It's been nearly two dozen centuries since Hippocrates, the "Father of Western Medicine," walked the Earth; yet his famous quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," rings truer than ever.
Amidst the epidemic proportions of chronic disease and obesity plaguing the U.S., more people are clamoring for healthier diets and lifestyles. Americans have expressed interest in local and organic eating, but access to truly organic and locally-produced food is often restricted. Many of the large agriculture operations that dominate the market rely on monocultural food production and whole-selling to the food processing and manufacturing industry.
For the consumer, connecting with local and regional farmers – literally knowing where their food is coming from – to find healthy, natural foods can be a herculean task. One medical practice, Ethos Health, is aiming help through an embrace of local, organic produce and medically-administered diets.Credit: Adam C. Uzialko
Healing through natural lifestyle changes
Nestled between two lush, rolling hills in Long Valley, New Jersey, Ethos Health is a veritable Garden of Eden, dotted with the remnants of aged buildings in various stages of rehabilitation. Headed by founder Dr. Ron Weiss, Ethos Health sets itself apart from other medical practices in one major way – it is located on 342-acres of prime farmland, where organic growers raise and harvest patients' prescribed diets. Weiss maintains that proper dieting and healthy living not only prevents chronic conditions from forming, but reverse them and mitigate the adverse impacts. [Trying to launch a private medical practice? Here's what it takes.]
"[Ethos Health] developed as a reaction to the costly drug and procedure-based American healthcare system, which for the most part … [provides] medical care that sustains people in states of chronic illness," Weiss told Business News Daily, adding that the CDC estimates 86 percent of the $3.2 trillion spent on healthcare in 2016 paid for chronic disease care.
In contrast, said Weiss, the focus of Ethos Health is to prevent and reverse chronic illness through its "farm-based healthcare system that links human health to the natural world and fosters the fundamental connections that exist between all living things."Credit: Adam C. Uzialko
As it stands today, the farm represents a small fraction of the ultimate vision. Roughly 80 acres of the property remains unproductive, while 100 acres is leased to a commercial farmer focused more on the agriculture industry's conventional methods of raising vast monocultures of soybean and corn. If the Ethos model is successful, Weiss envisions a measured, gradual expansion in which young farmers are given the tools and resources to succeed, all the while promoting the sustainable, organic mission.
"On the farming side," he said, "our vision is to develop a collaborative union of young farmers by giving them our land to grow on, educating them in sustainable farming methods and offering them technical assistance."'
A 12-acre subdivision of the charming property, which is home to some of the most productive soil in New Jersey, features the farm's organic grow operation. This section of land boasts a variety of produce and flowers, as well as native wild grasses intended to attract local insects and fauna.
Nora Pugliese, farm manager for Ethos Health, oversees agricultural operations and adheres to the strict guidelines for organic grows – even aiming to go above and beyond the regulations to ensure a genuinely organic product.
Pugliese, former manager of the CSA Stone's Throw Garden, used to joke with a friend – who first told her about Weiss's project – that she would "find this doctor and become the farm manager." Two years later, she connected with Weiss at a lecture he delivered in nearby Middle Valley. Today, she is in her fourth season managing the farm that helps support the well-being of his patients, some of whom suffer from chronic conditions that have dramatically improved since they began the program.
Not just a clinic, but a community
Ethos is much more than a place to grow healthy diets; it is also a community meeting space, which hosts yoga, luncheons and educational programming. It's important, Pugliese said, to offer people transitioning to a healthy lifestyle a supportive community to reinforce and validate the progress they're making.
The farm offers educational programming "to help patients transition into a whole-food, plant-based diet and lifestyle … because it takes time to do that," Pugliese said.
"They need support along the way, they need encouragement and they need to meet other people who are along with them on this journey. They need to understand why this is important to their health, the health of their communities and the environment around them," she added.Credit: Adam C. Uzialko
In addition, Ethos also offers one month clinical rotations to medical students and physicians looking to learn more about the practice's natural methods.
"The Ethos Primary Care medical practice is not only a primary medical home for patients, but serves as a teaching facility for medical students, interns and residents, and even practicing doctors who are seeking to learn how to reverse and prevent chronic illness with lifestyle change," Weiss said.
Weiss noted that the farm also offers plant-based cooking classes, communal pot luck meals, fitness classes, nature walks in collaboration with NJ Audubon and the farm's produce for sale at The Doctor's Farm Market, both to Ethos Primary Care patients and to the public.
The long-term vision, Weiss said, is that Ethos Health develops a model that can be replicated and expanded as far and wide as possible. The mission of the organization isn't just to grow a successful business, but a wholesale social and cultural shift toward local, organic production and conscientious healthcare based on mindfulness, lifestyle and nature.
"As the current American healthcare system becomes progressively unsustainable … I see a bright future for Ethos Health as a sustainable model of providing true healthcare, growing food and not just protecting, but renewing the earth," Weiss said. "Our long-term growth will result from building a strong team of primary care doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. The team will do everything from help new parents give birth to healthy babies, to help the elderly live rich, high quality, disease-free lives and exit the world in a dignified manner, without sapping resources from future generations."
Through the development of clinical and agricultural programming, specifically the educational programs targeting young doctors and farmers, Ethos Health is investing in the future of its model. If successful, the organic farm-to-clinic operation could become self-sustaining and replicating, which is the ultimate goal. And if successful, Ethos Health would be the pioneer of a new business model and a new way of living consistent with economic, ecological and healthcare imperatives.