Children who grow up in traditional farm environments are protected from developing asthma and allergy. This 'farm effect' can be largely explained by the child's early life contact with farm animals, in particular cows, and their microbes. Our studies in Amish and Hutterite school children living on farms in the U.S. have further demonstrated that this protection is mediated through innate immune pathways. Although very similar with respect to ancestry and many lifestyle factors that are associated with asthma risk, Amish and Hutterites follow farming practices that are associated with profound differences in the levels of house dust endotoxin, in the prevalence of asthma and atopy among school children, and in the proportions, phenotypes, and functions of immune cells from these children. In this review, we will consider our studies in Amish and Hutterites children in the context of the many previous studies in European farm children and discuss how these studies have advanced our understanding of the asthma-protective 'farm effect'.
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