We are pleased to announce that Dr. Stephen Rivard has accepted our invitation to be featured as a keynote speaker at the Farms, Food & Health Conference, September 26–29, Traverse City. Dr. Rivard began his career as an emergency medicine physician, and after three decades in medicine, began diversifying his investments to focus on health and organic farmland. His interest in organic farming goes beyond profit. It also includes the mission of creating a more socially conscious and sustainable future for his children. Dr. Rivard is now bringing attention to the varied illnesses associated with our current food production system. Specifically, he is concerned about the growth of Type 2 diabetes, food allergies and various cancer incidences that may be associated with our food choices and the way we grow our food.
You began as an emergency room physician, then you ended up helping farmers convert to organic agriculture. Describe your journey.
Back in 2007, one of my dearest friends, David Miller, and I were talking at a gathering. We had been friends a long time, since high school, and we’d roomed together in college. He went into banking, and I went into medicine, and we’d each been working for 30 years or so. During the discussion, he expressed his concern and displeasure with the banking industry, and I expressed my growing concerns about the system of human health care.
He explained that buying farmland is a good investment. Then we began discussing how, if we farmed it organically, we improve the value of the land.
From that discussion, the idea of Iroquois Valley Farmland was formed. We would buy farmland and convert it back to organic. Our mission would be not only to make money on farmland, but also to clean the earth and the water and the food people are eating. Those two concepts—that farmland is a good investment and that converting it to organic farming practices helps the earth and the people—came together in what our business is today, a real estate investment trust (REIT). So instead of investing in the stock market, people can invest in organic farms
FIVE (!) KEYNOTE SPEAKERS
Oran Hesterman, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Fair Food Network and author of Fair Food
Geeta Maker-Clark, M.D., Coordinator of Integrative Medicine Education and Director of Culinary Medicine, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago
Deanna Minich, Ph.D., Teaching Clinician, Certified Food & Spirit Practitioner Program and Food & Spirit, LLC
Drew Ramsey, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Stephen Rivard, M.D., Co-Founder and Corporate Medical Director, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
How did this tie to your medical understanding?
I came to see that food was the focus of most of our illness. As I had watched the health of the general population evolve over 30 years—now 40 years—of medicine, I had witnessed the fact that we are actually sicker now than we were when I first started. And the cost of health care has gone up exponentially.
Chronic inflammation makes up nearly 75% of healthcare problems we treat, and a third of our national expenditure goes to health care. It will take a paradigm shift. It sounds dramatic, but this could be achieved as a grassroots movement that will change the health care system, the economy and the environment. If we transition farms to organic on a broad scale, it will reduce pollution, reduce atmospheric changes, will clean our water and drive down the cost of eating organically. This can change the paradigm of the health care system if enough people appreciate what I am talking about.
How have your peers in the medical community responded to your ideas?
Getting the doctors to buy in is the most difficult part. We were trained in the body of what medicine is today. It’s a pharmaceutical-based, medically reactive system rather than a whole food system where we try to use no pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary. Our idea is based on a belief that whole foods can make us healthy as human beings. Research shows that over the millennia, as we developed as humans, the biota in our bodies evolved along with us. They helped keep us healthy. But modern diets don’t sustain that biota. Today, most chronic inflammation is caused by poor gut health. If we eat healthy whole foods, we can bring that biota back. Our bodies respond in positive ways.
This activity has been approved for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™.
A common criticism of organic farming is it doesn’t yield enough to feed the world. What’s your view on that?
The Rodale Institute is the single most important body that has studied this over 50 years, and they have shown convincingly that organic farming produces more food per acre than a farm using chemical pesticides. The other part of this is that in order to grow more food, we can use more land to grow food for people. Illinois is a heavily farmed state and just 1% of the land is used for growing food. We can stop using cropland to grow corn for ethanol.
We are 15 years into the local food movement, have you seen this move the needle on farmer economic stability? Can you describe an example?
This is a very cool thing. When we started Iroquois Valley Farmland, less than 1% of Americans bought organic food exclusively. Today that is at 6.5% to 7%. That is a fantastic shift in just 15 years. We started with one 150-acre farm. And the farmer who agreed to farm it organically drew derision from his local fellow farmers. But he had the courage to keep going. That 150 acres has since grown to 6,000 acres of organic farming in the same area. Farmers are seeing that economically and healthwise, it pays to make the change. Today, farmers are only able to supply 30% of the demand for organic food, so this will continue to grow economically. Not to mention it’s the good and right thing to do.