After Dr. Alicia Spalding graduated with her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University in 2016, she knew she wanted to make naturopathic medicine more accessible to people in her community. Naturopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that uses natural remedies like herbal medicine, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, and more to treat the root cause of an illness and help the body heal itself.
“Basically, we're licensed healthcare providers that we practice medicine from a stance of disease prevention and removing obstacles to cure,” Spalding explained.
She founded Nature Nurture Farmacy in 2018 to bring naturopathic medicine, specifically hydrotherapy and herbal medicine, to Lewis County in Western Washington.
“So, although in Washington state we’re licensed primary care providers, it’s still really hard, [because] not all insurances accept naturopath as primary care providers,” Spalding explained. “And so, a lot of folks, even if they want to access natural medicine, have a difficult time doing it.”
After moving home to start Nature Nurture Farmacy, she heard that Winlock High School, her alma mater, wanted to start a garden club. “And so, because one of our big things is that food is medicine and empowering sustainable food cultivation, I just went to the teacher who was starting the garden and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how can I support you?’” Spalding said.
And the Winlock Community Garden was born. Spalding took over the garden in spring 2019 after the teacher she was working with moved.
“We grew this beautiful garden last spring, and we follow a permaculture model,” Spalding said. “So, the idea is permanent agriculture. So, putting in trees, putting in lots of perennial herbs, things to stay every year, and then you grow your annual crops, like all your vegetables and things like that.” The garden produces approximately 100 pounds of food a week and is available for anyone to harvest. The remaining food is donated to a local food bank.
“And then this year when spring hit and COVID happened, we were super worried that none of the kids were going to get to come to the garden,” Spalding said. “So that's when we actually created Project: Food is Medicine.”
Spalding explained that they pivoted to the new project in May 2020 as Washington State entered lockdown and classes at the high school were moved online for the rest of the year. “Now, more than ever, we need to be educating folks about food,” Spalding said. “And so, this year we focused on mass production of food and just trying to get as much food to the community.”
With the help of volunteers, they put together 500 garden kits for families in the community. Each kit contained a garden manual, a dozen different seeds, and a bag of soil. The manual also contained nutritional information and the best way to prepare the fruits and vegetables they grew. Spalding explained that the kit wasn’t enough to feed a family, but it was a good starting point.
“We had really amazing feedback from the people who had never grown anything before in their life,” Spalding said. “Some people went really big and started growing good-sized gardens. People were really inspired.” Spalding said that the state eventually lifted the ban on agriculture practices, and they continued to grow the garden into the spring and summer.
Spalding joined Leading from the Roots in June and used the funding to hire a permaculture design consultant and garden coordinator, Mary Lewin, to schedule work, help implement garden plans, and organize community members to safely work in the garden. “I live here in Winlock and it’s really important to me to have this source of food sustainability and security for me and for my neighbors,” Lewin said.
Spalding hopes to expand the garden’s reach next year and also provide supplies and resources for the community. “Being in the garden is more than just growing food. Like you get your exercise, you get your connection with nature, you get your fresh air,” Spalding said. “The whole goal is maybe not everybody will be growing their own food, but if everybody understands how much work it takes to grow food and how much effort and energy goes into it, I think people will be more mindful of where they buy their food and not waste it.”