Farms, Animals, and Adolesecents: Reinforcing the Microbiome

Researchers at the school of human ecology, University of Wisconsin-madison, are partnering with heartland farm sanctuary to conduct a  research study that will examine whether exposing city kids to a farming environment will positively impact their health and well-being. 

Heartland Farm Sanctuary,  located in Verona, WI was founded by Dana Barre and opened its doors in 2010. Heartland Farm Sanctuary is the largest dedicated farm animal sanctuary in Wisconsin. Heartland is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide care for farm animals in need, nurture people through the human-animal bond, and foster respect and kindness towards animals and each other.  

The collaborative research study between the School of Human Ecology (SoHE) and Heartland is being spearheaded by Dr. Kimberly Kelly, medical anthropologist with over fifteen years health research experience and Dr Charles Raison, who is internationally recognized for his rigorous studies investigating novel mechanisms involved in the development and treatment of major depression, immune, and other stress-related health problems. 

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The study will be conducted during the summer of 2017, we will examine the effects of Heartland Farm Sanctuary's summer camp on children 7-13.

The camp, which uses an immersive humane education model, provides a unique setting in which to examine whether a time-limited exposure to a farm setting impacts children's biological and psycho-social health; increases compassion, kindness and empathy; and changes attitudes towards farm animals and their well-being over time.

Currently we know that children raised on farms experience less autoimmune and atopic allergy issues than those raised in more sterile rural and urban environments, and that this continues into adulthood. The literature suggests that this is due to exposure to both environmental (i.e. farm based) and animal-related bacteria. Additionally, scientific data suggest that children in developed countries, particularly those living in non-farm, urban environments, are left unexposed to microorganisms that have the potential to prime their immune systems to guard against immune disorders and conditions that could lead to debilitating psychological and physiological health outcomes. These scientific data as a whole suggest that exposure to microorganisms in a traditional farming environment could produce anti-inflammatory responses leading to immune modulatory effects that in turn affect psycho-social health. 

What is not known, however, is whether or not this protective effect can be induced through participation in immersive camp that replicates farm life for a period of time among young children, and how long after this immersion the protective effects last.  

Our study is designed to explore these questions. In order to examine this we will assess changes in behavior (via questionnaires), immune/neuroendocrine physiology (via saliva collection), gut microbiota composition and function (via stool samples) and presence in the body of farm-derived immunoregulatory micro-organisms (via nasal and skin swabs). The study will enroll children participating in two or three consecutive weeks of Heartland's summer camp, and include assessments before, during and up to three months following the camp exposure to assess how long the effects of camp persist.

Enrollment in the study has not yet commenced, please check back frequently for updates. If you have questions about the study, please contact Kim Kelly at: kkelly2@wisc.edu

Donations to support our work with this study are graciously accepted.

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