Ask any gardener why he or she enjoys working in the soil, and you will get a multitude of answers: it’s satisfying to see plants grow under your care, it feels good to be outside, it’s exercise, the fruits taste better when they are home grown, it’s a money saver at the market, it has a calming and meditative effect, and so on. But medical researchers in the past decade have indicated that gardening actually has scientific benefits to making us feel good!
It seems that skin contact with a certain, specific bacterial microbe found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, may release serotonin. Serotonin relaxes us, helps ward off depression and makes us feel happy. Gardeners, as they toil in the soil, can inhale this microbe, ingest it on the food they harvest, and have it enter their bodies through little cuts or scratches.
Natural serotonin boosts can be especially helpful for those who have experienced substance abuse or addiction, where happiness was previously sought through addictive habits.
For anyone who finds a passion in gardening, the pleasure and gratification opportunities are endless. Getting out early season to plan the garden, turning the soil and planting seeds, going to the local nurseries and perusing the aisles for this year’s treasures, bringing them home and squeezing them in next to the newly emerged seedlings, savoring fresh produce picked today, and of course the joys of admiring the lovely colors and shapes of flowers.
At the Foundry, we have been working hard to turn the ranch into a farm. We have planted dozens of fruit trees, along with berry bushes, asparagus, and medicinal herbs, and are slowly turning compacted old hayfield soil into rich garden soil. We have six low tunnels we are planting out with annual crops of peas, beans, carrots, beets, salad greens, potatoes, garlic, and squash. Our participants claim to really enjoy it, and we certainly appreciate the help while working alongside them.
We plan to construct a greenhouse this fall, which will provide us with a place to start seeds next year. This space will also be used as a gathering place for participants and staff, be it for therapy sessions, yoga, or gardening workshops. In cold, dark January, it will definitely be a popular place on sunny days!
Gardening truly offers something for everyone, and for new gardeners, it’s best to pick a favorite or two and start small. If you need a more solid theory to put gardening into practice, knowing that the Colorado climate can be tough for gardening, the promise of a serotonin release will hopefully inspire. We are happy to show you the gardening ropes while you enter recovery. And we promise that if you just give it a try, you’ll like it!
If you’d like to read more about how gardening can make you feel better and strengthen the mind and body, take a look at the articles below:
The Economist: Bad is Good
Medical News Today: Getting Dirty May Lift Your Mood
BBC News: Dirt exposure ‘boosts happiness’
USA Today: Farm living could arm kids against asthma
Kim Brooks is the Horticultural Facilitator at The Foundry, a rehab and substance abuse treatment center in Colorado, and oversees the garden care and plant harvest, which is used in The Foundry’s culinary creations as well as donated to the local community. Kim Brooks has been gardening in the Steamboat area since 2000. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for growing food with the Foundry participants.