It’s a Dirty Life We Lead

Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.-John Burroughs

My favorite joke:  

I thought I’d run out to the barn really quickly and just stay clean.  

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!


I’ve been reading a lot lately about soil and human health.  It started with Sir Albert Howard a few years ago then Dr Daphne Miller’s Farmacology and a list of scholarly journals and now I am awaiting the arrival of The Dirt Cure.

I’ve learned a few things.

1) You’ll never be healthier than the soil from which you eat.  

2) You can’t outsmart nature for long.

3) If you try for sanitary conditions, you not only weaken the stock (plant or animal) but the microbes that develop or eventually get in will be the bad kind but tougher and more devastating.


I spend a lot of time either reading about, writing about, talking about or (my favorite) working in soil.  

On top of that, having livestock means manure is a fact of life in a more open, everywhere sort of way than it is for city dwellers.  

Then there is the ever present film of sand, dirt and decaying gunk that is part of having even a small farm.

As of this Sunday, my camel trench has horse snot on it.

I remember digging feverishly with my hands to locate both ends of a broken water pipe running between our well and our house.  You should have seen the looks on the faces of my two neighbors.  Apparently, they weren’t used to people getting dirty.

I own a nice pair of leather soled dress shoes.  I couldn’t even figure out how to get to my car without ruining them.

I go to the hardware store in my muck boots, mud up to my knees and my sweaty face smeared with soil and God knows what else.  Some weirdos stare.  


Bags of manure, just part of the fun

Oh, and the fact that I even own white clothing is a running joke.

I once had a job pumping the liquid, neon green (another subject!) hog manure from pits (under CAFO barns) and lagoons (poop ponds).  In the north, pipes get cold enough to freeze, even 8 inch pipes full of poop,  so when this would happen you had to rely on skill to determine the freeze line and open the pipe just after that point, otherwise the pressurized sludge would burst out everywhere, including your face.  Sounds like fun, no? 

During planting times, I have dirt imbedded in my nails so deep that they bleed if I try any harder to get them clean.  Yes, smarty, I could wear gloves, but they are very hard to work in and take away the sensitivity I need to handle seeds and plants.

My kids are no different.  If they are outside, they are filthy or just pre-filthy.  And I am almost to the point I am going to stop pretending it bothers me.  I do mind food covered faces in public, dirty clothes at church and dirty hands at a restaurant but other than that, I think it is great that they are neck deep in some crazy project.  I cannot count the number of times I have seen every inch of them covered in mud.

We once had a family picture taken on a compost pile.  It went out on our Christmas card.

Not doing something because of the dirt factor is beyond me.  I think this was instilled in me by parents who always just did the work.  I never once heard them complain about something being “ucky.”  My mother is a particular stand out in this area.  She has never let people’s opinions get in her way and she is as tough a farm hand as has ever been.  She has short hair now because once, when she had hair to her britches, she had to duck into a peacock house and one pooped in her hair.  Fixing this made her late to work.  Goodbye impractical hair.  

These are the tales of my people.


There are only two exceptions to the “it all washes off rule” of which I am aware: pig manure on leather and pine tar on anything.  

Now, delicate flower friends, I do not want to deter you from growing something.  I imagine you outside, pearls over a cardigan and clean garden clogs that would fill with water if they encountered a puddle.  Your little garden is worthy of a home fashion magazine.  So cute.  I’d love to come for tea one day, immediately after I’ve had a shower.  You probably shouldn’t visit our place.

The same goes for you, managers of the sanitary confinement operations from whence comes the “meat” American’s are so used to eating.  You see microbes as the enemy, we see them as the solution.  

So the next time you are filthy from working outside, (or in, whatever!) count it as a badge of honor.  You are among the elite who put the job over aesthetics and working with nature over trying to banish it.

It is impossible to have a healthy and sound society without a proper respect for the soil.-Peter Maurin

Suggested Reading:

Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life is the real, gritty tale of moving to the country, creating a family and starting a whole diet CSA farm.  She does a great job of bringing the reader with her through it all.

Chew on this:

The high cost of cheap food matters at all life stages.  You hear me rant about building children out of fake, imitation food.  Here is an example from Carroll Krause of how we fail our infirmed.  There is no point in a person’s life when it doesn’t matter what they eat.  There is only damage you notice and damage you don’t.  


Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

5 thoughts on “It’s a Dirty Life We Lead

  1. This week, now that I have started a new job, we had to find out who had the worst contaminated hands. Yup. It was me… by a long way… By an AMAZINGLY long way!
    My hands, when shone under the UV light, was like looking at the stars in the sky. I practically sparkled! A few of the people were shocked… I just shrugged and told them that I was a gardener, what did they expect? I also admitted that I don’t really get ill… How many of them can admit that? This was my closing argument and I think it won.

    As long as you wash your hands when you wipe your backside and wash them before you eat I really don’t see the fuss. We are too clean and our bodies are suffering.

    I also don’t care that my ‘mucky’ pants are a mess and that I only own 2 sets of ‘Good’ clothes. Pfft… I’m just not that kind of person I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOVED The Dirty Life – it made me want to quit my job and run away to a farm.

    I like the saying, “you can’t trust someone who doesn’t have dirt under their nails.” Getting grossed out about dirt is beyond me too. Right now having all my potting soil tested to get amendments under way …. I’m so late on this, but better late than never!

    Liked by 1 person

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