“Ask any Boy Scout,” says Jay Vilar, his blue flannel shirt and trucker hat both covered in a thin film of farm work. “You have to leave a place better than you found it. Humans are meant to be stewards of the environment.”

Vilar, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), is an intern with the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) program at Rodale Institute. He is spending an entire season immersed in the Institute’s work from seed to harvest. His goal? To draw firsthand connections between healthy soil, nutrition, and human health to better serve his clients, and, eventually, to steward the land with an educational farm of his own.

Changing Course

Vilar’s native interest in health and wellness became a passion when he found himself at a career crossroads. Despite success at a top-tier advertising agency, he wasn’t fulfilled. Vilar returned to school for nutritional therapy, built a business, and today, as a Rodale Institute intern, he is launching the next phase of his journey as a health professional.

“Heal the soil and the soil heals us”

Farmer trainee carries trays of young plants out of the greenhouse
Jay Vilar, a farmer trainee at Rodale Institute, is a nutritional therapist who plans to start a farm of his own

The connection between soil health and human health is obvious to Vilar. He gives the example of a common nutritional deficiency, magnesium, which leads to chronic fatigue. See, plants can produce vitamins on their own, but minerals they must get from soil.

If the soil is lacking a nutrient like magnesium, the plants—and the people who eat them—will, too. Eating organically and locally, since organic agriculture places emphasis on soil health in ways that conventional does not, is then a logical treatment for those who seek Vilar’s help. Vilar says he has helped clients reverse significant diseases like Type II diabetes and diverticulitis. A patient of his who once struggled to get from her car to the front door is today hiking the 26-mile Inca trail in Peru.

Health, Wellness, and Potential

Vilar remembers glancing down at a seed in his palm one day in the greenhouse. “This tiny little seed has all the information that it ever needs to grow,” he mused. “Humans are no different.” Vilar believes everyone has this innate potential, but poor health prevents us from reaching higher. True health, starting with the soil, opens the door to happiness and fulfillment.

Vilar says his hands-on experience at Rodale Institute has shown him this philosophy in action. “When I’m in the dirt, it all becomes clear,” says Vilar. “Heal the soil and the soil heals us.”

Zoe Schaeffer is the Content & Media Relations specialist at Rodale Institute. 

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