Dirt Therapy

A recent exchange with a friend who posted a Smithsonian magazine article about the health benefits of playing in the dirt got me thinking about the contrasts between life in the city and at the farm.20130504_154334

When we decided to start the farm, we agreed to continue living in Seattle.  Jonathan commutes every day and I join him about once a week.  The base of support for me and the kids is in Seattle so I was reluctant to pick up and move even though it meant that Jonathan would spend about 2 hours per day commuting.   Most days I’m glad we stayed in the city.  We’re able to meet friends at the park and for play dates at a moment’s notice, the library is nearby and I simply love the funky shops and restaurants in my neighborhood.

But life in the city with two small, curious children who indiscriminately touch and taste just about every inanimate object they can get their hands on, means that I spend a good portion of the day wiping and washing and putting things out of their reach.  I’m constantly on the watch for traffic, sharp objects, and other dangers.  I also find myself repeating “don’t do that”, “don’t touch that”, “that’s not yours”, and “not in your mouth” all day long – which becomes tedious after awhile.  In an effort to avoid illness, we wash our hands a lot and I use disinfecting wipes to clean the handles of shopping carts and public high chairs.  Call it overkill.  I call it my own personal war against the common cold.

20130504_140030At the farm, things are different.  There’s a lot less “no.”  Our rules tend to relax and Griffin can explore, dig in the dirt, pick up sticks, and throw rocks without us constantly trying to redirect him.  He’s content picking dandelions or looking for bees, slugs, and worms.  With a 20 acre playground sitting on the banks of a river, I love to hear him chatter about going fishing or helping Papa in the greenhouse, and seeing the pure joy he gets from jumping in puddles or stomping on clumps of dirt.  I’m sure that our 9 month old daughter, Caia, who just started crawling, will join him in no time.

With this stretch of nice weather, we’ve enjoyed tromping around in the fields with the kids.  In fact we can go for hours (gasp!) without washing hands or wiping faces.  No disinfecting wipes here!  But I’m okay with it because I believe that all the exposure to dirt, weeds, grass, and nature will bolster my kids’ immune systems in the long run.

As a farmer, you just have to embrace the dirt.  Sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.


  1. Ian says:

    We are envious! I absolutely think you’ve made an awesome choice from a “giving your kids the best” perspective. It’s cool they get exposed to both worlds – I think there’s something to be said for experiencing the diversity of urban life for a kid, too.

    Someone handed me a flyer for gardening summer camp at the Tilth edible plant sale today… Kaiam said, “Can I go to gardening camp?” I said, “Uh, sure – you mean you want to?” He said, “Of course! I love gardening!” I was so stoked. 🙂

  2. Tom Isaacson says:

    You are reliving some of the dynamic that transpired 50-75 years ago and transformed the U.S. People tried to split the difference betweent the two worlds you describe and the suburbs exploded. Whether that life was the best or worst of both worlds is probably a matter of debate.

    • True. The commute is not the best of time, fuel, or money. Time will tell whether it makes sense to split our time between city and farm or whether we embrace the farm life full time. Each life style has pros and cons.

  3. Ian says:

    It’s my understanding that the advent of sub-urbs had as much to do with white flight as seeking a middle, uh, ground between urban and rural – certainly for Atlanta, where I’m from, that was the case. But I digress. Apart from the benefits of part-time rural exposure your kids are gonna get, I think it’s also really cool that they can actually work with you, or at least hang with you while you work, out there.

    • I’m looking forward to the day that the kids can actually help with the farm work. Right now they’re still so little that they need someone’s full attention while we’re there. I’m sure we’ll hit our stride though. We plan to make a garden for Griffin where he can play and learn how to take care of plants without us hovering over him. I’m really looking forward to that!

  4. Peter Lin says:

    I can understand your mixed feeling about living in the city and on the farm. You are lucky to have the best of both world. Griffin has a big playground to run around and to explore. Staying in Seattle gives him access to library and cultural activities offered by schools and community services. This will certainly help him developing a healthy childhood life and cultivating his love for nature. A balanced growth and freedom of expression are essential to foster a good personality and creativity. Commuting is time-consuming, but it is good in a sense that it allows you to change your environment and take your mind off your farm after a long day hard work. Life needs variety, monotony is boring. Sweet Caia will soon join her brother to enjoy happy childhood and develop a balanced growth both mentally and physically.

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