The University of Wisconsin - Madison's  School of Human Ecology has partnered up with Heartland Farm Sanctuary (HFS) to conduct a research study during the summer of 2017. HFS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless farm animals in Wisconsin. It opened its doors in 2010 and is Wisconsin's only rescue farm.  As such, HFS serves as a unique resource that has been able to create and provide a safe, peaceful and experientially rich environment where youth and farm animals can come together to interact, learn and have fun. 

The study, which is being spearheaded by Kim Kelly, PhD. a medical anthropologist and post doctoral researcher at the School of Human Ecology, under the supervision of Charles Raison, MD in the department of Human Development and Family Studies, will be looking at whether or not a time-limited exposure to a farming environment can produce physiological and/or psychological changes in youth, and if so, assess how long may those effects last. 

The idea for our study is inspired by past research that has shown that children who grow up in rural/ farming environments, have a markedly decreased tendency towards developing conditions like asthma and allergies, in contrast to children who grow up in urban settings. 

One theoretical perspective that aims to explain this observed phenomenon is the "hygiene hypothesis", which outlines the notion that the high level of cleanliness and lack of interaction with certain microorganisms in the soil, air, etc. that are present in rural/farming environments and lacking largely in our modern world, may be factors that contribute towards the development of atopic conditions like asthma and allergies. 

Scientific data suggests that when children are exposed to the broad array of microorganisms found in farming environments, their immune systems are trained to learn how to self-regulate and gradually adapt to the presence of said microorganisms without becoming overactive.

In contrast, children who grow up in sterile environments in urban settings, bypass this exposure, which may result in an overactive immune response to harmless stimuli, which may then manifest in the form atopic conditions such as asthma and allergies.

What we don't yet know is whether or not a time-limited exposure,(2 -3 weeks of summer camp) in contrast to full immersion to the farming environment can confer some of those protective immune effects. So, to study this, we partnered up with HFS and we are beginning to recruit youth, ages 8-13 who have signed up for HFS’s annual summer camp to be participants in this study.

Because activities in the camp include up close and personal interaction with farm animals and barn chores, this is a unique and rich opportunity that lends itself nicely to scientific inquiry through our carefully designed research protocol.

To learn more about the summer camp offered at HFS, visit their website at: https://heartlandfarmsanctuary.org/summer-camp-2017/

To learn more about the study, or to enroll your child in this innovative study, please contact Angelica Medrano at angelica.medrano@wisc.edu.