at the 10,000 foot level and bring them down to what’s happening in communities. It’s such a fascinating time to talk to you because there’s a lot of shift towards recognizing the value and importance of local farming. I think it’s a blast that our listeners are going to get to learn more about that today from people that do it day in and day out. I saw Aryn, that you describe yourself in your bio as, “I’m a lunatic farmer, unqualified to do anything.”
Aryn Young: I never know how to answer those bio questions!
Right! It reminded me of my grandfather, Tom Hawkins, a really neat guy who lived in Helena, Montana. He was a general practitioner and a general surgeon, so he came from a really interesting era. One of the things he lived by was that we not take ourselves too seriously and so your bio really reminded me of that. You all are very serious about this and very qualified, so let’s just dive right in. Your demographic is people who enjoy thinking for themselves and care about healthy food, and people who appreciate data and quality. I think a good place to start is to share any part of your bio that you want folks to know. Then fill folks in on what makes your food special or unique. What’s happening at Blood, Sweat and Food?
Aryn Young: We’ll start by getting some of the generic stuff off the table. We are a pasture-based pork, poultry and lamb operation. Everything we do has animals on pasture, allowing them to do everything their nature intended them to do. All of our pigs get to root as much as they want and they don’t see concrete a day in their lives. All of our sheep get to graze. Even our broiler chickens, which are chickens raised specifically for meat, are all on fresh pasture every day. That’s a really core tenet of what we do. Most of our animals get moved extremely frequently so that we can allow them the best life possible. We also utilize what they do best and take the nutrients they provide to the land as much as possible. That’s the elevator pitch speech about what we do, but Beau maybe you can go into more details about the specifics.
Beau Burgess: I would say none of what we’re really doing here is particularly unique, except in the fact that maybe it’s a more northerly adaptation of what some other people have been doing down south really well. I would say a good chunk of what we do is modeled on the work of Joel Salatin with Polyface Farms. Some of your listeners might be familiar with Polyface Farms through Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, or other mentions in the media. Here in the far north there are obviously different considerations because there is no pasture for half the year. There are different things we do there, but that’s really about letting the chicken explore it’s chickeny-ness, let the pig explore it’s piggy-ness, let the animals be themselves. That’s really core to what we believe in.Our pigs get to root as much as they want and they don’t see concrete a day in their lives. Our sheep get to graze and our chickens are on fresh pasture every day. That’s a really core tenet of what we do.
Michael Pollan is a hero that makes so much sense to so many people in so many domains. As a related functional medicine tenet, Mark Hymen has probably done more work than anybody else to not only be an advocate for one person’s food day-to-day but also food at a societal level. There’s a real contrast between a locally farm-raised animal fitting the description you gave versus an animal that comes from some mysterious lot in the Midwest and shows up here wrapped in cellophane. Those are loosely related at best.
Aryn Young: People ask us, “What makes your chicken different from what I could go down to the grocery store and buy, like I normally do?” We like to say, “They’re not even really the same product.” I can’t really compare those two chickens, because when you taste them they are so different you will truly not even consider that they are the same thing. They both say ‘chicken’ but they taste completely different and I can guarantee you that they were raised completely different. How an animal is cared for can affect how they store fat. The fat laid down in pasture-raised animals with no additives tends to be healthier for us.
It is helpful to people that it can be so real-world and concrete. They can listen to their palette, their body, and the feeling within their body. In terms of trying to channel Mark Hyman, if he were here right now, he’d say that there’s so much important food science about an animal relating to its environment and its day-to-day existence. What the animal receives that it’s supposed to get, and what it didn’t receive that it’s not supposed to get, such as antibiotics and hormones, are all tied to our experience as we participate in the next phase of that animal’s existence. Those nutrients come to us reverently. How an animal is cared for can affect how they store fat. The fat laid down in pasture-raised animals with no additives tends to be healthier for us, and those from other sources can be not not so good based on what they ate and how they were cared for. It just goes on and on.
Beau Burgess: We’ve generally found, or our palettes have found, that the slower the animals grow and more grasses and green things that go into their diets, the healthier, happier and tastier that that animal ends up being. From what I understand from the data, this also plays out in terms of the fat content that you actually get.
Aryn Young: Yes, of course. That relates to activity level as well. Animals that have the ability to move around in as much space as they want and be able to roam across a good chunk of land, they have a different quality about them. As you would expect for people, too.
Right. It’s common sense, thankfully.
Aryn Young: I think we all matter.
Yes, and probably part of what’s cool about what you get to do is that you get a sense of what life may have been like for many Americans over many years who were farming themselves, or had a connection to local farmers. It’s just such a critical and rich part of existence. When the process is different, the product is different. A really big part of that is the ecological and political constituency that land takes on and the way economies change as a result.
Aryn Young: That’s very true. As more and more customers visit our farm, they say the same thing. A lot of what we do involves asking people to look beyond the basic ingredients in their food. Look beyond the label of ‘chicken’ and really think about how the animal was raised. What went into it? We stress that it is really important for them to start looking at the entire life cycle of what’s on their plate.
There’s so many lines of convergence now. Mark Hymen’s talks about how obtaining what’s at the end of our fork from a local farm affects the carbon footprint of our entire planet, and how we all relate to one another. I’ve been doing some reading about Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown that outlines steps to reverse climate change. He pulled together a team of over 200 experts and endorsed certain policy changes and practices that will tend to pull carbon back out of the atmosphere, and one of those practices is regenerative agriculture. I’m getting out of my comfort zone so I may misspeak, but is ‘regenerative agriculture’ an accurate phrase?
Aryn Young: Yes, well said.
Beau Burgess: Absolutely.
And then we get into these win-wins, or win-win-win, these win-win cascades. I think that’s what so many of us are hungry for, pun intended.
Beau Burgess: To go even deeper with that, when the process is different the product is different. For us, a really big part of that is the ecological and political constituency that land takes on, and the way economies change as a result. I think with what’s going on in the world right now I like to see it as a reminder to people of the system that we’re currently dependent upon. And perhaps a reminder of its limitations and inadequacies. Lots of things are being revealed to be perhaps more fragile than we thought they were. This is a good time to remember that if something closer to home has constituency and has value in the world of human beings, and our cultures and political environment, that actually makes us stronger and it makes land stronger. To be dependent upon land is not a weakness. To be intimately connected and familiar with it, and want to husband it, actually makes that land stronger and it makes the people who depend on it stronger. That’s saying a lot, but that’s something that we really believe strongly in.
Aryn Young: Yes.
How we obtain what’s at the end of our fork from a local farm affects the carbon footprint of our entire planet and how we all relate to one another. It makes so much sense to me. I think it’s legitimately part of functional medicine because Americans coming into a functional medicine doctor’s practice can feel like it’s about, “Now I’m going to replace the cholesterol panel with the fancy cholesterol panel and I’m going to replace the lipitor with the cholesterol supplement.” What we’re talking about today is life, lifestyle, sleep, mood, community, and connection and all the people at the mastery level in functional medicine. The amazing outcomes they have are because they create a state of attunement for the people they’re working with to realize that lifestyle is the actual energy and momentum of the process. Only then does specialty testing or supplementation make a difference. Also, the mastery level functional medicine practitioners around the country motivate folks to engage in a better lifestyle, and a bunch of them don’t need the testing and the supplements. They just get better. You must hear this from people that participate in the food from your farm. They’re just feeling and doing better because the nutrient density is better, and things aren’t coming in that aren’t meant to be coming into their bodies.
Aryn Young: We’ve gotten quite a lot of feedback from customers in that realm. Some have some really specific health conditions where they’ve found, “If I don’t eat this kind of food I feel worse.” We’ve had customers come to us and say, ”I haven’t had chicken in years because I couldn’t find anything that felt good because of my restrictions. Now I can finally eat that again.” We’ve heard that feedback about our chicken eggs, chicken, and even pork. That’s super gratifying for us to hear. Of course, we are very focused on the lives of our animals and making sure that they’re doing well and that our land is doing well. At the end of the day, we also know this food makes a difference in people’s lives and it’s really great to get that feedback from customers. So, that’s true.
Right on. I think, Beau, you were probably referencing the agrarian and economic sovereignty for land and small communities. What a powerful phrase that is. The more we build the health and fertility of our land, the more we improve our systems and satisfy our customers. The more that money turns over within the community, the more sovereignty all of us have.
Beau Burgess: Yes, you talked earlier about how we get to experience what used to be a much more prevalent lifestyle, in some sense. Obviously, I feel fortunate to have the technology and understanding of the modern world from DNA and the cosmos all the way down that those people did not have. I realize that the more we build the health and fertility of our land, the more we improve our systems, and the more we satisfy what our customers want. The more that money turns over within the community, the more sovereignty all of us have, and the more opportunities and choices. When you look out at a culture where so many people are afraid or trapped in an urban environment, or living paycheck to paycheck, it becomes much clearer what the value of that sovereignty really is and what choices it gives us. That’s a hard thing for people to hear, and it certainly doesn’t mean I think everyone should go out and be a livestock farmer. But when people have something to fall back on that’s in the backyard, so to speak, that definitely changes what their choices are.
I love that word ‘sovereignty’ because it challenges us. At least it challenges me. It takes me to a place I’ve been in during this series of podcasts and blogs so far. I’ve gotten to talk with a number of different folks about locus of control. When people perceive locus of control as outside of themselves, a lot of disease tends to follow in the wake. Then, when people bring their locus of control within, the excuse making has to go away, which is a pain point but it’s also a point of liberation.
Beau Burgess: Absolutely. The idea of sovereignty challenges us to ask if our lives can be magnificent. Our internal locus of control, sovereignty, and a sense of security and peace are all entwined.
To me there’s an extra dimension because sovereignty is such a regal term, it then challenges us to ask if our lives can be magnificent. Can we be magnificently empowered? Can we really feel great about our day? Can we really feel great about our dollars going around seven times before they leave our community? The smile on somebody’s face because there’s so many dimensions to how we relate. To me then, this internal locus of control and what you’re describing as sovereignty and a sense of security and peace are all entwined.
Beau Burgess:Yes, it’s huge. We’re just beginning to understand all the ramifications, as you probably know better than we do.
Yes, I think we’re all seeing and experiencing different facets that are all inter-related. I got to talk with a really neat lady earlier in the day who’s a naturopathic doctor down in Eugene, Oregon. We were talking about how so much of the concepts in functional medicine are within the realm of systems biology and that humans can be sort of viewed as ecosystems. Each part of the system is talking to and interacting with other parts of the system all the time. There’s all of this complexity and interdependence. The whole thing’s all one thing. That’s different from what I interpreted as a more mechanistic perception of health.
We’ve got good data that whatever knowledge doctors get in med school and residency are carried throughout their careers. It sort of imprints them. I’m 20 plus years out now so it may have changed. During the time I went through med school and residency maybe I didn’t listen attentively enough, but I took away a more mechanistic view of conventional medicine. The heart’s a pump, the nerves are wires.
So much of functional medicine is saying there’s a human microcosm, and within us we’ve got a microbiome, then our whole bodies are an ecosystem, or part of a local cultural and social ecosystem, which is embedded within the earth’s ecosystem. I think it challenges us to be stewards in a bigger way. That is capital ‘S’ Stewards of so many ever-expanding concentric rings that are important. I loved that Michael Pollan saying, ”Look, if you’re stressed out by all of this, start gardening.” I read that in his New York Times Magazine article in Drawdown called “Why Bother?” I know we’re talking about farming today, but he just said, ”Start growing your own garden, you’re going to feel better.”
Aryn Young: Yes, you’ll feel a lot better when you start to take that holistic approach, whether it’s with your own health, the ecosystem, or the economy. When you start to see how it all interrelates and take that view, then suddenly you can see those win-win scenarios that weren’t evident to you before because you were not seeing the entire picture.
It’s an extra dimension of health when diseases don’t advance because we’ve built up reservoirs of vitality that are around connection, community, and local resilience. I thought that even the other day, when the hospital employees were fortunate enough to have some Homer Bucks. Homer Bucks are a form of paper money that can be spent like cash at many local businesses in Homer, Alaska. When I took those Homer Bucks to a local business I had this sense that these Homer Bucks will on average go to six other people before it leaves.
The social dimension I wanted to flag was that I drove out a couple of years ago to check out your farm. I definitely wanted to mention this today. I pulled up and I said, ”Hey, how are you all doing? I’ve been wanting to find your farm.” You were there, Aryn, with what appeared to be some of the interns from that year. You took a minute to pop over the fence and talk. As we were wrapping up somebody teased me and said, ”Yeah, man, we’re going to put you out of business,” in such a good way. Because our goal in society as doctors is to put ourselves out of business. We don’t have a version of society that makes sense without farmers and gardeners, because it’s an integral fabric of an intact society just like education, story telling, etc.
The idea that people need doctoring kind of fits something that my dad, as a retired dentist, would say. He’d say that it was always his goal to put himself out of business. He’d always encourage people to try to take such good care of their teeth that they would never need him. It’s an extra dimension of health when we think about building vitality and resilience in ways where these diseases don’t advance into our physiology, because we’ve built up reservoirs of vitality that are around connection, community, and local resilience. It just spills over into so many areas. It’s so much more beautiful and multifold than a more impoverished existence, which is more fear-based, and sort of scrabbling around and not as empowering.
Beau Burgess: For me, honestly, Wendell Berry sums it up best. He says, ”Health is wholeness. Health is acknowledging the inter-connectedness. Seeing the scales.” You don’t really even need to go too much deeper than that, in my opinion. It’s just acknowledging where you’re small, where you have an influence, and where you don’t. Every time I read it, I’m like, ”Yeah!”
A friend of mine actually got to meet with Wendell Berry a number of years ago when he was completing his doctoral education. He was kind of jittery because Wendell Berry was his hero, and then they bumped into another person who was also a luminary in that whole area of relation to the land. My friend describes being sort of starstruck because he was in the proximity of these two. He thought they were going to get into all these heavy concepts and mind blowing stuff, but they both spent an hour talking about the benefits and downsides of mules versus draft horses. The daily decisions you make that often termed mundane or boring end up making the biggest difference.
Aryn Young: I’m sure you’ve noticed this too, with medicine or anything else, that’s a lot of what we’re talking about comes down to. It’s those daily decisions that you make. It’s kind of what people term mundane or boring, those things that you do every day. We feel this with farming and with the food that you eat and whatever you’re doing. Those things are what end up making the biggest difference.
Right, and it can be a little hard to describe if people haven’t experienced it. Actually, I had a pain point when we opened the functional medicine clinic at South Peninsula Hospital four years, the two coaches there had talked to people that I had taken care of around seven years ago at another functional medicine clinic in town. At that time, during the first visit, I would talk about lifestyle, testing, and supplementation. I think in America you just hear the part that’s about the pills and the tests. It’s sort of how our brains are wired in American culture. Maybe that’s changing.
Some of the folks I had treated early on that didn’t do well would talk to my coaches around town and say, ”I didn’t get what I was hoping for.” I realized, in retrospect, that I needed to draw a line during visit one, and say, ”You have skin in the game. This is a lifestyle, this is lifestyle medicine. Once you have skin in the game any and all things become possible. If you don’t want to have skin in the game then let’s not call it anything other than a disconnect from the start.”
I love it when people find out that they don’t have to be a scientist, and that it doesn’t have to be fancy. The abundance they experience can just emerge as they do some things that are sensible, feel good, and feel ‘commonsensical.’
Beau Burgess: Yes, and again, back to the theme of sovereignty over everything else. There’s a whole set of challenges that come with claiming responsibility for your own health, or your own opinion, or your own feelings, or anything else. There’s a lot that comes with that. But I think the biggest benefit is the opportunity and richness that comes with life and experience. Who you are then is more an act of creation than it is an act of being afraid or reacting to things happening around you. When you have skin in the game you start to ask yourself, “What are the things I can do daily to make sure I’m not just reacting to my outside environment?” That helps you heal and create a better you and better ecosystem.
Aryn Young: I think your point about reacting is pretty spot-on in terms of what we see where people often prescribe medications for whatever issue is going on and don’t look deep down into the lifestyle, diet, or anything else that goes with it. You’re reacting to a surface problem. We see that a lot in farming as well, this reacting to a surface problem. If you don’t have enough nitrogen, put down a certain kind of chemical nitrogen. If you have a pest, just spray it and kill it and be done with it. You end up living in the space of constantly reacting to what’s happening outside of you that feels outside of your control, except just reacting to it.
As you and Beau mentioned, that changes when you start to take the position that, “I have the power. I have skin in the game. I have something that I can do about this.” You start to ask yourself, “What are the things I can do daily to make sure I’m not just reacting to my outside environment? That fear goes away because you’re constantly looking at, “How can I make this better?” For us, it’s adding animals to the land so that we have that nitrogen input, and then we don’t have to add anything that’s not organic. We’ve got that covered. We don’t see those issues. We do rotational grazing with different types of animals so we don’t see those pest outbreaks. We feel like we’re creating and molding an ecosystem, rather than just reacting to things that happen to us.
Beau Burgess: I’m so glad you’re here. I would probably ruin this interview without you.
Aryn Young: I don’t know what that means, but I’ll take it!
I’m glad you mentioned that because those 2-3 page essays that I read in Drawdown about those kinds of principles were summaries so that I could start to get my head around that. I think people are really wanting good news right now, and especially authentically good news. So, when there’s these win-win-wins, where the land and the animals and the people and the stewards and the consumers can all win, it sounds too good to be true. That’s because we’ve fallen into false dichotomies, perhaps in response to stress. We either need to get the nitrogen into the soil somehow or it’s not going to be there, and so something will go awry and not be very good. It’s treated as a dichotomy, as this or that.
I think with functional medicine that it’s ‘this and that,’ rather than ‘this or that.’ I’ll have people come in to see me and say they’re happy because they’re eating vegetables and locally-sourced farm content. They need less blood pressure medicine, or less cholesterol medicine. So there’s a freshness on my end, in that I recognize it’s that person’s empowerment to engage the process, have an experience, take a journey. Sometimes they don’t feel like getting on a treadmill until we get past the point they know I’m not going to hassle them about their medication. I’m going to respect them on their journey. Then when they want to know about the treadmill or the walking, they’re like, ”I’m ready for the next step. I got this dose reduction.” I just love it and that it’s an organic process that unfolds based on respect and insight in this, and not these zero sum game situations that stress us all out and they don’t even have to exist.
Beau Burgess: Yes.
Aryn Young: Yeah, I think we see a lot of that in terms of our type of farming as well. It’s not the case that you either have to have your animals in this environment or lose productivity. It’s more about, “Okay, how do we respect the animal, what it is, and what it does? What is the best life it can live and have productivity? How can we increase the health of that animal and increase its productivity? And increase the value that we get and our consumers get? How do we do that?” When you start to look at the ecosystem and the holistic model, suddenly again those win-win-win scenarios start popping up. You’re not trapped in that idea of, “I have to have my pigs on concrete or they’re not going to grow well,” or, “I’m going to waste a bunch of money,” or whatever it is.
Beau Burgess: Definitely. Being able to stack functions in a way where one function’s waste product or by-product is another’s benefit is just hugely satisfying. It’s highly manipulative, in the sense that you’re intervening in a very intelligent and thoughtful way, but you’re doing it more as a facilitator rather than an exploiter.
Aryn Young: Exactly.
Beau Burgess: And that is something we could talk for hours. Just like talking about the difference between a mule or a draft horse.
Aryn Young: Which, is funny you should say that because we’ve talked about that.
Beau Burgess: We’ve had that debate.
Aryn Young: We’ve had that exact conversation. I’m pretty sure it lasted about an hour.
Beau Burgess: But when you start getting into the nuance of, for example, given the nature of that pasture, am I going to hit it with the sheep first and then follow it with the pigs? Or is that pasture in a condition where I need to graze that grass down so that I can run the chickens after it to break up the cycle of the sheep. You’re constantly just walking around, interacting with land and that head space, which is super satisfying, but it takes a lot of mental work.
It’s so cool because there are parallels. What you all experience on your farm and what I witness my patients experiencing is that they need to sort of come into that head and heart space of engagement. And start looking around in a clear-eyed fashion. It’s not cook book-y, it’s not algorithmic. No two farms are the same. No two farmers are the same as a couple supporting their land. And yet, these wonderful, abundant things can happen over and over again because we’re working with processes that want homeostasis, that want to be productive. I love the phrase you used that we’re stewards. We’re putting things in the right places and then good things happen. We’re not manipulating or extorting the process.
Aryn Young: I think we can again tie it back into what you see with your patients. If you don’t have the background initially that leap can be hard to make, but once you start to see that this animal grew better and this animal is healthy then suddenly you want to take the next step. You want to figure out how you can do more. You want to see how you can get back onto that treadmill and go a little bit further. Once you start to see that snowball effect, and it really is a snowball effect, you start to really get that engagement and feeling of, “This is working! I can see that this is working! It’s not just something someone is telling me to do because it’s the right thing to do.” That’s a really exciting feeling.
People always want to know if they should buy only organic products. What do people need to know about whether farming needs to be organic or not? That’s going to be really cool for our listeners to hear. I want to make sure and ask you about something that you mentioned in the materials you provided for today’s talk. People will ask themselves, where does organic fit into this? Is that a dilemma you all struggled with when you thought about starting your farm? What do people need to know about whether farming needs to be organic or not? Is that something we should talk about today?
Beau Burgess: Yes, I think the thing to keep in mind that you already touched on is that no two farmers are the same. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So definitely keeping an open mind and informing yourself is the best place to go. For us, we spend a lot of time really thinking about our priorities and our values for our farm. A big part of that includes the benefits of sovereignty, autonomy, and resilience that come from feeding into our community and how our community feeds into us. All things being equal, if I was comparing an organic product on the shelf with a product next to it that isn’t labeled as organic, I would choose the organic product for sure. But how organic products are sourced and brought to market is a factory process in many instances still. The institution of being organic is kind of an industrial process. It’s probably far superior than the industrial process that’s not organic. But for us, we really think about how we want to provide something that’s affordable to our customers that we are sourcing as close to home as possible.
The most specific example of this that it really comes down to is that we feed a great deal of ground barley as one of our feed inputs. One, because we like the effects of barley versus corn or some of the other alternatives. But also because barley is what we can buy that’s grown here in the state locally that supports our other local farmers. There’s not enough of an industry or an economic footprint for the barley growers in Alaska to go get organic certification.
When we think about what being organic for us would mean for us, we would then be bringing products such as feed from the lower 48 up the long highway, spending a lot more carbon, and buying things that are not really supporting our local economy. Our assumption is that the process of how we handle our animals and where we source things might, in certain arenas, give us more benefit than simply sourcing something that has a certain label. We can’t base this specifically on data, although there’s some data that points to it. With that being said, there are a lot of things in the organic practice that we mirror or that we utilize because we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Absolutely not!
Aryn Young: I think what we ask our customers to do, again, is look beyond labels. Look beyond ingredients but also look beyond labels. Just because something that’s locally grown isn’t labelled ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean that it was not grown with organic principles in mind or that it’s not super healthy for you. We have an open-farm policy for all of our customers and we really encourage other farms to have the same. We let them know that, ”If you have any question about how things are done on our farm, we have complete transparency. Please come and see how it’s done.” We encourage people to come see where their food is coming from and how it’s being grazed and done. We’ve had a couple of challengers that only buy organic take us up on it. When they came they were like, ”Wow, this is great, I can see that you guys are adhering to all the organic principles that I care about,” which is primarily no growth hormones, no antibiotics, things like that. When we describe the reasons why we can’t certify, or haven’t chosen to certify organic right now it makes a lot of sense to most people. We ask customers to look beyond labels. Just because something that’s locally grown or isn’t labelled ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean that it was not grown with organic principles in mind, or that it’s not super healthy for you.
Thank you both so much! I was so excited about today. My hopes over time, and really the whole point of doing the interviews and turning them into blogs and podcasts, is that it’s a chance for people to see real-world content about real-world decisions, and real-world thoughtfulness and engagement. Life’s messy. So, there are dangers in ignoring real threats, and there’s also dangers in anything that turns into a cartoon or a cliché, or even a healthy or helpful label. That can become an invisible restraint on our awareness of what matters. I think it just becomes super important that I keep talking to experts who are out there doing this so that people’s minds stay kind of fluid. Our pursuit of truths is a process, too. It’s not a black-and-white end point.
I wanted to add something you all might find interesting. A person I’ve been fascinated by is Terry Wahls. She is an MD who is well-known for reversing her own multiple sclerosis (MS) with functional medicine. The reason her story stands out so much is because she herself is an internal medicine MD who wasn’t initially interested in functional medicine, but she was becoming wheelchair-bound. So she just did a data-driven search on what turns around multiple sclerosis in autoimmunity. She bought a bunch of CDs from the Institute for Functional Medicine, and she stabilized her disease with supplements. When she changed her food she got out of bed and even got out of her wheelchair. She’s on the institutional review board at the University of Iowa, and they repeated what she did with other patients. Because she worked at the Veterans Administration Medical Center these veterans with multiple sclerosis would see her and say, ”Hey, Dr. Wahls, I want to do what you do.” She would say, ”I’m busy, I’ve got a big clinic and a gazillion veterans to take care of. You can see me in person after you’ve eaten nine cups of vegetables a day for 100 days.” Three cups a day from three food groups for 100 days!
Her team was supporting these people, doing their tests, and keeping their medications rolling. Her approach was being used but they didn’t earn a visit with Dr. Wahls. The really mind blowing thing is that she’s got data on how these veterans did. Preliminary case studies show reduced severity of MS symptoms in patients who follow her dietary recommendations. These were not organic vegetables. You have a group of veterans who either can’t or won’t. They either don’t have the financial means to buy nine cups a day of organic vegetables, or they’re dismissive. I think it’s important for me to keep learning and yet get knocked out of the ruts of my learning at the same time, all the time. I’m just fascinated by it. It’s so humbling.
Aryn Young: Yes, it’s a really interesting issue. I think it goes back to another point we made earlier, which is any time you get into a situation of feeling obligated to choose this or that, then it should sound some alarm bells that say,”Okay, let’s take a look at this.” It’s either organic or it’s not good for you. Of course, life is not like that as you mentioned. Anytime you get into those ruts it’s really worth stepping out and starting to think about what is actually involved in what you’re deciding on.
Right on! You all have given us a ton of time today, and by us I mean me and the listeners that will check this out. Is there anything you’re passionate about, or is there a big ‘aha moment’ you’ve had that you wanted to share today that we didn’t get to?
Beau Burgess: Something that we touched on that I think is super important is this idea of animals on land. The irony is that I eat a lot of vegetables, and that meat is actually a very small part of my diet. There’s often a discussion about should you eat meat, or should you eat vegetables? I feel that’s a discussion for people to figure out totally on their own using good data. For us and for me, the real side of the question is that land has animals. Land has animals because they’re an important part of the fertility equation of land. They’re a really important component of bringing that fertility back to the land, and of disturbing the land. You mentioned homeostasis earlier. My understanding of homeostasis as a farmer, or even as our knowledge of ecology has come along, has changed so much because a state of constant growth and disruption is part of that balance. Animals bring that to land. Animals are an important part of the land fertility equation. They bring fertility back to the land and disturb the land. Homeostasis involves a state of constant growth and disruption, and animals bring that to the land.
Aryn Young: Yes, and that disruption actually brings more health with it. He mentioned the fertility aspect of it. And then it’s also the disturbance of the plants aspect of it. Grass actually grows better and is more vital when it’s disturbed, when it’s grazed a little bit. That’s true for different aspects of the ecosystem as well. I think that’s been a really fascinating component of what we do, is seeing how that disturbance brings even a healthier vitality to the land.
Beau Burgess: It’s just a part of the discussion that I feel doesn’t happen as often. We can totally think about us, but when you look at it, nature definitely plays into it.
I love that, and I love that it’s a new area for me. I’d been aware of facets of how animals impact the land based on things that my parents really cared about when I grew up in Montana, but the things you’ve been talking about today and those chapters in Drawdown really expanded my consciousness about all of this. I guess to me it’s just so neat. I think that so many of us want to all move forward together somehow, and these principles allow us to do that because they illuminate the inter-connectedness, and highlight that many processes in nature are interdependent and not in conflict. We’ve come so far from the way things used to be. It would have to be a very specific and deliberate act to reground our awareness in what’s really happening out there, like the disruption and the fertilization of the land then being part of the vitality of the land. This is probably 101 stuff for Wendell Berry, but for me I’m like, ”That’s cool! That’s so cool!”
Beau Burgess: I know when I first started thinking that way that all the different assumptions I’d had about land and ecosystems and conservation were challenged by that. At first it was overwhelming, and then it became really beautiful.
Yes, it is beautiful! Anything else you all want to share that we didn’t get to?
Beau Burgess: You can find us on the Interweb at Blood, Sweat and Food and we’re crazy lunatic farmers!
Aryn Young: Yes, that’s us!
For listeners watching the podcast on the Seaworthy Functional Medicine website, listening on YouTube, or reading the blog version you can follow all of the hyperlinks to the folks we’ve mentioned here today in the show notes. They’ll be able to click on Wendell Berry and learn more about him. Or Michael Pollan or what have you. I highly recommend that listeners visit your website, which I enjoyed doing just the other day, and then go learn more and just keep exploring. I just can’t thank you both enough!
Beau Burgess: Thank you for doing what you’re doing and just helping integrate this message and helping people to see the bigger picture!
I’m Delighted, it’s a privilege! I get to meet my tribe every Thursday. I feel like the luckiest guy around.
Aryn Young: That’s great!
Beau Burgess: That’s cool!
Rob Downey, MD
Founder of Seaworthy Functional Medicine