A crowd from around the world gathered in the Piazza Grande in Modena Italy. Against an architectural backdrop of thousand-year-old buildings, with cobblestones beneath our feet and dramatic evening clouds above our heads, we watched a parade of flags with children from each country carrying their flag at the opening ceremony of the 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress.
Matteo Cifariello used the universal language of mime to bring us all into a reflection on our relationship with food.
Then, with UN-like translators in our ears (where’s a Babel fish when you need one?) we heard the opening speeches, as the sky opened up and an unexpected rain began to fall. Unwelcome? Incovnenient? Perhaps — but deeply apt at a conference celebrating agriculture and the bounty we get from living soil, pure rain, and healthy plants to turn the sun’s energy into delicious energy for all of us.
Cheryl and I took cover under an awning at a delightful sidewalk cafe with our new friend Martien Lankester, executive director of Avalon — an international nonprofit based in the Netherlands that supports sustainable rural development in vulnerable agricultural areas of the world.
Martien, a physician, teacher, and organic farmer, remarked that doctors should become more like teachers, teaching people about health rathter than just prescribing medicines; teachers should become more like farmers, planting seeds of wonder in their students rather than just giving information; and farmers should become more like doctors, healing the soil rather than just harvesting crops.
I like taking all three roles together as one metaphor of Participatory Medicine — all of us acting as physician, teacher, and farmer at once — teaching people about their health, so they can care for each other and be their own primary care providers, planting seeds of wonder about our own bodies and about the interaction of our bodies with the biosphere, and nurturing the growth of healthy habits and healthy environments for us all.