Sunlight – how much I took it for granted until living on a farm. Growing up in Arizona I saw the sun nearly every day. I spent a lot of time protecting myself from it. But living on a farm, I see benefits I never thought of before.
A few years ago I read the book “Evidence Not Seen,” a true story of a young American missionary woman’s courage and faith in the jungles of New Guinea and her four years in a notorious Japanese prison camp. Something that came up almost as a small side story was how she had no hot water or disinfectant in the prison camp, so they laid things out in the hot sun as a way of sterilizing items.
Just recently I saw an article sharing the story of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. During this time, they said two of the worst places to be were in military barracks and troop-ships. The darkness and bad ventilation put the soldiers at high risk for catching the influenza as well as other infections that followed.
They found that the severely ill flu patients who were nursed outdoors recovered better than those treated indoors. A combination of fresh air and sunlight seems to have prevented deaths among patients; and infections among medical staff. We now have much scientific support for this. Research shows that outdoor air is a natural disinfectant. Fresh air can kill the flu virus and other harmful germs. Equally, sunlight is germicidal and there is now evidence it can kill the flu virus.
When the virus hit the U.S., the hospital’s medical officer understood the benefits of the fresh air and sunlight and decided to give them as much fresh air as possible by treating them in tents outside. And in good weather they were taken out of the tents and put into the sun. It was actually a much more common practice back then to put sick soldiers in the sun. This became the treatment of choice because of the high success rate.
Putting infected patients out in the sun may have helped because kills bacteria that cause lung and other infections in hospitals. During the First World War, military surgeons routinely used sunlight to heal infected wounds. They knew it was a disinfectant. What they didn’t know then, but we know now, is that by placing patients outside in the sun they can synthesize vitamin D in their skin if sunlight is strong enough.
So how does all this relate to what we do here on the farm? For one thing, we get a lot of fresh air and sunlight because of our need to do chores every day, no matter what the weather. We see so many benefits to that in our own health.
But what really stands out to me is the example of outdoor poultry processing. Poultry processing plants where most of the grocery store chicken comes from, are indoor facilities that process thousands of chickens every day. Imagine the amount of germs in those facilities.
The government says that if we don’t have an enclosed slaughterhouse, then the air is unsanitary. That’s the “official” science. So the protocol of large chicken processors/corporations, is to sanitize the chicken by putting it through a chlorine-bleach bath and expose it to UV light before taking it to market.
The people who work in these facilities live in a gloomy, confined processing place that is running
24/7 all year round. But on a small family farm or homestead, we can easily process up to 1,000 chickens a year under an “exemption” law here in Missouri. Other states will allow more or less than 1,000. But you could process plenty of your own chickens in your own backyard for your own consumption!
Why would you want to do that? Because it is so much healthier. On our farm, we don’t process every day, of course. It is a seasonal activity. Our chickens are raised on pastures in the open sunlight on clean ground with fresh air and sunshine.
When it comes time to process them, it is all done outdoors. The fresh air and sunlight make the task so much more bearable and actually even fun. Fun in the sense that we are accomplishing something very good for our family or others. We are putting up a years’ worth of meat that we know is healthy and free of germs. That feels like an accomplishment and very liberating. And we all have jobs to do and work together as a team to get it done.
When finished, the air, sunlight and rain will disinfect all our surfaces naturally. There is no odor and in just a few days there is no sign that any processing took place.
How much more can we do in the open sunshine? The fact is, the more we are outdoors the less likely we are to be exposed to infectious germs that are many times present in enclosed areas. The open air and sunlight are excellent disinfectants and do not create antibiotic type resistance bacteria. So get out in the sunlight at least once a day. Send the kids out to play in the dirt or plant a garden.
Who knows, maybe you’ll one day want to process your own chickens too!
1. Hobday RA and Cason JW. The open-air treatment of pandemic influenza. Am J Public Health 2009;99 Suppl 2:S236–42. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.134627.
2. Aligne CA. Overcrowding and mortality during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Am J Public Health 2016 Apr;106(4):642–4. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.303018.