- Author: Janet Hartin
I love research results that can be applied to everyday life and wanted to pass along a couple of tidbits. Did you know that playing in the dirt (e.g. what adults call 'gardening') and getting your hands dirty can boost your serotonin levels, producing a feeling of calmness and increasing your happiness? This is because many soils contain a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which triggers this 'feel good' response. But the benefits don't stop there. Serotonin can also boost one's immune system which is a welcome outcome during flu season.
Another very interesting finding is that harvesting the fruits of your gardening labor, whether it be tomatoes or squash or even Brussels sprouts, can increase dopamine levels in your brain. This chemical rush results in mild euphoria. Researchers have even documented that just plucking an eggplant off a grocer's shelf can mimic this response. Evolutionary biologists are not at all surprised, attributing the more 'modern day' response to the onslaught of rural populations to cities and urban areas where fewer people actually grow their own food.
Have you ever heard of the term 'biophilia'? It was coined by Dr. Edwin O. Wilson, an entomologist studying the social behavior of ants and suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. I look forward to the day when there is adequate evidence that I can blog that biophilia is a fact rather than a theory! I do believe living things prosper together.
And, it's no wonder that school gardens are becoming so popular. K-12 students who engage in gardening are found to have greater self esteem, lower rates of depression and anxiety, improved social skills, a greater sense of cohesiveness and belonging, a lower body mass index and healthier diets. In many cases students engaged in gardening activities that are directly connected to mastering core subject matter even earn higher grades and perform better on standardized tests.
What does all of this have to do with our University of California Cooperative Extension programs in San Bernardino County? Our Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers, Expanded Food and Nutrition (EFNEP) educators and 4-H members have banded together across professional disciplines to promote school gardens and healthy diets in several locations. As they say, a picture paints 1,000 words. You decide! I bet you can't help but smile (which is also good for your health) at the success of these events for both the students and the staff!