Leaving a traditional medical practice in West New York to create a farm and vegetarian-based wellness center in Long Valley, for some doctors, may seem unusual. Maybe even a little bit crazy.
But for Dr. Ronald Weiss of Guttenberg, New Jersey, it’s a dream come true, more than 20 years in the making.
Weiss recently purchased 363 acres of land on West Mill Road for $2.525 million, a deal that took nearly two years to complete. Along with his wife and two children, Weiss will live on the land he farms and says will change Long Valley–and the medical industry–for the better.
The farm and wellness center will be called The Promised Land, Weiss said, as he plans to treat patients with a preventative form of medicine, introducing fresh foods and physical activity as a new way of life.
“Doctors treat patients these days with pharmaceuticals and surgeries and say they’re preventing disease,” Weiss said. “This is how you’re going to truly prevent that. We need to relieve the community from the burden of disease.”
Weiss has a vision for wellness center, he said, that will revolutionize the healthcare industry. The doctor cited a recent New York Times opinion piece by Ezekiel Emanuel, about the health insurance industry’s fall over the next decade.
“We need to take out the insurance companies and the bureaucratic aspect of medicine for the sake of health,” he said. “And Long Valley, and this wellness center, are going to be the center of that movement.”
Farmer, Doctor, Farming Doctor
Weiss, a graduate of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) has always dreamed of being a farmer, but traditional medicine, much like his siblings, became his occupation.
The Fair Lawn native grew up in a town with four farms, which he and his family frequented regularly for produce in the 1960s.
“Back then, it wasn’t called organic, because it was assumed–there was nothing in the food to not make it organic,” Weiss said. “It was good, healthy food. As time went on, we lost the agricultural nature of the state.”
Weiss saw the loss of the state’s agriculture continuing to unfold while pursuing his medical training. During the final two years of studies at UMDNJ, Weiss put together a catalog of the last farms in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties. It’s an exhibit that still stands at the medical school.
It was during this project, completed some 25 years ago, that Weiss first came across Long Valley.
“I saw the pace of what was going on, and I thought it would be lost very soon,” he said. “But then I wandered into Long Valley, and amidst all these changes, I marveled at all the farmland still there and being preserved.”
The land Weiss has purchased is one half of the largest parcel of preserved farmland in the county.
“Starting this farm and wellness center, and giving back to this community, is sort of a thank you to Long Valley for working to keep its land preserved,” Weiss said.
Life Experience Spurs Vision
Shortly after Weiss completed his residency and formal medical training, his family was devastated by illness.
In 1991, Weiss’s father–who he claims to be his greatest teacher–was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to other organs, including his liver.
The director of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center explained that chemotherapy only had a 15-percent chance of shrinking his tumors, at best, if anything at all. The director’s prognosis, without the therapy, was one month to live.
“My father sat in the chair, looked at the director, and said 'no thank you,'” Weiss said. “He went home and prepared for death.”
Weiss, having dealt with patients affected by pancreatic cancer during his medical training, began searching for alternative treatments.
He came across a practice instituted by Japanese doctors called a macrobiotic diet. Weiss learned that Michio Kushi, a doctor advocating the diet as a cure for cancer, was practicing in the northeast.
The macrobiotic diet, comparable to a vegetarian eating regimen, seemed radical at the time, but Weiss’s father had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so he pursued it.
After meeting with Kushi, Weiss began the diet immediately. Pounds began to shed, pain began to leave his body, and Weiss’s father went back to work fulltime as an attorney.
“He never looked so healthy,” Weiss said. “He was like a wilted flower being given a drink of water.”
Weiss’s father would eventually succumb to the disease, but not until 18 months after being diagnosed.
“It was then,” Weiss says passionately, “I knew something was wrong with the system I was trained in. I wanted to redirect my path; I wanted to help people in an alternative way.”
More than 20 years later, Weiss’s dream is becoming a reality.
The doctor and his family will now live in the home on the property, formerly known as Scott Farm, built in 1836. A stone barn, built in the 1700s, will be repaired and reconstructed to house the wellness center.
Weiss has put his life savings toward accomplishing his vision, he said, and this will be the first home he and his family have owned.
“We’re excited about the project and the changes that are coming,” he said. “But I think this is going to change everything.”