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Got soil? Get smart!

Getting Smarter with Soil

Preschoolers planting peas in their natural playground.

Play in the dirt.  Learn in the mud.  Love your garden.  While opinions may vary on those statements, scientific research has found that garden does effect your brain in a positive way.  “In 2007, United Kingdom researchers linked that happy feeling gardeners have after they’ve been digging in the dirt to a little soil organism called Mycobacterium vaccae, which decreases anxiety and increases serotonin” according to Organic Gardening magazine’s October/November issue.

My microbiology professor introduced himself to the class then claimed that the class would be the scariest science course we’d ever take.  That introduction was followed by a statement similar to “More bacteria exist in you mouth right now than the number of people that have lived on earth”.    It’s true and so is the fact that your body contains all kinds of microbes.  You eat them on purpose in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, alcohol, kombucha and kefir.   Have you noticed food labels in the grocery store now sporting the words “contains probiotics”?   Probiotics refers to strains of beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut.

In the article Western Diet Tied to Intestinal Disease and Allergies author Micheal Price states, “The human gut houses trillions of microbes, our microbiota, that help us digest and metabolize what we eat, protect us against diseases, and train our immune system to recognize and reject pathogens. As our ancestors’ diets changed over time, their gut inhabitants did, too, from microbes that could easily break down the fibrous foods plentiful in early human diets to other bugs suited to the animal proteins, sugars, and starches prevalent after the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry about 10,000 years ago.”  According to the same ScienceNOW article, “Modern sanitation and medicines have further changed the types of bacteria people encounter. “

Scientific research supports that fresh air, sunshine, and soil have positive effects on mental and physical health.  How would it feel for your bare adult toes to cool off in the green grass and squish in a mud puddle as sunshine warms your skin?   What if parents sent kids outside to play and made it ok to get a little dirty?  I challenge teachers to exchange the sterile potting mix in Styrofoam cups for raised bed gardens in the school playground area.   Perhaps one of the kids exposed to a backyard garden, natural playground, mud puddle or compost bin will be the scientist to research and solve this problem:  “Scientists have hypothesized that these dietary and sanitary changes have made people in developed countries more susceptible to gastrointestinal diseases and obesity but so far they have been unable to establish why.”  Play. Learn. Love.

November 2012