The human gut microbiome relies on microbes to function optimally, and the same is true for soil. Josie, the co-founder of Food2Soil and a dietitian has always been fascinated by the role of microbes in human health and the similarities between our digestive system and soil. Microbes play a crucial role in increasing immunity, building resilience to pests, allergies, and diseases, and promoting health and vitality in both soil and the gut. Moreover, certain bacteria found in soil are a primary source of antibiotics and other medicines.
Research has shown that microbial diversity below ground equals abundant and healthy life above ground. When there is thriving life in the soil, plants and crops are less likely to be affected by pests above ground. Microbes support the area around the plant’s roots, called the rhizosphere, by breaking down essential nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive, and plants emit substances that feed the microbes. Therefore, we eat the produce, and the cycle continues.
In areas where regenerative agriculture farming methods are practised, foods not only taste better but also have a wider range of microbial life in and around them, which directly benefits the human gut.
Research has linked microbes to improved emotional and mental health. Modern lifestyles and industrial agricultural practices have reduced our connection with soils, contributing to the depletion of soils and adversely affecting the gut microbiome.
In 1908, Nobel prize winner Elie Metchnikoff first observed that those living in a region of Bulgaria consuming large amounts of fermented food in their diet tended to live longer. This gave rise to the popularity of probiotic foods with health benefits and further studies into what we eat – and the relationship between food, health and well-being.
Researchers are still discovering how microbes, such as the common bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae found in soil, can act as an antidepressant, boosting levels of happy hormones and serotonin while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. In recent years, scientists have also found beneficial bacteria, namely Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium, significantly reduce psychological distress in the form of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Microbes are responsible for half of the chemical composition of petrichor, the aroma soils emit after rainfall on Earth. Microbial life in the soil produces a chemical called geosmin, combined with broken-down long-chain fatty acids from plant leaves. This uplifting scent can positively impact a farmer’s or gardener’s mood, particularly in Australia, indicating moisture landing on dry soils.
Spending time in nature, whether it be gardening, walking, or simply sitting in a green space, provides a multitude of benefits, including reduced stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts, and doctors are now prescribing these activities to combat various different conditions, as well as factors linked to ill health such as loneliness and isolation.
By caring for, touching, and tending to soils and eating produce directly from the garden, we are unknowingly consuming trace amounts of microbes and receiving the life-enhancing benefits they provide. By eating food from healthy soils, we can feel better and create a more sustainable future. Food2Soil’s core mission is to nourish and return life back to the soil, and you can join the movement by clicking here.