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Ethos Farm Project

Ethos Health – the first farm-based healthcare system, fosters the regeneration of human and planetary health through food.

Photo of Ron Weiss
10 12

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Ethos Health

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (grantor and technical assistance provider) US Fish and Wildlife Service (grantor and technical assistance provider) New Jersey Audubon (conservation and research partner) Rodale Institute (research partner), Rutgers University (research partner), Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (medical education partner), PlantPure Communities (the 501c3 fiscal sponsor of Ethos Farm Project)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.EthosHealth.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Long Valley, NJ

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

New Jersey

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I selected this place because it is the home I love. I’ve always been very proud of my Garden State, with its plow emblazoned flag, fertile soils and temperate climate. For hundreds of years, New Jerseyans have been fruit and vegetable growers. As early as the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin acknowledged New Jersey’s food-growing prowess when he referred to the it as “a barrel tapped at both ends,” feeding the great metropoles of New York to the north and Philadelphia to the south. When I was growing up in the 1960s, the Garden State was still the most productive agricultural state in the nation, producing more fruits and vegetables per acre of farmland than even California. Within my lifetime, this most densely populated of all states has been a leading national producer of peaches, blueberries, cranberries, asparagus, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, spinach and lettuce. But it was never about how much we produced, it was about our terroir. Every summer, we looked forward to our NJ produce because it had the most intense flavors and aromas, deeper colors, crisper textures and juiciness far surpassing what you could buy in any supermarket. Perhaps with this wonderful food in mind, as well as the desire to preserve the state’s beautiful open spaces, the people of NJ have never failed to approve any referendum to fund the state’s farmland preservation program in the past 40 years, even during the bleakest of economic times. No wonder NJ has permanently preserved a greater percentage of its farmland - over a quarter million acres, than any other state. Unfortunately today, much of this land is being used to produce corn and soybean which go to supply CAFOs outside the state. I want to establish our food system in New Jersey to restore our great food growing tradition and feed our 9 million residents healthy, nutrient dense, chemical free food from our own state. And yes, we’ll send you some too, NYC and Philly.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Although NJ is the most densely populated state in the United Sates, it is the 4th smallest of the 50 states, measuring about 20,000 km2 in area. The state is wedged between the 2 great metropoles of Philadelphia to the south and New York City to the north, with great amounts of commerce, people and resources flowing between NJ and these two cities. Historically, NJ was the food supplier for not only itself but NYC and Philadelphia. In the summer, the states 130 miles of beautiful beaches and resort towns become the lungs of Philadelphia and NY. 111 million tourists visited NJ in 2018, spending 44 billion dollars, making tourism the 7th largest industry in NJ. 

NJ is one of the most diverse states in America with 30% of its people speaking a language at home other than English. It is a state of great contrasts: It is rich –  the second wealthiest state in the nation with more millionaires per capita than any other state  yet its cities are among the most poverty stricken in America.  It is the most densely populated state in America, yet 25% of the land mass is still covered by protected wilderness. NJ has also permanently preserved a greater percentage of its farmland than any other state. Although it remains a leading producer of vegetable and fruit crops in the US, its population generally consumes the Standard American Diet, with half of all adults in NJ afflicted with at least one chronic disease.  

The American Dream - of owning the home with white picket fence in a nice suburban neighborhood, is the hope of most New Jerseyans. This has led to sprawl that has engulfed roughly have the surface area of the state, causing significant losses of habitat and prime farmland. Unfortunately the sprawl and decaying post-industrial cities is the NJ with which most outsiders are familiar. But to those who really know her, there still remains a New Jersey of rolling countryside dotted with forests and farms, and quaint historic towns that have the feel of New England. There is a NJ of great expanses of pine barrens, as far as the eye can see, of miles of beautiful sandy beaches and bustling seaside resorts. This is our “America, the Beautiful.” An important part of this 2050 Vision is to save these sacred New Jersey places before they disappear. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

9000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: Development has consumed greater than half of all the land area in the state. Regenerative agriculture has a very small footprint in NJ and continues to lose farmland to development. In 2050, if the rate of development continues and regenerative agriculture declines as a result, GHG emissions will soar, contributing to more extreme weather patterns.

Diets: The vast majority of NJ’s population consumes the Standard American Diet (SAD), and roughly 10% of NJ residents live in food deserts. In the past decade in NJ alone, the rate of obesity has increased by 5-10%. Physicians, poorly trained in nutrition, are unable to provide evidence-based care to those suffering from chronic diseases. In 2050, NJ’s chronic disease incidence would have overwhelmed the healthcare system’s ability to pay for care. There will be rationing of care for chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Physicians unequipped with nutritional expertise will be unable to treat causal lifestyle factors, exacerbating the problem.

Economics: NJ farmland is among the nation’s most expensive per acre, making it unaffordable for young farmers, few of which are familiar with regenerative methods. In 2050, NJ will see a shortage of farmers, further contributing to the decline in availability of local, fresh food. Skyrocketing disease will burden NJ’s healthcare system, increase health insurance rates, and lower workforce productivity.

Culture: Conventional farming culture is very resistant to changing growing methods unless the economic benefits have been proven. Furthermore, social culture is often centered on food, which is increasingly processed & hyperpalatable. In 2050, food engineering and marketing will contribute to decreased demand for fresh, local food. Industrialized farming methods will continue to dominate farming culture, decreasing access to fresh food.

Technology: Advanced technological developments in agriculture tend to be geared towards industrialized, chemical based practices instead of addressing the major concerns of small-scale regenerative farming. Historically, there has been no easy way for consumers to assess whether the produce they purchase is uncontaminated by pesticides. In 2050, ag tech developments will be centered on producing cheap, hyperpalatable food. Fresh produce will increasingly be grown with pesticides.

Policy & Governance: NJ’s policies are inadequate to protect our remaining farmland, natural habitat, biodiversity and water resources. Small food producers have little or no access to commercial kitchens. Farm Bill subsidies support industrialized ag which produces food for the SAD, while there are very few or no subsidies for regeneratively produced whole plant foods. In 2050, we will see a drop in farmland, stifling production of local food and contributing to skyrocketing chronic disease rates. NJ Food insecurity will worsen as NJ is less able to produce its own food & availability of imports becomes more unstable.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

ENVIRONMENT: Strengthen EPA’s ability to regulate poisons by improving the Toxic Substance Control Act - ban the production of chemicals suspected of being dangerous to human/environmental health. Fully realize the Ethos Farm Project’s (EFP) goal of restoring farmland to prevent run-off into the Raritan River. Utilize EFP as a model for farming methods in the state’s other watersheds. Immediate moratorium on further development of open land in NJ. Use Ethos Farm Ecosystem and Carbon Trial (EFECT) as a model to sequester carbon in soil. Produce 100% of NJ’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. Encourage production of more solar electricity. Implement and expand Ocean Wind, the nation’s largest offshore wind farm. Exempt all regenerative working farmland from property taxes.

Diet: Disincentivize the purchase of SAD foods. Remove financial incentives for farmers to grow corn/soybean. Provide families with monthly stipend to purchase whole plant foods. Build capacity to feed a growing population by raising a new crop of regenerative farmers and ensure they have access to land and can make a living. Expand educational opportunities for the public. Create a new generation of young doctors educated in evidence-based nutrition and primary care. Open primary care lifestyle medical clinics for NJ’s underserved urban populations. Fund and expand NJ Loan Redemption Program for primary care.

Economics: NJ to provide tax incentives to corporations, state institutions, and boards of education to purchase locally produced food. Model a regenerative food system after Ethos Farm Project and NJ Exurban Farm Program, focused on small scale, low-tech, intensive growing of high-value produce. Train young farmers in the EFP Young Farmers Incubator Program. Plant based diets will lower disease rates and costs for NJ health system.

Culture: Educate about the benefits of a plant-based diet and how traditional ethnic dishes can be made plant-based. Expand Rutgers NJMS Lifestyle Medicine community program to help bring fresh, local food to dense, urban communities. Engage NJ’s religious leaders to promote the theological belief of stewardship within their communities. For farmers, develop viable economic models for farming regeneratively.

Technology: Utilize emerging AI technology for labor intensive farming tasks such as harvesting and weeding. Apply advanced biotech to traditional plant breeding, developing varieties of produce that will overcome climate change, disease, and pest challenges. Reclaim and process NJ’s food and human waste to return to the state’s soils.

Policy & Goverance: Protect our environment and promote regen food production. USDA VAPG to expand regulated food preparation facilities. Work with the NJ Council on Local Mandates to promote high density urban redevelopment. Expand NJ Loan Redemption Program for primary care. Fund NJ Exurban Farm Program. Transfer responsibility of creating nutrition guidelines from the USDA to the CDC.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

My state is the Garden State. It is the most productive food growing state in the nation. It has rich, fertile soils and feeds its population and neighboring states with regeneratively grown diets of whole plant foods. Our state is fully food secure, being the primary supplier of our own healthy diets. Every New Jerseyan regardless of income level or where they live, has access to this healthy diet. New Jersey is served by an abundance of board-certified lifestyle primary care physicians whose primary passion is to prevent and reverse chronic illness by inspiring and guiding their patients to eat and live well. Thus, New Jerseyans are by and large, not afflicted with cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, obesity, and all the other diseases of chronicity. New Jerseyans - even those of advanced years - are a vigorous, healthy bunch. They enjoy a high quality of life; A significant percentage of the population devotes their time to food production, as it is the Garden State’s special home-grown food that is the primary source of the people’s vigor. Anyone with the desire, no matter their background, can be a New Jersey farmer. And who wouldn’t want to be one? Farmers make a good living and attain that American dream of “the home and white picket fence,” right here in NJ. The farmers have plenty of customers for their delicious produce as no farm is more than an hour from NJ’s densely populated, vibrant urban centers. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

(for reference in () see Bibliography attachment) 

Today’s date is January 31, 2050. Not many years ago, epidemics of chronic disease nearly brought the American healthcare system and the nation to its knees. But the sickness was not just confined to the people. The planet was sick, too...there were mass coral reef die-offs, melting polar icecaps, forests set ablaze, pesticides raining down from the sky, and mounting species extinctions. In 2019, the EAT Lancet Commission Report - in the first comprehensive analysis of its kind, identified the human appetite for the western diet (also known as the Standard American Diet, or SAD) as a primary cause of all this misery (1).  In essence, man poisoned himself with food, and in the process, turned Mother Earth into a giant industrialized animal food. From this crucible of despair rose the Ethos Farm Project (EFP). Founded in 2012 on an ancient NJ farm by physician and farmer Ron Weiss, M.D., EFP’s work is guided by the Hippocratic teaching that food is the most powerful instrument of healing. In implementing the EAT Lancet Commission’s recommendations, EFP has played a foundational role in regenerating the state of NJ, transforming it into the healthiest, most vibrant state in America. 

2020 was a watershed year in NJ’s transformation. The new American president, understood that healthy people come from a healthy land, was elected to office. Her first priority was to protect the earth. She reconstituted the EPA and expanded the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), banning the production of all chemicals suspected of being hazardous to human and environmental health, including ag chemicals.  America rejoined the Paris Climate Treaty and became the leader in GHG emissions reduction and sequestration. Through a combination of USDA and private grants, EFP’s EFECT Initiative (2) was fully funded. Over 30 years, EFECT has served not only as a model to protect NJ’s water resources, restore native habitat and build biodiversity, but continues to demonstrate a working agricultural soil’s enormous capacity to sequester carbon. Using EFECT as a model, the USDA NRCS in collaboration with Indigo Ag’s Terraton Initiative (3), funded the mass restoration of American farmland. This has been the most important single factor that has brought about the beginning of global cooling. In 2020, after being presented with EFP’s 2050 Vision, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy was motivated to adopt more aggressive goals of bringing NJ to carbon neutrality by 2030. The former Goldman Sachs executive worked with BlackRock (4) to invest in the rapid expansion of Ocean Wind (5) as well as the installation of solar panels, Tesla solar roof shingles (6) and Powerwall energy storage systems (7) all over the state. Murphy also placed an immediate moratorium on further development of all open land in NJ. At the same time, the state restructured regs & gave tax incentives to promote high density redevelopment of NJ’s crumbling cities. Today, Paterson, Newark, Camden and Trenton are the envy of American cities.  Next, NJ lawmakers expanded the successful state farmland preservation program & granted property tax exemption to all working farmlands maintaining organic regenerative certification (8). Enormous state funded facilities were created to compose sewage biosolids with food waste & leaves from the state’s many suburban shade trees. High-quality, finished compost was returned to the land. Life was breathed into NJ’s worn-out soils. Her fertility cycle was restored. 

And now the land was ready to restore the people’s health... 

But first the people had to change their dietary habits. Because the great quantities of fat, sugar and salt in the SAD are highly addictive, New Jerseyans needed a lot of help to shift their food preferences. Because many of the people were sick and regularly visited doctors for medical treatment, and because patients generally respect the advice of physicians, it was decided that creating a new generation of primary care physicians, board certified in lifestyle medicine (9), was a good place to start. EFP’s Lifestyle Medicine Rotation, in collaboration with Rutgers NJ Medical School (NJMS), has trained hundreds of primary care doctors in lifestyle medicine. Most of these doctors have returned to NJ to practice thanks to the fully funded and expanded NJ Primary Care Loan Redemption Program (10). The Rutgers NJMS Lifestyle Association (11) continues its vital work in at-risk urban communities, running lifestyle education programs as well as a lifestyle medical clinic. EFP’s Farm Days (12) also served as a model for educating and motivating the general public to adopt plant-based diets. The Farm Days are particularly effective in demonstrating to the state’s diverse populous, how plant-based diets can be successfully incorporated into any culinary tradition. The Farm Days became so popular that EFP could no longer accommodate the crowds. Fifteen years ago, the NJ Depts of Ag and Health decided to fund these events through a grant program. Today the Farm Days events are held on regenerative farms across the state.  

Finally, the federal government stepped up to the plate. In 2022, the Democracy for All Amendment (13) was ratified, reversing the 2010 Citizens United decision.  Campaign finance legislation was passed, allowing Congress to take decisive steps in reorganizing our food system on a federal level. The responsibility for creating the nation’s nutrition guidelines was finally removed from the industry- influenced USDA and placed under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the past 25 years, the CDC’s evidence-based plant-based nutrition recommendations have served as a light, guiding Americans’ on the road from sickness to health.  Next, all subsidies for corn and soybean crops were removed from the 2023 Farm Bill. These monies were redirected through the USDA NRCS to restore American farmlands, using EFECT as a model. In addition, guidelines for SNAP and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) were changed. The purchase of “junk foods” using SNAP benefits was disallowed and NSLP prioritized the provision of healthy plant-based lunches to children. The former corn/soybean subsidies also funded a monthly stipend of $500 to each family for the purchase of whole plant foods-based foods modeled after a successful South African program (14). Forward-thinking NJ legislators added another $500 stipend on top to be used ONLY for the purchase of certified regenerative food produced in NJ and put in place directives that all state agencies and school boards preferentially purchase the same. These actions created a huge demand for locally grown food, which in turn helped to encourage the rise of a new generation of farmers in the state. Over the years, these concerted efforts enabled New Jersey to not only become self-reliant in feeding her people but transformed her into a major food exporter for the New York City and Philadelphia markets; New Jersey’s food insecurity is no more. Today, New Jersey’s food culture is regeneratively-produced plant based and local. The billions of dollars NJ used to spend annually on Medicaid recipients to sustain them in states of chronic illness (15) today goes to make them well by simply feeding them.  Today, New Jerseyans have one of the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world, with a higher life expectancy than Japan. 

Not surprisingly, perhaps the most powerful influence on transforming New Jerseyans’ diets came from their deep spiritual connection (16). In the Abrahamic religions, humans were given the caretaker’s responsibility of G-d's creation.  In the eastern religions, humans were made one with other life forms.  With funding from private grants, NJ religious leaders attended educational programs regarding the impact of SAD on the earth. The leaders were then able to inspire their congregants on the basis of theological beliefs of stewardship and oneness. This had an unexpectedly powerful effect on transforming the people’s dietary habits. 

Looking back, it is important to remember that the eater is dependent on the grower. Without regenerative farmers, the high quality of life New Jerseyans now enjoy would have never come to be. Thirty years ago, it was difficult to imagine who in NJ would grow the food required to feed millions of people and make them healthy, let alone where it would be grown. The ultimate secret to NJ’s success lay in ensuring economically successful outcomes for our farmers. Creating markets and giving them access to them, changing the way they farmed. EFP’s Young Farmers Incubator Program (YFIP) (17) was created to meet NJ’s demand for more farmers. YFIP has been a major force in the transformation of New Jersey’s cities. It has fostered upward mobility for disadvantaged urban youth while at the same time providing a source of healthy food that extinguished these former food deserts. The YFIP was modified to educate established conventional NJ farmers in small scale, regenerative, low input, “lean” farming (18). At the same time, YFIP helped to trial many of the new, human-scaled farming tools that have been essential in bringing about new efficiencies to small-scale farming. It is this type of farming that has provided a good living for NJ growers. Lastly, it is the NJ Exurban Farm Program (NJEFP) - an idea born out of EFP’s 2050 Food Systems Vision, that solved one of NJ’s most vexing food system issues. With regenerative farmland REITs (19) as funding partners, NJEFP made it possible for young farmers who could otherwise have not afforded farmland or a nice home in NJ, to have both! NJEFP made it possible for young farmers to purchase high-end exurban homes on 3-5 acre lots - the same ones built long ago on NJ’s prime farmland, spurring the development of small, hyperlocal neighborhood farms throughout the state. These little farms have really become the living embodiment of the Garden State. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Team (18)

Ron's profile
Pankaj's profile
Pankaj Gala

Role added on team:

"Pankaj Gala - Senior Manager, Pfizer, Inc.; Ethos Farm Orchardist"

Daniel's profile
Daniel Gimenez

Role added on team:

"Daniel Gimenez - Professor of Soil Science, Rutgers University"

Yichao's profile
Yichao Rui

Role added on team:

"Yichao Rui - Soil Scientist, Rodale Institute"

Joan's profile
Joan Werner

Role added on team:

"Joan Werner - Head of Investment Client Relations, New York Life Investments"

Andrew's profile
Andrew Patterson

Role added on team:

"Andrew Patterson - Regenerative Farmer; Founding Member, Ethos Young Farmers Incubator Program"

Andrew's profile
Andrew Chignell

Role added on team:

"Andrew Chignell - Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Princeton University"

Marc's profile
Marc Zayas

Role added on team:

"Marc Zayas - Founder and Directive Creator of ZayasDesign"

Nora's profile
Nora Pugliese

Role added on team:

"Nora Pugliese - Regenerative Farmer; Head of Ethos Young Farmers Incubator Program"

Asha's profile
Asha Gala

Role added on team:

"Asha Gala - Ethos Primary Care Lifestyle Clinical Director, certified MBSR instructor"

john's profile
john parke

Role added on team:

"John Parke - Stewardship Project Director at New Jersey Audubon"

Sara's profile
Sara Zayed

Role added on team:

"Sara Zayed - Founder of Posifitivy, a lifestyle health blog for young women; Ethos Primary Care Medical Assistant; Matriculating Medical Student and Vilcek Scholar at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, Class of 2023"

Mark's profile
Mark Mifsud

Role added on team:

"Mark Anthony Mifsud - Environmental Sustainability Major at Ramapo College of New Jersey, Class of 2021"

Benjamin's profile
Benjamin Walmer

Role added on team:

"Benjamin Walmer - architect, chef and founder of Broadloom, a multidisciplinary architectural and integrated design practice, and Highlands Dinner Club, a farm to table mobile culinary laboratory"

Andrew's profile
Andrew Smith

Role added on team:

"Andrew Smith - Chief Operating Officer and Chief Scientist, Rodale Institute"

saul's profile
saul bautista

Role added on team:

"Saul Bautista, MD - Founder of Rutgers NJMS Lifestyle Medical Group, which is dedicated to building a healthcare system in Newark, NJ, that empowers its people. The foundation of this system is focused on addressing the lifestyle factors and social determinants of health."

Larry's profile
Larry Mahmarian

Role added on team:

"Larry Mahmarian - Co-Founder of River Valley Community Grains (RVCG); RVCG's mission is to "Restore the soils, water and health of our communities" by helping farmers use regenerative methods to produce nutrient dense grains"

Gwen's profile
Gwen Coveny

Role added on team:

"Gwen Coveny - graphic design, marketing communications, and content support”"

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Attachments (5)

Bibliography.doc

List of reference internal documents, publications and websites referred in the full Vision 2050 statement.

About Ethos Farm.pdf

The history of Ethos Farm, from Ron Weiss, MD's early vision to present day triumphs and ongoing initiatives

Ethos Farm Project Summary.pdf

Explanations of the Ethos Farm Project programs (Ethos Young Farmers Incubator Program, Ethos Farm Ecosystem and Carbon Trial Initiative, and Ethos Farm Days)

EFECT Document.pdf

Technical document with in-depth information on the Ethos Farm Ecosystem and Carbon Trial (EFECT) Initiative.

Ethos in the Media.doc

Links to Key articles featuring Ron Weiss MD, Ethos Farmers, partnering organizations, and a best-selling author, discussing Ethos Farm and its initiatives

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Photo of Benjamin Fahrer
Team

Great full vision and really inspired by the depth at which you are looking at this issue. We are on the west coast working with a collaboration of farmers and doctors in transforming health care and agriculture in California as the two are so vitally linked. Similar in scope and purpose. I am curious at how you approach the social dynamics and inclusion of those most impacted in your community and what you see your biggest challenges being in making this vision a reality? Thank you for your efforts and commitment to this work and congrats on the success you are already having!

Photo of Ron Weiss
Team

Thank you for your kind words, Benjamin. The biggest challenge is getting people to adopt plant based lifestyles. We help them to shift their dietary preferences by utilizing motivational interviewing techniques. The most vulnerable communities are in NJ's poor urban areas. The mission of the Rutgers NJ Medical School Lifestyle Interest Group is to provide outreach and support to these communities.

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