Healthy Soil, Healthy People?

So an article in last Sunday’s Washington Post talked about how there is a growing body of scientific evidence that healthy soil makes for healthier people. Healthy soil is understood to mean soil that is teaming with a diversity of bacteria and fungi.


Another scientific discovery of note: healthy soil will eat your underwear. But don’t worry, that’s only if you are in the habit of burying your underwear in the garden.

The article quotes one researcher looking into why farm children have lower rates of asthma and allergies. According to the article, scientists are finding that “the constellation of organisms found in soil and on farm animals programs how a child responds to allergens throughout her lifetime.”

Another researcher, Robert Beelman, found that oats grown on tilled fields have 25% less of an anti-oxidant known informally as ergo. Ergo deficiency is linked to inflammation and premature aging in people. According to the article, Beelman “believes this is because tillage disrupts networks of bacteria and fungi.”

As for that underwear thing, it’s based on a soil test developed by a scientist at the University of Arkansas named Bill Robertson. He buries cotton briefs a couple of inches down. After five weeks, the microbes in healthy soil have eaten the cellulose in the cotton and the briefs are falling apart. In soil lacking in bacteria, you’ll just have dirty, but intact, underpants.

Anyhow, go read the whole article. It provides more evidence, if you need any, that gardening is good for you – and so is soil rich in microbes and organic matter.


27 Comments on “Healthy Soil, Healthy People?

  1. It makes good sense that the soil we grow food in affects the food.. Paul &I are much more careful with our soil now than when we were young…and there is more choice too. Interesting post.

  2. You know I am going to be burying some underpants. πŸ˜‰

  3. Time to raid Clif’s underwear drawer. πŸ˜‰ Seriously, though, excellent points in your post. Healthy soil is the foundation for all life on land.

    • Seems like it should be obvious, but for so long people weren’t aware of all the life in the soil and the functions it served.

  4. Lee Reich puts his worn out jeans in his compost pile, or so I read. 😊
    You’re going to have all your followers out “planting” their skivvies!
    Don’t get me started on how Americans try to hyper sanitize their environments and then wonder why they’re sick all the time! The human body needs some exposure to germs, bacteria, microbes, etc. in order to develop resistance. There’s wisdom in the old adage “ya gotta eat a peck of dirt before ya die”! Sorry… I’ll get off my soapbox now. I missed that article in my WaPo, I need to go read it. Good post, Jason.

    • Thanks. I agree about the excessive tendency to sanitize. I think it is related to the impulse to kill all the insects in the yard.

  5. That is interesting. I’m a firm believer in children being exposed to animals and soil, and all germs in

  6. Great post! I really do think that the whole sanitize everything movement is losing ground – I haven’t purchased antibacterial soap for over 12 years now for that very reason. Just plain soap is more than enough around here. And I may just have to bury some underwear to see how my soil is doing πŸ˜‰

  7. Absolutely! Healthy, active soil is something I preach all the time. Feed the earth and the earth will feed the plants. But I had not thought to put my undies in the compost!

  8. I’ll have to read the article, but I’m not surprised. This also explains why I actually feel like I NEED to stick my hands in the dirt–especially after a long winter of being soil-deprived. The underwear experiment–LOL.

  9. My house bears witness to my close relationship with dirt. Your article and the comments are good reading — thanks!

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