Maine’s local farm and food movement continues to pick up steam. The skills and spirit of independent farmers, gardeners, chefs and entrepreneurs were on full display in September, as more than 50,000 people converged on the town of Unity for the annual Common Ground Country Fair.

On a smaller scale, but no less inspiring, a parallel grassroots movement in health care is advancing quietly.

Twenty years after earning the right of licensure in this state, a growing number of naturopathic doctors are caring for individuals and families across Maine. More than 30 licensed NDs practice in more than a dozen communities, from York to Penobscot counties. As specialists in holistic medicine, we focus on treating the root causes of disease.

Naturopathic doctors are earning the trust and respect of conventional health care providers. Mutual referrals among NDs, medical doctors and osteopathic doctors are on the rise, as doctors of all types are seeing the benefits patients get from different types of care.

It’s no surprise that the local food and naturopathic medicine movements are happening at the same time. Both reflect core Maine values of self-determination, local relationships and a preference for natural approaches to health.

Both movements also are consumer-driven. After decades of turning over control of our health to big agriculture, big medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, people are justifiably disillusioned with the results. Rates of chronic disease, obesity and depression in the United States are higher than ever.

This trend has sparked a renewed interest in complementary and alternative medicine. In Maine, many families are taking back control by assembling their own health care teams, which might include an MD or DO, an ND, a chiropractor, massage therapist and others.

Because we’re still considered outside the mainstream ā€” just as DOs and chiropractors were less than a generation ago ā€” NDs must continue to fight for a seat at the health care table. We want to be a public resource. The first step is to let people know who we are.

NDs are trained in four-year, doctoral-level naturopathic medical schools that are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. We are educated in the same basic Western medical sciences as MDs, including physiology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, gastroenterology and other medical disciplines. We pass rigorous professional board exams to qualify for state licenses.

Like conventional doctors, NDs use technology such as laboratory and imaging studies to evaluate and treat pathology. We also are able to prescribe some pharmaceutical medications, but we prefer to use treatment approaches that support the body’s resources and have fewer side effects.

What sets us apart is our focus on preventive medicine and our holistic approach to patient care. NDs are concerned with the whole person: mind, body and spirit. We address the underlying causes of disease, rather than simply managing symptoms with medications. We spend ample time with our patients, we listen to them, and we consider how multiple health problems relate to one another.

Though NDs practice in a variety of ways, common tools include clinical nutrition, prescription of supplemental nutrients, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine and counseling. Many NDs also offer functional assessment of common underlying causes of illness such as hormone balance, the intestinal microbiome (the bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tracts) and genetic factors.

Naturopathic medicine is expanding at the national level. In 1996, when the Maine Legislature approved licensure for NDs, only eight states had done so. That list has grown to 17 states, and groups in several other states are seeking licensure.

For people who are interested in learning more, the U.S. Senate has designated next week, Oct. 5-11, as Naturopathic Medicine Week. NDs throughout Maine will host open houses and other events.

As we head into our 20th anniversary in Maine, it is an important time for us to raise public awareness of the common-sense approach to health that we offer. It is time to set ourselves apart from unlicensed, unregulated practitioners and non-research-based medicine. We are fully trained, licensed and trusted health care providers. Our philosophy and methods are informed by years of education, experience, research and results.

We are NDs. We are doctors. We are here to empower you to take control of your health.

Dr. Corrie Marinaro, of Waterville, is president of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors, a nonprofit professional organization. For more information and to find a local practitioner, visit www.mand.org.