Good Food, Good Health
Written onFebruary 21 , 2014
I’m a farmer, and my favorite place in Vermont is a farm—one that has a surprise at its core. The surprise isn’t the lovely old farmhouse on the property or the 11 acres of organically farmed vegetables, but the fact that the farm and its bounty are part and parcel of my doctor’s office: Sojourns Community Health Clinic in Westminster.
Mountains, farm fields, towering pines and maples, and herb and flower gardens frame the clinic, located in the 1800s farmhouse. Inside, the waiting room is not a waiting room, but an invitation. The walls are a light-saturated deep orange. There are live plants. There is beautiful music. There are windows, with beautiful views. There are armchairs. There is hot herbal tea if I’d like it. On the ground floor is the apothecary, well supplied with supplements, minerals, vitamins, tinctures, and teas. An infrared sauna is available. Local and regional art is showcased on the upper level. Peace cranes of all colors descend from ceiling to floor near the stairwell.
And just beyond the farmhouse, there’s the farm. It is farmed organically by the Harlow family, who own Harlow Farm, also in Westminster. Paul Harlow grows a variety of vegetables on the Sojourns land, including Swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage, sweet corn, green beans, and potatoes, and sells the produce through a farm stand, CSA shares, and wholesale. The Harlows farm the land with the agreement that some of the crops are donated to local food shelves and schools, and the fields are gleaned as part of the Vermont Food Bank gleaning project. (Sojourns practitioners are also welcome to glean there for personal use.)
This relationship to local, sustainable agriculture was written into the founding documents of Sojourns. It is “part of the vision of who we are and what we do,” according to naturopathic physician Clif Steinberg. Founded in 2000 by Dr. Linda Haltinner, a chiropractic physician, Sojourns is an interdisciplinary medical clinic, offering primary care, biological medicine, women’s care, wellness support, and extensive health education to both clients and the local community. Today it is home to more than 20 practitioners who combine standard allopathic health care with the best of alternative treatments.
“Good health care is intrinsically connected to the land, and to good food practices,” Clif says. “In order to be healthy individuals, we need a healthy local economy and environment.”
The local economy and environment are definite priorities in the clinic’s apothecary, impressively stocked with a wealth of local products: supplements from DaVinci Lab, a Vermont-based company; body balms and butters from Stones of Wisdom of West Brattleboro; insect repellent from Skeeter Scatter, also of Brattleboro; healing salves from Jill Kiel of Putney; herbal extracts and tinctures from plants gathered in Vermont and Massachusetts by clinic herbalist Bonnie Bloom of Blue Crow Botanicals; locally harvested chaga mushrooms for tea and mushroom extracts for year-round immune support from Mission Mushroom in Guilford; and unheated raw honey from Dick Brigham’s in Shrewsbury.
And of course, there are the clinic’s own medicinal herb gardens, inaugurated in 2012 on Climate Action Day and Cinco de Mayo. The gardens are maintained by volunteers and staff practitioners, and already provide calendula, nettles, and hops for the clinic’s apothecary.
At Sojourns, there are MDs, NDs, RNs, PTs, OTs, chiropractors, and nutritionists. There are options for primary care, preventative and family medicine, women’s health, and biological medicine. But that’s not all. The nurse practitioner is also a licensed acupuncturist. The executive director is also a homeopath. The physical therapist also offers craniosacral therapy. And one of the massage therapists also has a little three-legged pooch with big eyes and a waggy tail, named Miss Bee. Miss Bee is a registered therapy dog.
Sojourns is a new model in medicine, a holistic model, one that recognizes that people are just that—people, with concerns of the mind, body, and spirit, and not merely diseases to be dissected or problems to be solved. As a biodynamic farmer, I like to view my own farm in a similar way, as a whole organism, worthy of care and attention on manifold levels. From the front desk to the practitioners’ rooms to the billing office, the Sojourns clinic—no, the people at the clinic—have always treated me as a whole person, and that in itself promotes well-being.
Sojourns showcases some of the best aspects of Vermont life with its focus on what is local, human, sustainable, compassionate, and agricultural. And this focus rises organically from the very ground where it grows and thrives.