7 Ways Dirt Is A Powerful Immune System Booster

The Farm Effect: How Dirt Makes You Happy and Healthy

7 Ways Dirt Is A Powerful Immune System Booster

Posted by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


Dirt is not just good for children. We all need a little need dirt in our lives! — Christiane Northrup, M.D.

When was the last time you had dirt embedded under your fingernails or mud oozing between your toes? If it was recently, then good for you! Research over the last decade or so has shown that the microbes and bacteria in dirt can help boost your immune system and make you healthier and even happier.

Unfortunately, most people today have become germophobic, using germ-killing wipes, hand sanitizers, and even strong chemicals to clean their homes. But, it turns out that dirt has an important immune strengthening purpose.

How Dirt Strengthens Our Immune System

A study published in the June 2012 issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that Amish children who live on farms have about a 50% reduction in asthma, allergies, and gut-related disorders compared to children who grow up in more sterile environments.

This is known as “the Farm-Effect.” What’s interesting to note is that seasonal hay fever was first described in the United States in the 1890’s, and by 1920 it was quite common. However, hay fever was rarely diagnosed in the working class population, particularly those living on farms.

The Farm Effect is the corollary — or positive proof — of the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” which states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, microorganisms and parasites increases our susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of our immune systems. (The Hygiene Hypothesis has also been called the “Biome Depletion Theory” and the “Lost Friends Theory.”)

This makes perfect sense. As humans we have co-evolved for millions of years with microbes and parasites, both around and within our bodies. From the time a child is able to crawl, she intuitively knows to get dirty and to put dirty objects in her mouth — it’s a natural way of allowing her immune system to explore her environment. 

This routine exposure to harmless microorganisms in the environment, such as soil bacteria, trains her immune system to ignore benign molecules, such as pollen. (By the way, the Farm Effect works the same way for children who grow up with a dog or other pets in the house.)

But, dirt is not just good for children. We all need a little need dirt in our lives!

In fact, doctors are now handing out “park prescriptions” for a range of conditions including heart disease, obesity and ADD.

Dirt Has Been Called the New Prozac

Soil microbes called Mycobacterium vaccae are proven to have a natural antidepressant effect on the brain.

Lack of serotonin has been linked to disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar and more. Studies show that Mycobacterium vaccae actually mirror the effect that drugs, such as Prozac, have on the brain without the side effects or chemical dependency.

In one study, lung cancer patients injected with Mycobacterium vaccae reported a better quality of life and less stress. This may mean that Mycobacterium vaccae works by stimulating serotonin production, which makes you feel relaxed and happy.

Another interesting bit of research suggests that the brain actually releases dopamine when we harvest food from the garden! This is known as “Harvest High.” Harvest High most likely evolved over 200,000 years ago when hunting and gathering was a means of survival.

When our ancestors found food, a flush of dopamine would release in the reward center of their brains. This means our primitive brains were originally wired to crave healthy foods from the soil. By the way, that same dopamine high – which is similar to the high some people get from drugs or shopping (“retail therapy,”) but is actually healthy for you and your wallet — can be triggered simply by seeing or smelling fresh produce!

6 More Reasons to Get Dirty

If getting dirty makes you happy, what else might it do? Well, it turns out dirt is good for you in more ways than one. Here are some reasons to get dirty:

  1. Being “dirt happy” lowers your blood pressureand stress hormones.
  2. Mycobacterium vaccaein soil can improve cognitive function, as well as symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease and even rheumatoid arthritis.
  3. Bacteria on your skin can help manage inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, and can even heal wounds.
  4. Gardening (and other dirty outdoor activities) engages your senses. Research shows that when multiple senses are stimulated, the brain is more likely to remember things and is better able to solve problems.
  5. If you’re playing in the dirt, chances are you’re outside (unless you have a kiddie pool full of dirt in your living room.) This means you are getting sunshine, which is full-spectrum light. Full-spectrum light stimulates production of Vitamin D and serotonin. It also regulates the production of melatonin, helping you get a good night’s sleep.
  6. Children who play outside become more adventurous and self-motivated and use their imagination more. They are also better able to understand and assess risk because playing in nature lets them explore in ways that they can ask questions, make observations and see outcomes. For example, “What if I put water on a pine cone?” “What changes if I put the pine cone in the hot sun?”

How You Can Create The Farm Effect Anywhere

While many of us don’t live on farms or large plots of land these days, there are ways you can create a modifiedFarm Effect in your body and in your home, no matter where you live.

  1. Stop using antibacterial soaps and detergents.These kill healthy bugs off and can actually produce a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant and disease-causing bacteria. Try using natural cleaning solutions.
  2. Clean Up Your Diet. It sounds counterintuitive when I am talking about getting dirty, but getting clean in your diet means getting rid of the harmful chemicals and additives (including sugar!) that children, especially, get in massive amounts.  Learn to read labels, including the labels and side-effect profiles on any medications you and your children are taking. Read the game-changing book, The Dirt Cure, by integrative pediatric neurologist Maya Shetreat-Klein, M.D. for a nutrition plan that can help your kids and your entire family prevent chronic disease.
  3. Purchase organic, seasonal fruits and vegetablesfrom your local farmer’s market. Rinse your food, but don’t scrub off all of the healthy dirt. If you can’t get to farmer’s market regularly, invest in a weekly organic community-supported agriculture (CSA) box.
  4. Garden with your kids.If your child is very young, you don’t even need to plant anything. She will love just having some dirt to play in. If you live in an apartment or have a small lot, create an organic window garden. You can actually grow more than you realize in really small areas by using one-pot containers. Strawberry pots are also great. You could even try hanging pots by your windows.
  5. Use the best soil you can afford.Buy or create healthy soil with organics before planting and avoid using chemicals in your garden. Studies show that glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup,) depletes serotonin and dopamine levels in mammals. Glyphosate and other Roundup ingredients stay in the environment, including our soil and water, the plants we eat, and ultimately in our cells. Glyphosate residues have even been found in clothes made from Roundup-ready GM cotton.  This can absorb directly into your skin, nervous and circulatory systems! Read Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up by Daphne Miller, MD, which explores the idea that it’s the farm where food is grown that offers us the real medicine.
  6. Explore nature.Go walking or hiking. Put your bare feet in the earth and in streams. If you have children or grandchildren, you can have a great time studying nature. You could even start a collection of rocks or leaves. Make each outing about adding to your collection. Read The Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv, to learn more about what he calls “Nature-Deficit Disorder,” and how the health of our children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.
  7. Take Up A Mud Sport.Playing in the mud allows you to feel a sense of freedom and it’s an opportunity to act like a child again. Mud runs, mountain biking, and hiking are a few good options.  If sports aren’t your thing, consider a “mud pack” with organic soil.  You can go to a day spa or do this at home.
  8. Eat Fermented Foods and Take a Daily Probiotic. Even if you are eating food from healthy soil, in today’s hyper-hygienic and chemically-ridden world it’s important to continually restore beneficial gut bacteria.

Organic and Your Health

Taken from the LocalHarvest Newsletter, April 24, 2014


*Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

We all know there are compelling environmental reasons to choose organic food. Many of us buy organic out of a belief that it must be healthier, too. In terms of avoiding the potential toxicity of pesticide residues, it is. But the case for organic food actually being more nutritious has been harder to make. Over the last few years, though, there has been a growing body of research demonstrating not only that organic food is better for us, but how.

This month I had a chance to speak with Jessica Shade, Ph.D., Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center. She pointed out that scientists haven't yet demonstrated that all organically grown food is more nutritious than conventional. Studies have focused on individual crops, and even then there are so many variables that it is difficult to isolate the impact of organic management practices. Still, research on a variety of fruit and vegetable crops has shown that organic methods yield produce with higher levels of certain nutrients and other good things. Research has established, for example, that organically grown spinach, peppers, oranges, pears, peaches, strawberries and tomatoes all have higher levels of Vitamin C than their conventionally grown counterparts. Other studies show significantly higher levels of antioxidants and other phytochemicals important for disease prevention.

So the research is beginning to back up what intuitively seems like it must be right: nix the noxious toxins, treat the soil well, and the resulting food will be more nutritious. But exactly why is this? According to Dr. Shade, there are two prevailing guesses. The first is that plants respond well to the somewhat increased stress level found in organic systems. "What?" you say, "My organic tomatoes lived a life of stress?" It's true: plants are less protected from weeds and pests in organic systems, and that puts a little more strain on them. Taken too far, the plants will not produce. There seems to be some optimal level of stress, though, where the plants' response may be to produce more antioxidants. That turns out to be a boon for human health.

The second hypothesis on how organically grown produce comes to be more nutritious has to do with plants' self-defense system. As insects start to gnaw on plants, the plants fight back by producing compounds to make plant unsavory to insects and, like the antioxidants produced under stress, many of those compounds are good for us. Remarkable, huh?

The above applies to produce, but the dairy story is equally interesting and possibly more impactful. The main known nutritional benefit of organic dairy as is the high level of omega-3 fatty acids it provides. As many are aware, diets low in omega-3 but high in omega-6 fatty acids are linked to increased rates of many diseases, and increasing one's level of omega-3s is a good thing for your health. In a study released last December, organic milk was shown to have a significantly lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than found in conventional milk, making it a very healthy choice. The reason is believed to be because in organic systems the cows are required to be on pasture longer, and the fresh grass they consume there leads to milk rich in omega-3s and low in omega-6s. According to Dr. Shade, the pasture rule in the organic law was put there for the cows' well-being, but it turns out that more time on pasture means healthier milk, so everyone wins. The study's authors encourage people to leverage their findings to maximum benefit by minimizing the intake of foods high in omega-6s while also shifting some of their fat intake to full-fat, organic dairy products.

For me, all this research points to an elegant intelligence inherent in organic food production systems. What's good for the plants and animals is also good for humans and the environment. To learn more about organic research, visit The Organic Center's website.

On a different note, if you are a farmer or other food producer, please see the announcement below about an important survey pertaining to the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Until next time, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett


*Certified Naturally Grown offers a grassroots alternative to certified organic for farmers and beekeepers. Founded on the original ideals of the organic movement - small-scale sustainable agriculture serving local communities - Certified Naturally Grown's programs are designed for farmers and beekeepers who sell locally and observe traditional growing practices that work in harmony with nature, supporting bee and livestock health and working with the soil's ecology rather than relying on synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides

This alternative certification program includes an application process and annual on-site inspections.

5 Key Benefits of Spinach that Unlock the Secret to Popeye’s Strength

5 Key Health Benefits of Spinach

    Get your Spinach at Canticle Farm Market.

    There are several health benefits of spinach that can make you as strong as Popeye (yes, really!).

    1: Nitrates in Spinach Builds Muscle Strength

    Spinach contains nitrates that helps build muscle strength. A study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that mice which were consistently fed on nitrates developed stronger muscles than mice whose diet did not contain nitrates.

    So for growing kids as well as men/women undergoing strength training, eating spinach provides natural dietary nitrate, which helps build muscle. It also helps older men/women over 45 slow down muscle degeneration.

    2: Antioxidants in Spinach Keep You Younger & Healthier

    Spinach leaves are rich in natural antioxidants such as β-carotene, which help produce vitamin A and also nullify the bad effects of free radicals on the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules known to damage the cells in the body. Antioxidants bind these molecules and prevent them from destroying tissues. Thus, our body remains younger and healthier.

    3: Improves Immune System

    Spinach is a rich source of vitamins C and E, which also have antioxidant properties. These vitamins reduce the risk of developing cancer, boost the immune system, and fight degenerative diseases. A research study conducted in 2002 in Florida reported that eating spinach prevented the occurrence of brain diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

    The intake of spinach has been shown to protect against aggressive prostate cancer due to the presence of carotenoids called epoxyxanthophylls.
    Spinach also contains flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties that prevent the formation of cancer cells. According to a study conducted on women of New England in the late 1980s, eating spinach could decrease their risk of getting breast cancer.

    4: Reduced Cholesterol in the Body

    Spinach does not contain any fat and its lutein content helps lower the levels of cholesterol in your body. So, eating spinach only gives you bulging biceps, not a bulging tummy!

    5: Makes your Blood Richer with Oxygen and you Healthier

    Iron-rich spinach is good for your blood as well. Just like Popeye, you too, can eat spinach and grow strong and healthy. Iron produces oxygen which is carried by Hemoglobin, thus providing lots of energy to work out and build muscle.

    In addition Calcium is one of the key element of spinach health benefits. For those who are vegans, spinach is the best source of calcium. So add a handful of spinach leaves to your salads and soups.

    – See more at: http://urbanwired.com/health/5-key-benefits-of-spinach/#sthash.cxbpUF75.dpuf

The Vegetable World’s Ugly Duckling: Celeriac

Greet celeriac, the unsung frog prince of winter vegetables. Pare off its warty exterior and celeriac_stalksyou’ll uncover the royal vegetable within: a perfect, ivory-fleshed, winter alternative to potatoes and other starches.

It is surprising that a vegetable that is so delicious, wonderfully hearty and eminently storable — and makes such a boldly verdant show in the garden — is practically unrecognized in the try-anything United States.

In Europe, however, celeriac is a historic favorite. The vegetable’s most classic employment is in the cold French salad celerie remoulade, in which the root is peeled, grated, “cooked” in lemon juice (or blanched briefly in acidulated water) to lose a bit of its rawness, then dressed with a mustardy mayonnaise.

Celeriac is cousin to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips, some of which are bred for their edible stalks and tops, others for their edible roots. Celeriac is a celery variety refined over time to produce an increasingly large, solid, globular root just below the soil surface.

Also known as celery root, knob celery and turnip-rooted celery, celeriac developed from the same wild species as did stalk celery. It had medicinal and religious uses in many early civilizations, including those of Egypt, Greece and Italy.

While what the early Greeks called selinon is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey in 800 B.C., celeriac did not become an important vegetable until the Middle Ages. It was first recorded as a food plant in France in 1623, and was commonly cultivated in most of Europe by the end of the 17th century.

Admittedly, celeriac does have a couple of slight drawbacks. If you are going to grow it, it is a rather long-season plant, clocking in at about 112 days from seeding. It’s also rather odd-looking.

Aboveground is a gorgeously symmetrical crown of green, celery-like growth radiating from the central knob to about 12 inches. However, pull up this pretty green crown and what you unearth looks like a troll’s orb of warts and roots.

Do not be dissuaded. When peeled, celery root’s creamy white flesh resembles that of a turnip and tastes like a subtle blend of celery and parsley. Additionally, half a cup contains only 30 calories, no fat and provides an excellent source of dietary fiber.

This time of year, celeriac can be a perfect non-starch substitute for potatoes in a warming meal, and can be prepared in a similar way. Mashed, shaped into batons and boiled, or even French fried, celery root can provide a winning accompaniment to a fresh green vegetable or salad and anything roasted or grilled.

I find a paring knife, rather than a peeler, works best for peeling the root. Shave downward with the blade in broad strokes to remove the thick skin. Drop the peeled bits into a bowl of acidulated water (water into which some lemon juice has been squeezed) immediately after cutting to prevent discoloration. Even if you are planning to fry or bake the celeriac later, parboiling it first for 5 or 10 minutes in acidulated water will soften its raw edge.

When peeled and cooked, this ugly duckling vegetable will become a true culinary swan.


From “The Kitchen Window” and Jack Straub, NPR Books, NOVEMBER 29, 2006

From Farm to Table… a guide to local

Found this article that many of our supporters may be interested in reading.


Andrea is a keen traveler and has studied biology, languages, and sailing. She works in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a marine biologist, writer, and editor.

From Farm to Table

Bring the Farm Closer to the Plate With Community-Supported Agriculture
I grew up in the city, and like most urbanites the closest I got to a farm was the produce section of the supermarket. Barring an elementary school field trip or two, we don’t often have the pleasure of shaking hands with our food producers, and doing just that would require a costly tropical trip if we’re buying bananas and papayas. Given widespread food recalls from contamination and questionable factory farming practices, it’s in our best interest to know exactly where our food comes from and how it’s produced. The easiest and most delicious way to do this is to go local. Luckily for us city folk, we have the bounty of farmers’ markets and now CSAs (community supported/shared agriculture) to bring the farm directly to our kitchen table.
Farm to Table - Cutting Out the Middle Man

Loco for Local

The local food movement is a throwback to the days when foreign food wasn’t flying across the globe, losing nutrients and wasting fuel. Farmers’ markets and CSAs cut out the middlemen – transportation and storage – and bring us back nutrient-rich, farm-fresh food that changes with the seasons. Now we rely on what can be successfully and consistently grown, harvested, and preserved on the land around us based on our climate instead of snubbing the seasons and supplanting locally grown food with our favorites from abroad. But while most of us have perused the stalls of a farmers’ market hand-picking our favorite treats, fewer know about the amazing opportunity that is the local CSA.

PSA for CSA’s

Community-supported agriculture is exactly what it sounds like. You, along with other members of your community, support a particular farm or farms by purchasing food shares before the start of the growing season, then enjoy the spoils as the growing season unfolds. If this idea is new to you, it’s likely because CSAs are a relatively new model in North America, growing from only two farms in the U.S. in 1986 to more than 6,500 in 2012. (Check LocalHarvest for a CSA near you!) This recent growth is telling – CSAs work. The mutually beneficial business model takes many forms depending on the needs and capabilities of both the farmers and shareholders, but ultimately everyone wins.

Farm to Table - Estimated Number of CSA's In the USA

Risk and Reward

The most common business models are farmer or farmer-cooperative CSAs, where the farmer shoulders the bulk of the management responsibilities and the shareholder is treated more as an investor. There’s risk in any investment, and CSAs are no different. When you purchase a share, you’re providing capital for the farmer to purchase the seeds, supplies, and labor required to fill your box with food for a prescribed period of time – and you also agree to take the good with the bad right alongside them. So when the weather is particularly favorable and crops are bountiful, you’re rewarded with extra food. However, if crops are damaged by hail, insects, or disease, you may have weeks or months with lighter loads. Is it worth it? Well, think what would happen to the farmers if they weren’t supported by their community when the going got tough: no more food. Period. So your investment isn’t just a short-term exchange for food, but a long-term one that aims to keep farmers in the black gold for years to come.

The Good, the Radicchio, and the Ugly

If you’re ready to take the plunge, the first thing you’ll notice is that CSAs come in all seasons and sizes and completely depend on your location and the capacity of the farm. I’ve seen shares of dairy, meat, fruit, vegetables, and eggs (even flowers) both big and small, full-year and month-long. But despite their differences, there are a few commonalities.

1. Good quality. This is really the freshest and the best that farmers have to offer, delivered directly to your doorstep (or more commonly a pre-arranged pick-up location). If you ever do get a bag of dud spuds, you can often arrange for a replacement in the next share. These are good people who want you to love their food.

2. Variety. Most CSAs kindly provide a list of your share’s contents via newsletter before you pick it up. This is an immense help to meal planning and also a great way to introduce yourself to new products with debatable pronunciation. Celeriac, anyone?

3. Ugly buglies. You will undoubtedly open your mystery box and see a few five-legged parsnips and the occasional worm peeking up from your lettuce. This is normal. Farmers produce food to be eaten and enjoyed, not to be plasticized on the front page of a glam mag. Insects are an important part of the ecosystem and often, ugly just tastes better.

Farm to Table - Management Structures

Solving the Mystery Box

No doubt your first few mystery boxes of food will be intimidating, but they can also be inspiring. Here are a few tips to make the most of your share as you adjust to your new-found bounty.

1. Plan ahead. Getting your share is like instant grocery shopping, but unless you’ve joined a super CSA, there will still be items on your shopping list. Find out from your farmers what foods you can expect when and plan your meals accordingly. Coordinating your share pick-up with a grocery trip is another great way to save time.

2. Get to work. You may be getting a few weeks’ worth of food in your share, and if your vegetables need washing, peeling, and chopping, aim to do it right away. If it looks like too much food altogether, use your freezer to preserve your food to enjoy another day.

3. Look it up. If the kohlrabi has been giving you the evil eye from the back of the fridge for a month now, you’re probably lacking a good recipe. Look online for tips, tricks, and instructional videos to deal with the most puzzling produce. Your fellow shareholders are another great resource.

Farm to Table - What's in the Box?

Finding the Right Fit

Joining a CSA is an amazing way to connect with your community and inject some intrigue into your cooking routine, but it does require a change in lifestyle. If you’re on the fence about joining, talk to the farmers at the market and see what they offer. Any investor worth their salt would want to understand what they are financing! Another option is to start small by selecting a smaller share or sharing a larger one with your neighbor. If you find yourself getting jealous of the bigger boxes or arguing over who gets the asparagus, you’re probably ready to upgrade.

Ultimately, though, our goal should be to eat healthy, local, farm-fresh food and to support those that provide it. CSAs and farmers markets are both fantastic choices for filling your plate, but there are also butchers, bakers, coffee shops, and restaurants that share the same ideals. Check Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide to discover your community’s purveyors of local, sustainable, organic food options, and choose the ones that suit you best, the ones that you and your family can enjoy and sustain for years to come.

Canticle Farm — Open All Year!

Eating Certified Naturally Grown vegetables doesn’t have to stop when the fall season ends — you can support Canticle Farm and other local producers all winter long at our Canticle Farm Market.

We do veggies well but in order to offer our customers a wider range of products, we have teamed up with other local producers and vendors. A few of the items you will be able to purchase: meats, honey, eggs, jams, frozen blueberries, and more.

A full listing of vendors will be published in the near future.

We couldn’t do all this without support from YOU. Thank you for supporting Canticle Farm and other local farms all year round! – See more at: http://www.canticlefarm.org

Fall Clean Up in the Garden

I hate to admit it, but the first day of autumn is right around the corner and winter won’t be far behind! Here is a list of chores to be done to help with the successful transition of the season:


  • Stop pruning and fertilizing
  • Bring summer vacationing houseplants back indoors while the windows are still open. Check carefully for hitchhiking pests
  • Start fall clean-up in the flower beds, cutting back anything that has finished blooming or is diseased
  • Take cuttings to overwinter indoors
  • Start winterizing your water garden
  • Watch for frost warning and cover tender plants
  • Photograph your gardens and containers for a record of the year’s triumphs and frustrations
  • Give the compost a last turn

Flowers and Other Ornamental Plants

  • Divide and move perennials
  • Dig and store tender bulbs like: dahlias, caladiums, cannas and tuberous begonias
  • Start planting spring flowering bulbs


  • Harvest remaining vegetables, including green tomatoes.
  • Wait for a hard freeze before harvesting Brussels Sprouts
  • Pick herbs for drying or freezing
  • Cure winter squash for storage. Place in a cool, sheltered shady spot for about 1 month.


  • Clean up fallen fruit

Trees & Shrubs

  • Plant trees and shrubs. Keep well watered, if there isn’t sufficient rain.


  • Dispose of any diseased or infested plant debris, to avoid overwintering the problem