(Un)sustainability Part II

Before we get to Part II of Unsustainability, I suggest that you to this blog’s home page and check out Part I of this series. I promise its worth your time.

Here’s a quick recap: We all know the healing powers of nutrition, fresh air, sunlight. Despite this knowledge, treatment centers continue to serve highly processed foods with high fat content.

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A model for the healing power of nutrition and farming, the former Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH/ MN Asylum) operated a self-sustaining farm from 1891 to 1969.  But in the 1950s, the treatment philosophy began to shift from moral treatment’s focus on rehabilitation to medication.

 

Despite the many benefits of the farm, it closed in 1969. According to the Otter Tail Record, closing the farm “evoked only gloomy nostalgia and little opposition from the community,” because of cataclysmic shifts in both treatment philosophy and economic trends in the 1960s. Fewer patients were staying at the hospital full time, in part due to the increasing use of shock therapy and tranquilizer medications.

Hm74AgF7Rnl55ytcKbjT4zSBo1_500        This ad for a tranquilizer captures the power of tranquilizers: “Patients hospitalized for many years…are now at home.”  They made successful recovery and treatment a reality for people who may have otherwise been lifelong patients. People with mental illnesses could lead could live fuller, more independent lives  in the community than in the hospital (although this is a post for another day).

The hospital had around 2000 patients in the 1930s, then dipped down to less than 1000 patients in the 1960s. This was the first time that the hospital had seen a decline in its entire history.   Existing patients were strained with a higher work load so the hospital had to hire people just to help keep up with the farm.

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Postcard-1914-Photograph-Collection-MNHS.org_    Another reason the farm closed was because of urbanization, the communal, aggregate lifestyle was becoming a whimsical relic of the past. Farms were no longer a way of life for families, they were now growing to competitive factory operations.

Gone was the “off the vine” mentality. Instead of plucking vegetables from the family’s sunny garden, people picked packaged foods off grocery store shelves under the blinding of fluorescent lights.

People were seeking more than just food and shelter; they wanted opportunities, education, and leisure. Many saw felt that farm work was drudgery and hospital staff agreed farm work  no longer therapy.

But the shift towards urbanization and preference for packaged foods, for convenience and ease also parallels people’s desire for a quick fix for mental health, for taking shortcuts and losing some humanity in the process.

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A few years after I graduated from my residential treatment program, I ran into the cook Jamie at a gas station at 4 am. As I looked at the glossy hot dogs spinning in the glass case and the basket of rubbery apples, Jamie joked, “The food we serve here is more real than at that hospital.”

I didn’t remember the counselor’s names, group member’s names, other worker’s names. I remembered Jamie’s name. With a short bleach-blond hair, Jamie barely saw over the counter. She bought all of her clothes in the little boy’s section and dressed her three Chihuahuas in doll clothes and changed their diapers and cooked them gourmet dog food. I had been warned to get on her good side.

Before I left, I went to go say goodbye to Jamie. She was perched atop a tower of frozen foods, using them like a barstool, eating a salad over the counter. “Minnie, you scared the shit out of me,” she said.”I’m not supposed to bring my own lunch but I sure as hell won’t eat their food. I have to eat real food.”

      All of us searching and clinging to what’s real, doing the best we can.

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IMG_6285 Fires also led to the demise of the FFSH farms, another suiting metaphors woven right into history.  The horse barn was totally burned to the ground in 1915.  Two patients committed arson in 1968. But the most striking fire to me was in 1936, when Faulty wiring destroyed a large cow barn. The barn was “so badly gutted it is worthless and will have to be torn down.”

Our current food system in mental health facilities and rehabs are faulty and flawed.  We need nutrition groups and registered dieticians to educate patients about eating in recovery. We need to synchronize the food that we serve at these facilities with these recommendations rather than perpetuating toxic food environments. The current farm-to-table movement and increasing accessibility of organic foods gives me hope, that perhaps somewhere a state-run facility is harvesting their own food.

Up next: A special Halloween edition of Off-Her-Rocker about asylums as haunted houses.

Resources

Some folks requested that I post my resources, so here we go! I obtained many of these resources from Ottertail County Historical Society archives and sincerely thank the wonderful archivests who helped me begin this process. I arranged the resources here from the ones that I used the most to the least and it’s probably not proper APA but oh well, I will delve into this further as I do my thesis and meh, it’s a blog eh?

Leonard, Benjamin A. “The State Hospital Farm: A Model for the Future, Discontinued in the Past,” Otter Tail Record. 1998.

Borgen, Alvi. “Farm Tasks Provide Patient Therapy,” from The Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1966.

Borgin, Alvi. “Institutional Farm Taking on New Role,” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1966.

Editorial. “Fire Distroys Large Cow Barn on State Hospital Farm.” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 1940.

Photo credits: Top 3- MN Historical Society

Pill photo- Artist Unknown, Tumblr.

Last photo of area near former farm at FFSH: By me.

(Un) Sustainability

The Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH) ran a glorified commune. They were committed to sustainability long before the hippies of yore and the farm-to-table free-range folks of today.

Far out, man! At its surface, this may seem to be a tale of food and farms, but it transcends simple definition.

By exposing how farming and commitment to nutiritious food revolutionized care for people with mental health issues and addictions, sadly I am also exposing how far we have regressed through research and my own experience choking back over cooked chicken patties and brown lettuce in rehab/ detox/ hospital.

The hippies took the word or people’s notions of commune, stripped it naked, dunked it in tye-dye instead of a bath tub, put a joint in its mouth, and sent it off to an orgy.  But at its core, a commune is the simple embodiment of cooperation, cohesion, environmentalism.

 

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FFSH Farm Circa 1900 Courtesy Ottertail Co. Historical Society

The hospital was self-sustaining, as both patients and staff raised food and livestock on the grounds for nearly a century from 1891 to 1961.

At the FFSH, nearly every able-bodied and willing patient at the hospital was involved with some part of agricultural production as it was part of their therapy and recovery process. Farming was familiar to many patients and allowed them a chance to utilize their skills, build confidence, and break-up the monotony of daily life. Healthy living, nutrition, plenty of sunlight and outdoor activity, and work were considered an essential part of mental health treatment de jour of the era, moral treatment.

Things usually change for the better, right? I wish. It might be hard to explain the appeal of a hard day of farm labor..

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FFSH Today. Photo Credit, Tessa

For someone in captivity like a prisoner or psych patient, the outdoors and adding purposeful work to an otherwise monotonous day is currency of its own. It’s the closest thing to freedom you have. Listening to the crunch as you walk over a pile of leaves or sink your teeth into the flesh of an apple. The suns rays like an embrace.

When I was in different treatment settings, our time outdoors was often limited and heavily restricted. In one place, we only got to go outside for a half an hour walk once per day. Imagine that for four weeks. We ate highly-processed foods with high fat and sugar contents because it is cheap and easily purchased in bulk. Insurance companies claim there is a lack of data about “efficacy of nutrition interventions in addiction recovery.”

 

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Always wear your bonnet when milking a cow folks. Photo credit-BBC

Over 100 years ago, the FFSH had grew over 20 varieties of vegetables and traditional grains, had apple and plum orchards, and canned 5,000 gallons of tomatoes and 60 gallons of catsup per year. Greenhouses and root cellars helped residents keep fresh produce for even the harsh Midwest winters. The first FFSH superintendent Dr. Alonso Williamson believed milk to be a great cure-all and prescribed it in large quantities so they had 300 cows who produced over 3,300 pounds of milk per day. Residents were involved in meal preparation and fresh pies were made daily.

Typing this and I can taste the sweet tang of homemade apple pie with its flaky melt-in-your mouth crust and decadent filling. Where I went to treatment, I befriended a cook named Jamie who hid round tins of chocolate silk pie in the industrial deep freezer so she could sneak me extra pieces and also gave me the pieces of pizza with the most pepperoni. “I know it’s not the best, but clearly its better than what you were eating out there, Minnie.” The cook called me Minnie Mouse, she never knew my name, but she always made sure I was fed and wanted me to put on at least 15 pounds.

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Typical rehab food. Like Orange is the New Black.

Standard detox/rehab menu: coffee, pizza, taco-in-a bag of chips, fried chicken, ham sandwiches, casserole, bagles, coffee, wilted lettuce, tasteless apples, pie.

 

 

 

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Rich people rehab, Think Celeb Rehab.  Photo credit: Cliffsides.

Meanwhile, fancy pants rehabs offer menus with nutritious locally-sourced foods that are recommended by registered dieticians and physicians. Fresh vegetables, fish, and whole grains. “No expenses are spared when it comes to food service: all meals are organic, locally sourced and prepared by a team of expert chefs,” boasts a review of the luxury rehab center Cliffside with rooms offering ocean views to boot.

All rehabs and hospitals should be focusing on nutrition, not just the ones that are for the rich and famous. Typically, patients’  bodies are often malnourished and ravaged by years of drug/ alcohol use, lack of appetite or overeating due to depression or side effects from psych meds, anorexia, bulimia. Quality food helps heal the brain.  Specifically nutrition rich foods and regular meals and snacks keep blood sugar levels regulated, which is vital for stable mood, concentration, and energy levels.

My doctor told me sugar was just like another drug, which was an anology that always bothered me as seemed to minimize the severity of addiction.

I know that sugar affects the same neurotransmitter dopamine (which controls the brain’s pleasure and reward center) as drugs and alcohol, I never heard of somebody losing a job, a family, friends, all their money and life for sugar.

When I scoffed, my doctor said, “Ask yourself why do you want it so bad, note your mood before, directly after you eat it, and 30 minutes later.” My hands were shaking with anticipation and salivating, I went to the gas station after the appointment and immediately devoured a bag of Red Vines.

Ah sugar. I felt a rush then the predictable crash I had come to know so well. It didn’t offer the oblivion of substances, but I still found myself shortly craving my next (sugar) fix.

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Part II details the demise of the FFSH farm and nationwide decline of focus on nutrition and wellness in mental health treatment, medications and corporate/ factory farm impact on mental health, and the recent revival of the nutrition and food as medicine movement.  Preliminary sources were cited here, extensive list to come.