The Upside of Getting Down & Dirty


Healthy Soil, Happy People

Feeling the soil between my fingers and under my nails instantly brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart. Maybe that is why we’ve decided to pursue this path toward self-sustainability – because we just love playing in the dirt! More specifically, I love touching healthy soil when I transplant my beloved seedlings into the ground, or when I dig deep to plant the first potatoes of the season. All this time I figured that I just LOVE gardening and that is why I am so happy doing it. However, scientific evidence suggests that there is more to these feelings of well-being than simply planting seeds and helping things grow.

Although we don’t usually think of it this way, soil is a living organism comprised of different kinds of microbes and bacteria. The dirt is literally teaming with life! One specific strain of bacteria living in healthy soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has recently gained worldwide notoriety as nature’s anti-depressant. Contact with this bacterium stimulates serotonin production in the brain. The result is a feeling of relaxation and happiness. Lack of serotonin is linked to ailments such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. The bacterium in soil has the same effect on the patient that drugs like prozac have, except without all the addictive qualities and adverse health effects. And the evidence suggests that these feelings of well-being that result from exposure to healthy soil microbes can last as long as three weeks! Other studies also point to the lower rates of asthma and allergies in children who grow up in traditional farm settings where they receive ample exposure to soil microbes and bacteria. If we needed another excuse to play in the dirt, then feeling happier, healthier and less stressed is as great of an excuse as any! Not to mention all the homegrown fruits, veggies and herbs that can result from the extra time spent with our hands in the soil! Go ahead – get down and dirty!!!


1. “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28, 2007 in Neuroscience.

2. “Mind & Brain/Depression and Happiness – Raw Data “Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz, Discover Magazine, July 2007 Issue.

3. “Ingestion of Mycobacterium vaccae influences learning and anxiety in mice.” Susan M. Jenks (presenter) and Dorothy Matthews,  Presented at the Annual Animal Behavior Society Meeting, William and Mary College, Williamsburg, VA July 25 – 30, 2010.

4. “Exposure to Environmental Microorganisms and Childhood Asthma.” Markus J. Ege, M.D., Melanie Mayer, Ph.D., Anne-Cécile Normand, Ph.D., Jon Genuneit, M.D., William O.C.M. Cookson, M.D., D.Phil., Charlotte Braun-Fahrländer, M.D., Dick Heederik, Ph.D., Renaud Piarroux, M.D., Ph.D., and Erika von Mutius, M.D. for the GABRIELA Transregio 22 Study GroupN Engl J Med 2011; 364:701-709.

One thought on “The Upside of Getting Down & Dirty

  1. Janie McAndress says:

    I only know that any time I had planted veggies and flowers and put the effort into watering and weeding. It was an act of love and hope. I think an added dimension, is that we all like having things to care for. It is very rewarding seeing the plants grow to fruition under our care. Makes sense that God would have made the experience pleasant to insure the future
    existence of our species.

    Liked by 2 people

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