Story & Photography By Susan O'Connor
A family practice physician, Graham is an avid environmentalist and advocate of healthy living. He practices at Wagner Clinic in Manila and Lepanto, and also at the St. Bernards Weight Loss Center. His wife, Reta, is an bstetrician/gynecologist with OB/Gyn Associates. They have a son, Finlay, two-and-a-half.
Graham grew up in Rogers and attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for his bachelor of science, then completed medical school at the University of Arkansas College of Medicine, where he met Reta. She was a year behind him.
The couple moved to Asheville, N.C. for residency. Reta had two years left when Graham completed his residency, so he completed an extra year of sports medicine, during which time Finlay was born. He had his own sports medicine clinic at the local hospital for a year.
Graham is currently working on a master’s degree in public health through UNC-Chapel Hill.
When Reta graduated, the couple wanted to return to Arkansas. Graham had entered into an agreement to work in a rural area in return for forgiveness of medical school loans, and Reta was looking for a strong medical community in which to begin a new practice. Jonesboro turned out to be the perfect home.
It is obvious from our conversations, as well as the fact that you work in a role to help people change the way they eat, that you are very health conscious. Has this always been your modus operandi, or did some event in your life event in your life lead you down this path?
There was no specific event. Both my parents were big runners (marathoners) when I was growing up. They were very instrumental in getting me started, taking me to AAU meets as a youngster, encouraging me. Both my parents were also hippies, so we were always eating a lot of healthy stuff. I remember the first time I saw a Pop Tart at age 12 — it blew me away. We were different, but also very healthy.
What is your weekly exercise routine?
I work out to feel good, so my exercise routine varies from week to week pretty dramatically. I don’t wear a watch or look at mileage to keep it loose. Basically, I either run or ride my bike 3-4 mornings a week and do hot yoga the other mornings, usually 2-3 mornings a week. I always work out in the morning — it’s the only time I am able to get away to do it.
You said you have an organic garden. What do you produce?
Reta and I have really gotten involved in organic foods after living in Asheville. It is really an “organic town” with multiple small grocery stores that carry only organic, free-range stuff. We enjoyed a supportive community and always knew that when we were out of residency, we’d start a large organic garden. We always grow a lot of tomatoes and herbs, as well as squash and okra. We are using heirloom seeds (that’s seed that has not been genetically altered as 90 percent of the seed in this country has) to continue to promote genetic variability.
As a true thinker about solutions to better the environment, what are the three most important changes individuals in this society should make?
First, question consumption (my favorite bumper sticker). We have a terrible habit in this society of buying just to buy, not because we need something. It applies to everything from household needs to cars to food. It’s a basic flaw in the American way of thinking. The end product is a lot of extra waste from our over consumption. 2. Walk and ride more. I went without a car last year, and it was an eye opener. But man I felt good about what I was doing. I had an office close by (less than 2 miles), so I was able to ride my bike to work every day. Many other countries do this routinely, but for some reason we like to drive an awful lot. 3. Recycle, recycle and recycle. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where technology allows us to recycle everything from large kitchen appliances to shoes. Take advantage of it.
What does your family recycle?
We recycle everything — glass, plastic, paper, shoes, clothes. We live in a society where consumption is the norm, so it’s difficult to get away from that, but it’s healthy living. It’s a whole mindset, not just trying to save a few trees.
You said Asheville is a truly “organic town” with a lot of support for this lifestyle. What changes or additions could put Jonesboro on track to be a more health conscious city where food is concerned?
First, I believe the people have to start questioning the origin of their food. Asking your waiter or grocer where an item originated is a good step. If it turns out the item took a lot of energy to get here or produce (as most high calorie food does), choose not to buy it. This action has two outcomes. It is beneficial for the local economy as it promotes local produce and most of the time the individual is making a choice that will make him healthier. Second, buy only organic foods.
Your family buys food locally if possible. Do you have sources for locally grown produce and also eggs, milk and meat?
We are slowly discovering them. There are definitely local egg and meat vendors. We just found someone who is dropping off free-range chicken eggs to us every other week. Additionally, we have just discovered Whitton Flower and Produce Company in Tyronza. Check them out: http://www.whittonflowerandproduce.com. They are apparently trying to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) system, where for a set price they drop off the seasonal bounty on your doorstep. This is a great system as it guarantees support for your local farmers.
What restaurant in Jonesboro has the healthiest choices of menu items?
That is a great question. There are several good places to eat, but I think all have a wide variety of choices from a health food perspective. Piero’s has become my favorite place, but you usually have to stay on the fish or vegetarian side of the menu to be healthy. It’d be great if someone would open up a vegetarian restaurant.
As a busy physician, husband and father, what is your secret for managing your time efficiently enough to make the extra effort to exercise, garden and live the healthy lifestyle that you do?
I work part time (40-50 hours a week), and that has a lot to do with it. Part time can still be a lot, but when you consider going from 80-100 hours a week during residency, it’s not that bad. Honestly, another key is not having cable. We made the decision quite a while ago not to buy into cable. As Edward R. Murrow warned 50 years ago, television has the potential to become a mind suck. It’s amazing the amount of time we can spend watching television, and going without it helps you realize this. When you don’t have it, you spend much more time thinking, reading and being productive.
Other than that, I’m lucky enough to not require much sleep. I knock the exercise out in the morning, and then ride the wave the rest of the day. I’m also a caffeine fiend!
Growing up in Rogers, do you think the western part of Arkansas tends to be a little more health conscious than the eastern half?
Yes, but not by much. The entire state is not very health conscious, as witnessed by recent statistics. We have improved, however, as we are now ranking in the 30s in obesity (we used to be in the high 40s, 50 being the most obese state) I believe stroke and MI rates are also improving.
The thing that keeps Northwest Arkansas slightly ahead of the game is the variety of eating choices and infrastructure more conducive to exercise. For instance, Rogers now has a 15-mile bike loop surrounding the main section of the city, so more people are riding to work. I know Jonesboro is working on the same idea. I’m really psyched about it.
What is the last book you read?
I’m a habitual ADHD reader, so I always have 2-3 going. Right now, I’m reading “Three Cups of Tea,” the story of Greg Mortensen, a mountaineer turned humanitarian who is now building schools in Pakistan for girls. Amazing book. More entertaining is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” award-winning Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book. It is truly inspiring and reminds you that it is not that hard to live minimally. She and her family live completely off the land. It’s a “how-to” book of sorts, but also very entertaining, as she is such a talented writer.
What is your family’s favorite vacation spot?
My family has owned a place on Greers Ferry since the 1960s, so that’s our favorite close place. Outside the U.S., definitely Europe. We spent a month in Portugal last summer. It was incredible.
What is your favorite way to spend “down” time?
I love to mountain bike. A perfect day for me entails an epic ride and a good beer afterward.
What are some things you do to lesson your carbon footprint?
I drive a biodiesel VW Jetta, though I usually have to run diesel in it around here, as biodiesel is only available to farming equipment now. I also turn the water off when I am not rinsing in the shower to conserve water. My wife would kill me for saying this, but we don’t always flush the toilet. (“If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” mentality). We keep the house relatively dark and use only fluorescent light bulbs. We also keep the temperature down in the winter and higher in the summer. Nowhere has it ever been written that we have the right to live at 72 degrees every day (the rest of the world doesn’t do this.).