Who is Jessica Smith?

Jessica Smith is a Certified Ecological Farmer and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. With a B.S. in Sustainable Living and Living Soils, she combines her passions to encourage the earth and its inhabitants back into a state of balance and vitality. She’s taught Nutrient Dense Gardening and Wildlife Habitat Restoration at the University of Richmond in hopes to improve soil health, ecosystem health, environmental health, and human health. She consults with community organizations, schools, farmers, individuals, and online to help spread the message of growing food for better health and a better planet.

Growing Up with Grandpa

Jessica started out growing food with her grandpa when she was a kid and remembers growing her own food ever since. Her grandpa always had a garden and chickens. There was always something happening in the backyard. These are some of her fondest memories; she recalls she always was in the garden with him. Jessica’s grandpa has a picture that he told her he has saved for a blackmail. It is of her in her underwear in front of a plum tree, which was her favorite as a kid, and she had plum juice all over her face and down her body. 

What does she have to say about the importance of soil when gardening?

It was normal, every summer, to expect lots and lots of fresh tomatoes. Grandpa would grow 50 or more different varieties and have hundreds of tomato plants. Her childhood was just filled with positive and wonderful memories of tasty food. When she was getting a little bit older, around high school age, Jessica remembers sitting on the back deck with her grandpa looking out over the fields and yard where he told her “if you take care of the land, it’ll take care of you.” From that moment on, Jessica thought “Oh wow, that’s what we should be doing.” She says, “it’s so amazing to feel like you can put your love into something and that will be reciprocated with abundance.”

  • How to really put life back into the soil
  • How that can create super vibrant, medicinal food, and everyday produce.

For Jessica, it is about growing awesome food, which she says feels amazing. She wants everybody to be able to have that same feeling.

What Happened to our Soil?

Where did we go wrong and started treating soil like dirt?

Jessica shared that when you treat it like an inanimate, non-living object, you are going to get a result that is not as vibrant as it could be. By putting chemicals or pesticides or herbicides, or different antimicrobials into the soil, it short circuits the system. In nature, like in the forest, nobody is using fertilizer, but the plants are growing. When you have diversity, there are no imbalances. Where we have gone wrong is thinking that we can improve what is already perfect. Like we think we can make nature better. What makes nature better is understanding it and supporting it. 

We could shift it that direction by gardening and growing our own food. What is important is to make sure we are not using chlorinated water because that is put into the water to disinfect it of microbes, and that is inherently going to disinfect the soil microbes. In the plant’s rhizosphere, there are beneficial microbes that help break down nutrients and feed them to the plant, and then the plant feeds the microbes; there’s a symbiotic relationship happening. We get healthy plants by supporting life, making sure our soils are moist, making sure it’s covered and not disturbing it all the time.

Focusing on fatigue and energy, how could going through this process and gardening improve energy and even mood?

When it comes to gardening, there are so many facets to how it boosts health and your energy. 

The first one is being in the fresh air, you are going outside. For some people, that makes the biggest difference. Jessica’s partner’s mom called them and said, “I’m having such a great day. I feel so good.” She was lively and happy. The couple said, “What do you do?” and his mother replied, “I opened the windows, and I went outside.” 

Fresh air is so enlivening and full of so many good things. What we do not realize is that a lot of times the air quality in our house is poor. Getting outside in the fresh air with the negative ions and all the different microbes and beneficials that are happening, boosts our mood. That is the first component, the fresh air. Sunlight with vitamin D and all the supporting cofactors that help absorb nutrients. You cannot help but smile when the sun is shining down on your face. 

Next is physical activity. Make sure your lymphatic system is flowing, which you need to detox. It would help your system reduce the burden of anything that might be weighing you down. There is something so peaceful, soothing and healing about working with plants and being in nature. 

The benefits of being around plants and gardening

There have been studies in hospitals where just having pictures of plants in nature in the rooms, it improved recovery rates of sick patients. Nature therapy and getting outside is so healing in that sense.  There’s also soil, a specific microbe called m. vaccae – also known as the golden bacillus of happiness. What happens is as soon as you come into contact with that, physically, it boosts serotonin levels in your brain, and it makes you feel happy and energized. It’s almost as if the Earth is coaxing you to come near it and be outside.  

In addition to growing the awesome food itself that’s so much nutritionally beneficial, just being outside as well as being present in that moment with nature, and living the whole system, it will support you and lift your mood and your energy. Jessica says, “Every time we worked with students out in the garden, or when Joe & I were out in his garden, he said he couldn’t be stressed or feel dragged down.” 

When we garden, we can leave them all behind; the heavy burden of everyday life and different things that we might be going through. It gives us a respite. We could recollect ourselves and reconnect with that kind of source of life. There are so many ways that gardening is super, super awesome. You always feel energized after gardening. Gardening also helps you have more access to fresh foods. Growing and eating your own fresh produce helps you boost your energy.

I love that  she did not even really talk about the nutritional value of gardening which is something that oftentimes we forget. Gardening is giving us all of these essential lifestyle basics like movement, air, sun, getting down into the dirt. I think about the pictures of my daughter, who’s now 11 years old, shoving the dirt into her mouth. And while you were talking about that, and bacillus, or whatever it was, increasing her serotonin levels, I was thinking, “That’s why maybe kids love just eating that dirt and just shoving it up in their faces.” 

Check out Jessica’s film Grow Food here! It’s a must-see.

Take care,

Dr. Evan Hirsch

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