To some, the adage “you reap what you sow” may have a negative connotation. But in the case of David Kroska, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at CentraCare, there’s no better description for the positive things that come from the love and nurturing he provides his family, his patients and his beloved tomato garden.
A love of the land
Dr. Kroska’s desire to watch things grow and thrive dates back to when he was a young boy growing up in an apartment in West St. Paul. “I was born with a green thumb and always had a desire to grow things and to see that you could actually produce your own food,” says Dr. Kroska. “Many of my ancestors were farmers and I’ve always felt most at home in the garden.”
Indeed, he feels a strong connection to the earth. “The earth gives us sustenance,” says Dr. Kroska. “One can’t help but feel part of nature when you are guiding and directing the forces that are going to feed you.”
Dr. Kroska has a particular passion for tomatoes. “There’s nothing like the aroma and taste of a home-grown, vine-ripened tomato. They have so much more flavor than what you find at the store and have a higher vitamin and mineral content.” His love of tomatoes has turned into a self-described obsession, which has resulted in his growing approximately 80 varieties of tomatoes on his two large garden plots.
The medical benefits
But more than just enjoying the taste of homegrown fruits and vegetables, Dr. Kroska came to realize the very real health benefits of a plant-based diet. As an example, he cites the compounds in plants that stabilize free radicals that can cause cell damage. “It’s become my firm conviction as a physician that eating a plant-based or plant-centric diet is the key to health and wellness,” says Dr. Kroska.
Dr. Kroska has seen firsthand the benefits of a better diet with infertile patients in CentraCare’s Reproductive Medicine Program, which he directs. “These patients can increase their chance of getting pregnant and keeping their pregnancy by losing weight and eating a better diet,” says Dr. Kroska.
Dr. Kroska merged his passion for healthy foods with his desire to nurture and care for patients by establishing the L.I.F.E. (Lifestyle, Food & Exercise) Program at CentraCare. The program helps participants improve their health, prevent disease and live longer. “It’s apparent to me that many of the diseases of our time, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity, reflect poor diet and poor lifestyle choices and can be either halted or reversed by changes in these things.”
Sharing the love
Beyond urging his patients to embrace a healthier lifestyle, Dr. Kroska has encouraged the community to share in his passion for wellness and homegrown food. What started as plant giveaways to friends, neighbors and coworkers has grown into a small business named ACME Tomato. Plants are sold at a cheap price that allows people to have access to an extensive variety of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. For those who don’t have access to land or their own garden, ACME provides earth boxes at low cost so people can grow plants on their patios or balconies. ACME also hosts an annual tomato tasting that includes a full plant-based meal.
“ACME Tomato has done much to foster gardening and the desire to raise one’s own food,” says Dr. Kroska. The community benefits by having fresher food that can be grown locally, saving the energy costs of distant production from around the world. Dr. Kroska is a regular speaker at gardening meetings, including the Stearns and Morrison County annual master gardener meetings, and has received the Central Minnesota Sustainability Award.
Like father like daughter
It’s not just patients and the community that benefit from Dr. Kroska’s nurturing ways. It’s also his children.
Inspired and fascinated by her father’s work, Dr. Kroska’s daughter, Courtney Wittrock, PA-C, chose to work in the same field. In fact, she works side-by-side with her father as a physician assistant at CentraCare Clinic –
Health Plaza Obstetrics & Women’s Health. Four other daughters have pursued careers in medicine.
“Growing up with a father who was an OBGYN, I was always fascinated by birth and the pregnancy process,” says Courtney. “I wanted to do something that was meaningful, and with OBGYN I have the chance to impact families and help women at all different stages of their life.”
Courtney, who shares her father’s passion for gardening, says that working with her father is one of the most meaningful experiences of her life. “He’s helped me grow from a student to a provider,” says Courtney. “I look up to him as a role model, mentor and teacher, and I’m honored to work with him and learn from him.”
“While I didn’t actively encourage Courtney to pursue a career in medicine, I think her seeing how much I enjoy what I do may have had something to do with it,” says Dr. Kroska. When Courtney was in high school, the two worked together during a medical aid trip to Guatemala, which made an indelible impression on Courtney and solidified her career choice. “I saw some of the most patient and kind people who were willing to do anything for their families even though they didn’t have much,” says Courtney. “I felt drawn to a career path where I would be able to continue serving other people.“
A philosophy of life
Through it all — tending to the earth, his patients and his own children — runs a common thread. “As one who specializes in fertility, there are many parallels one can draw between gardening and life,” says Dr. Kroska. “Both require preparation, warmth, moisture, nurturing loving care and weeding to produce a fruitful harvest.”
By all accounts and in all facets, Dr. Kroska has produced a bumper crop.