WALLOW IN THE SOIL

            Longtime friend and former executive director of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth Rich sent me a fascinating article yesterday from the May issue of Neuroscience News.  University of Colorado, Boulder researchers found a fatty acid called 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid in a soil bacterium known as Mycobacterium vaccae.

             Their theory is that this fatty acid found in soil is critical to maintain immune systems, regulate inflammation, and generally maintain physical and mental health.  Their thinking is that as people spend less and less time interacting with soil they deprive their bodies of these essential fatty acids.

             The implications are far beyond colds and flu.  Because this was carried in Neuroscience News, one thread has to do with mental disorders.  Our local city, Staunton, still houses one of the state's mental hospitals.  The first one that dates to the early 1800s still operated when I was a child in the early 1960s.  The patients grew their own food, including dairy, poultry, and vegetables.

             Axiomatic in that day was the notion that having the patients work the farm was one of the most therapeutic activities.  That had a better effect on mental health than focus groups, discussion sessions and psychotherapy. 

             That the word human derives from the same foundation as humus should give us all pause about the importance of getting our hands in the dirt.  Many medical doctors who specialist in allergies have signed on to the controversial "hygiene hypothesis" that says too much sanitation makes lethargic immune systems. 

             Certainly the iconic book "Guns, Germs and Steel" insinuates this immunological exercise idea in its germs section.  The civilizations that came to dominate the world were the ones producing domestic livestock.  Several large studies now coming out of Scandinavia attest to immune-building and mental-health-contributing aspects of livestock and soil touching.

             When you look at all these research threads, what you see is a definite movement toward what some of us have said for years:  get out in the garden, visit farms, eat some dirt.  A few days ago the interns laughed at me when I bent over and took a long drink out of the cow tank.  I wonder how many good bugs I got with that little exercise?  Is there a reason I haven't been sick in a decade?

             Now to the bad part of the Neuroscience News article.  Wouldn't you think that these researchers would encourage more participation with soil as a result of their findings?  No.  Their hope is that the research will stimulate development of a microbe-based "stress vaccine."  Just when you think somebody in the orthodox community will have an epiphany and "get it," they follow the Neanderthal party line toward a pharmaceutical solution.  Ho hum.

             When is the last time you placed your hands in the soil?