By Elizabeth Warburton-Smith

During this unusual holiday season, it may seem like there are fewer reasons to smile. We find ourselves distancing from others instead of coming together in traditional celebration. This holiday will be very different than any other in history because our lives have been so drastically affected for the sake of disease prevention and saving lives. Many of us are feeling down and wondering when we might be going back to our normal traditions and lives. There is no clear end or resolution to the COVID-19 problem, so we need to find coping skills to help us through.
Growing a garden helps us physically by allowing us to interact with nature, keeps us active and boosts our immune system by consuming fresh, nutrition packed produce. But did you know that touching healthy soil actually creates a chemical connection between the earth and our moods? According to ScienceWorld, research shows that getting our hands dirty in soil can improve our mental wellbeing through the interaction of microbes in organic rich soil increasing serotonin production in the human brain.

This was first medically reported in 2000 when Dr. Mary O’Brien found that lung cancer patients inoculated with a soil microbe serum exhibited fewer cancer symptoms and improved emotional health, vitality and even cognitive function. And according to The Atlantic, playing in organic rich soil can actually give our brains a natural ‘high.’ It turns out our immune systems respond to soil by increasing production of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

“While peacefulness, serenity and communing with nature all play a role in the natural high associated with the great outdoors, actually picking and harvesting garden fruits and vegetables also has an impact on brain chemicals. Researchers speculate that due to humankind’s long [~200,000 years] history of hunting and gathering, dopamine is released in the brain’s pleasure center when food is located: seen, smelled or actually picked,” reports But is this a good time to give the gift of gardening to yourself or your loved ones?

December is actually a great time to grow plants and food here in our desert climate. It is often a very mild month with some cold spurts so plant things like cabbage, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, Asian greens, radishes, carrots, and one of my favorites, mustard. Start with plants, not seeds (except in the case of radishes and carrots) as the plants need to establish themselves so they can get a jump on the season before things get colder in January and February. Once established, cool weather plants like the ones mentioned above will do just fine through the colder months and should keep on producing through the spring.

We have a couple of open garden beds in the Rita Ranch Community Garden so if you would like to give yourself and your loved ones the happy, healthy gift of gardening, email to reserve your bed today. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season.

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Lucretia Free