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.
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.
At 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.