Moving towards a more sustainable way of life

By Dr. Melissa Gomez

I know many of you are aware that both my husband Matt and myself quit our jobs, sold our house, left our home town, family and friends in order to move to a beautiful (but rundown) little farm in northern New Mexico. You may be thinking that we are kind of crazy; I know Matt and I do sometimes.

And I’m going to give you a facetious but truthful answer as to why we chose this path: We did it for the love of bacteria and other tiny animals (AKA microorganisms).

Let me explain a little better. Matt and I have always had a dream to be involved in something bigger, more important and more meaningful than ourselves. In college I thought I might become a nun and live in the colonias of Juarez helping poor people. I once tried to break up with a boyfriend because I thought we were becoming too materialistic (we broke up later for different reasons). I know Matt has always loved the way he felt when he was outside, enjoying the wilderness, camping, fishing, hiking, connecting with the earth; something he didn’t get at his day job. We have recycled, tried to ethically source our food, our clothes, been energy conscious at home, composted, tried to give up plastic (and failed). And my job as a physician has felt very important and meaningful. And in spite of all these things I know that Matt and I didn’t feel like we were “ all in”.

And don’t get me wrong, I have also been the person who was materialistic, wasteful, inconsiderate of the wellbeing of others, animals, plants, the planet. I’m not saying we have been or are now currently the people we aspire to be, but we are trying.


So we bought the farm because we felt a very deep and personal calling to be stewards of this earth. We had some idea that our job would entail being stewards of the plants, animals, humans and human communities surrounding us. In thinking and learning about how we might serve this goal of stewardship best, I began reading a lot of books and listening to a lot of podcasts on regenerative farming and ranching. I have learned a lot and now believe that regenerative farming and ranching can fix so many of both our human ailments and our planet’s ailments. But in order to be good stewards of the earth, we have to be aware of the entire universe of creatures that live beyond what is visible to the human eye. A universe of which most of us are wholly unaware; a universe that, if destroyed, would cause the entire human race to be come extinct. I became aware that we needed to become stewards of the bacteria and other tiny animals that live in the dirt below our feet.


As a physician I have been fascinated by how we live a very symbiotic life with all of the bacteria, fungi and others microorganisms that use our body as their home. In reality it is a very mutually beneficial relationship; if we tried to eradicate ourself completely of these creates we would not survive long. However, it is a relationship that most humans are completely ignorant of and if given the knowledge, would likely cringe thinking of our bodies teaming with these microscopic creatures. Our next stop would be the nearest hand sanitizing station. We have been taught to hate “germs” and to work to eradicate them ASAP!

Historically, my impression of bacteria and other microorganisms was the same. In medical school I was given the impression that most, if not all bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes were unhealthy, dangerous and disease causing; they should be eradicated. And so I diligently worked toward this end, handing out antibiotics like candy, blanketing “anti-bacterial” products over my body and other surfaces, even purchasing an antibacterial mattress and lip gloss. But as I have learned more about our human bodies I have become aware that while we were killing “bad” bacteria with antibiotics and other antibacterial products, we were also killing “good” bacteria, and the “good” outweigh the “bad” by a ratio of 19:1. These good bacteria help protect us from infection, help us digest our food and access nutrients, help us produce crucial hormones for our wellbeing and survival, to name just a few jobs. I felt bad for these poor little creatures and guilty for the role that I have played in their demise (and the antibiotic resistance that has developed).


And as I learned about regenerative farming, I became aware of a parallel phenomenon happening in our soil. Since the 1900’s we have been using commercially produced fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other chemical implements on our farmland and gardens for what we thought was a good cause: improve soil health, improve crop production, kill unwanted plants, bacteria and bugs. But what we didn’t know is that we were also throwing an atomic bomb on the little microorganisms that exist in our soil, plants and animals. Just like in humans, these tiny microorganisms help the plants fight infection, access nutrition, digest their food and make the plants grow strong and healthy. And without these tiny animals working for us under the surface, we lose the health of our soil which causes a downstream effect to the health of plants, animals and then humans.


So as I read about the microorganisms in the soil and thought about the microorganisms that colonize the human body I felt such a strong sense of the interconnectedness of us all and our inability to destroy one part of ourselves and expect for the rest to go on as if nothing is wrong. At that moment I came to realize that if I was going to go “all in” and actualize my dream of being a part of something bigger than myself I was going to have to think about stewardship on a microscopic level: I needed to love bacteria and other tiny animals. By returning healthy microorganisms back to our soil I could accomplish all my other goals. Regenerating healthy soil means growing healthier food for myself, my family and my patients; growing healthier humans! It means sequestering more carbon and trying to leave this earth better than I found it. It means sharing my land, my plants, my animals, my knowledge with my neighbors and fostering healthy human communities. It also means that I am nurturing that spiritual, intangible, soulful human experience that we all seek to experience in this blink of an eye that we have on this plant. I hope all of you can come to the farm one day and visit, it’s a lovely place.

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