Professor tackles fresh farming with fresh perspective

Nursing and organic farming may seem like disparate dots on the map of life, but for Dr. Carrie McCoy the two fields are invariably interwoven.

McCoy has lived in the Northern Kentucky region since the 70s and has worked as a nursing professor at NKU while running her own organic farm nestled in Boone County, Kentucky on the side.

She was raised on a farm in northern California, in what she described as a quaint, tightly-knit community in a river valley. She felt as if the practice of farming ran in her blood.

When McCoy first started her organic farm, it was strictly for herself and immediate family. As time went on, and she began to look towards retirement, McCoy began to cultivate her small farm into a larger project.

A couple of years ago, McCoy started selling her produce at the Boone County Farmer’s Market in the summer months. The market has over 50 local vendors with a mixture of farmers employing different methods of cultivating their commodities.

The market, according to McCoy, also builds the local culture and strengthens the community. She believes that the upcoming community garden project on NKU’s campus will further solidify a sense of community.

Aside from the two plots of produce, McCoy’s farm also includes a small fishing lake, which locals come and pay to fish from. They clean the lake naturally by using grass carp, which don’t multiply rapidly and eat algae that grows on the lake.

According to McCoy, her work with the organic farm translates to her holistic approach when it comes to nursing.

“The environment is all around us and in nursing we’re always focusing on the environment,” McCoy said.  “People define the environment in different ways, but really anything that’s outside of your body is your environment. It can be social, it can be psychological and it can be physical. I’ve always had a broad focus.”

In terms of organics, according to McCoy, despite not knowing exactly what long-term effects some pesticides and herbicides may have on individuals exposed to them, one’s health is directly linked to the food they consume and the environment that surrounds them.

Specifically, McCoy cited the pesticide DDT. According to the EPA, it was developed in the 1940s and used effectively to combat insect populations in crop and livestock production. DDT accumulates within an organism’s tissues and has been linked to cancer as well as having adverse reproductive effects.

Though DDT has since been banned, McCoy still sees other pesticides used as potentially dangerous to human health.

McCoy said that many buy produce from her because of their worry about the chemicals they put into their bodies as well as GMOs.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants genetically engineered to express different desired traits, such as manipulating the genes of an apple so that browning is reduced, according to the FDA.

In addition, in 2012 93 percent of all soybean plants and 88 percent of corn plants were genetically engineered.

“I find that when someone becomes ill from something, that’s when they start to focus on their diet much rather than being proactive,” McCoy said. “It’s a gradual shift that’s occurring.”

It’s this awareness of a patient’s environment, and the effects it has on their health, that McCoy instills in her students.

“[Mccoy] encourages us to think at a higher level,” Kate Fairchild, senior nursing student, said. “She just doesn’t push you through like some other instructors, she really makes you think about things.”

Fairchild added that when it comes to organics, nurses often change their patient’s diets to more unprocessed and organic food since the way humans eat, and what they intake, is linked to the health of their bodies.

Fairchild specifically cited the increased concern over cancer being linked to processed food and the use of pesticides for the modern nurse.

Outside of health professions, the trend of buying organic and unprocessed foods is growing as more awareness about the food society consumes is being brought to the table.

According to an Organic Trade Association 2015 market analysis, organic sales in the U.S. have gone from $3.6 billion in 1997 to exceeding $39 billion in 2014.

Within her own farm McCoy has seen an increase in the interest in organics. With the concern surrounding the use of pesticides as potential carcinogens, McCoy noted that there is more interest in the health aspect of food, an issue that translates to the future of nursing students.

“What we hope to do within the program is to create a well-rounded student that has an appreciation for not only the environment, but cultural and social aspects, in addition to taking care of someone physically,” McCoy said. “They need to take in the whole person in the context of where and how they live.”

McCoy explained what she sees as a gradual shift in the way society consumes food, and since society directly shapes one’s environment, when the environment shifts so does the individual.

“Nursing is a broad profession. Community is one of the aspects you can go into. As the environment changes it changes people,” Kaityln Bray, a senior nursing student who has taken multiple courses with McCoy, said.  “For example, with organics, a lot of people are obese right now and as a nurse, we have to learn how to adapt to these patients.”

McCoy works to entwine her passions in organic farming and her career in both being a nurse and teaching nursing. Since nursing requires being aware of a patient’s environment, her farm becomes a tool for the health of the community/region.

“People need to be aware of their environment,” McCoy said. “We get out of it what we put in and it can either help or harm us.”