Fresh Facts: Dirt Makes You Happier and Healthier

By September 12, 2013Grapes, Newsletter

Volume 7, Week 2, September 6-7, 2013

 September in Kingsburg, home of one of the world’s most recognized icons, the Sun-Maid. Yes, the original Sun-Maid—Lorraine Petersen, who posed for the logo in 1915—passed away in the 80’s. But raisin grapes are still being dried in the sun between rows in vineyards hereabouts, and Sun-Maid Raisins continues as one of the few long-term successful agricultural co-operatives in the nation. What you get when you walk outside in early September here is the sweet smell of drying grapes. For me, it’s the olfactory signal that summer’s officially winding-up, and fall’s around the corner. In other words, everything’s in order; all is right with the world. Competing in this “scentsory” arena is the wonderful smell of rain after a dry spell; kind of like nature’s way of saying, “O thank you, thank you, thank you!” Then there’s the smell of new mown hay, (or hay in any stage of drying for that matter), bloom-time in a plum orchard, warm milk from a foamy bucket on a frosty morning…But trumping them all in my opinion is the earth-wormy smell of fresh turned organic soil. Don’t you just want to sit on a bucket in the middle of a peach patch after it’s been disked in the spring or fall and inhale that smell clear down to your toes?

I think that’s one of the big draws to organic gardening, just the smell of living soil, and kind of an adult excuse to go play in the dirt; it’s cathartic, and now we have scientific proof coming in on so many levels.
Most recent is the discovery that soil microbes—specifically mycobacterium vaccae—produces the same effect as anti-depressant drugs. It signals the brain to release serotonin which we know enhances that sense of well-being as well as improves immune function. It’s now a scientifically proven fact: dirt makes you happier and healthier. Us kids have been trying to communicate this to our moms for millennia, but a tragic thing happens on the way from childhood to parenthood, we forget where happiness lives; its address is out in the dirt, and not just any dirt, living organic dirt! I can hear enlightened moms everywhere hollering, “Charlie, quit fighting with your sister, and the both of you go out and play in the dirt until you’re happy; make some mud pies or something, you hear me?! If your father comes home and finds you all clean, you know what’s gonna happen.” I’ll tell you what, you wouldn’t have to tell Charlie or his sister twice; they’d be one happy mud pie factory. But why should joy be the exclusive domain of dirty kids? I declare the availability of happiness to children of all ages! And September’s the perfect month to set out your winter joy factory. Get the whole family involved for goodness sake. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale or just your winter flowers; this is CALIFORNIA, go dig it! The more you and your family dig it, the happier you’ll be; that’s the Uncle Vern guarantee. Even a balcony off an apartment can erupt with happy flowers, and joyful vegetables, and sassy herbs growing out of—you guessed it—abundant, living dirt!

Author Jessica Lessard

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