How Your Mental Wellbeing Has Everything to do with Sustainability

Contributed by Markie Pasternak, Coordinator of Mental Well Being at Health Promotion and Wellness Services

The Compass

Here at Auburn University, we use a model to inform our ideas about sustainability called the ‘Sustainability Compass’. Just like on a navigational compass, there are four directions that can guide you towards living a more sustainable life. One of these directions is Individual Wellbeing, or wellness, meaning how you take care of yourself.

The Nine Dimensions of Wellness

What do you think of when you think the term “wellness”?  Maybe it is how much you exercise? What you choose to eat? How you are feeling? Or even maybe how much sleep you get? Auburn’s Health Promotion and Wellness Services Office provides a guide for students, staff and faculty on living a life with a well-rounded definition of wellness. This model is called the Nine Dimensions of Wellness. Each dimension is a part of wellness that influences the other and requires special care and attention in order to sustain one’s own wellbeing.

  1. Graphic icon of a brain
    Image courtesy of Graphic Design in Auburn Student Affairs.

    Physical Wellness

  2. Emotional Wellness
  3. Intellectual Wellness
  4. Financial Wellness
  5. Social Wellness
  6. Occupational Wellness
  7. Environmental Wellness
  8. Cultural Wellness
  9. Spiritual Wellness 

Zooming in on Emotional Wellness

Each dimension of wellness is an umbrella that houses a host of different ways to take care of yourself. This is especially true for emotional wellness. Under this dimension, we tend to throw around terms such as “mental health”, “mental illness”, and “mental wellbeing”. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but what do they really mean?

Mental Health- refers to the overarching idea that our minds need to be taken care of just like our bodies do. Many times when people think of the word “health” it is assumed they are talking about physical health. ‘Mental health’ specifies the importance of maintain mental wellbeing and treating mental illness if necessary.

Mental Illness- refers to circumstances when there is a recognized disorder causing the person distress and disruption to everyday life that should be treated.

Mental Wellbeing- refers to our level of happiness and fulfillment in everyday life and how we take care of ourselves to sustain this level of satisfaction.

Mental Wellbeing at Auburn

In 2015, a task force was created consisting of students, staff and faculty to address mental health on Auburn’s campus. Gathering data using methods such as focus groups and surveys, the task force ultimately came up with recommendations on how to shift Auburn’s culture to not only be more accommodating and less stigmatizing towards those living with a mental illness but also to cultivate mental wellbeing. Using proactive approaches, Health Promotion and Wellness Services is developing new programs to address mental health and wellbeing on campus.

One action that was taken, specifically, was to hire a “Coordinator of Mental Well Being”, which is where I come into this story. Starting this past June, my job has been to coordinate programs at Auburn that promote mental wellbeing and even work to destigmatize mental illness.

Are you interested in getting involved with mental wellbeing initiatives on campus? Below are some opportunities for students, faculty and staff to all take part in this movement:

Active Minds

Active Minds is a student organization with the mission of “changing the conversation around mental health”. These are student leaders and activists seeking to destigmatize mental illness and start productive and positive conversations about mental health.  All Auburn students are welcome to check out an Active Minds meeting every other Tuesday evening at 6:30 PM. The next meeting will be on October 2nd in Student Center Room 2107.

Question Persuade Refer Training

Question Persuade Refer or “QPR” is a method of suicide prevention that can be used when someone is thinking about harming themselves. This method takes a CPR approach to suicide prevention and asks people to be “gatekeepers” meaning they have the knowledge to ask the questions, persuade the person to pause and think about their actions, and refer them to the help and resources that they need. Health Promotion and Wellness Services offers QPR trainings to any groups of students, staff or faculty that request them. Please visit the Health Promotion and Wellness website if you are interested in scheduling a training!

Health Promotion and Wellness Services Presentations and Workshops

Health Promotion and Wellness Services offers a variety of presentations and workshops to be presented to students, faculty and staff. Topics that we cover include happiness and stress management, the nine dimensions of wellness, sleep, and so much more. If you are interested in having one of our office staff come to present to your organization, class or staff please visit our website to request a presentation.

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Finding a Voice: Hearing the Unheard

Contributed by Mary Jo BerkstresserSenior, Natural Resource Management

As a senior in natural resources management, people keep asking me, “Mary Jo, why this trip? How does living in New Zealand or Fiji help you in the long run?” Well nosy neighbor, this trip is called Sustainability in Action so that is pretty pertinent to natural resources. And it may be about tourism, but there is a lot more to tourism than hanging out and having fun.

People like that tend to forget that humans are a major influence on our natural resources. We decide how to use what we have. We choose what gets protected and what doesn’t. Our decisions can have a major impact—positive or negative. This trip was the chance of a lifetime to find out how other people view the world.

As much as we focused on the role nature plays, I found myself more drawn to the role played by the indigenous people. There is an all too common theme of an area being settled by a group for hundreds—if not thousands—of years only to be nearly wiped out by colonizers. New Zealand is much the same. The Maori People were the first to the island; yet, they are not the most dominant culture. When New Zealand was colonized, the Maori were killed and pushed aside; their language was outlawed and almost lost forever.

Sound familiar? The same thing has happened again and again in many locations. The First Nations people in America were treated the same. Unlike America, New Zealand is making an effort to allow the Maori the place in history they deserve. Each tour we attended, each attraction we visited had either Maori language or how the Maori interacted with what we were learning about. National landmarks are being given back the Maori names. Mt. Cook is no longer just Mt. Cook, but now it is Aoraki Mt. Cook. Aoraki being the Maori name which means “cloud piercer” for the way the mountain’s height extends above cloud level.

As wonderful as it was to see the attention given to the Maori, we hardly had any interaction with the Maori directly. We attended a traditional Maori dinner one night in Christchurch during which we watched as Maori people danced the haka and showed us many of the tools and rituals performed by their ancestors. It was truly amazing to behold, but at the same time we were just spectators watching people perform. We never got to talk with the Maori to see what it is like living in New Zealand or even ask if they wanted to perform for us. It felt very superficial.

Photo of Fijian Family
Mary Jo’s host family in Fiji. Photo credit: Mary Jo Berkstresser

Fortunately, we had a much deeper cultural experience in Fiji. We stayed on VoroVoro, a twenty-acre island in the South Pacific. VoroVoro is a cultural center designed to give people the opportunity to discover the rich history of Fiji. We lived in primitive style vales meant to emulate the past. We participated in traditional ceremonies and got a taste of what life is like for a Fijian.

Chief Tui Mali imparted his wisdom on us, encouraging us to be “good like a coconut tree’. Watee taught us to be level-headed and strong as she organized events. Nemani taught us to have fun and live life as he showed us how to do the meke, a traditional dance performed sitting down. Mateo taught us to be clever as he showed us how to climb a coconut tree. Leoni taught us to be brave and self-confident as he showed us how to SCUBA dive. Semisi taught us how to smile and laugh as he sang. Everyone we met taught us something; even if it was just a different perspective on something we thought already knew.

This trip taught me how to listen to the people around me and see what life is like for those in different circumstances. I learned that I have a certain amount of privilege that was given to me for no reason. I cannot speak for the Maori people or people from Fiji. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard, but I can listen. I can talk with those who are being oppressed or cast aside.

Even in Auburn, I can make a difference. I can find those who have something to say that are not being listened to, and I can make sure that they are heard. Everyone has a voice. It is time we start listening. No one deserves to go unheard.

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My Brother Jona

Post contributed by Dominic Linehan, Freshman in Natural Resources Management

I woke up early, around 6 in the morning. My host brother, Jona, was already awake and waiting for me. This was the first time that I saw him in daylight. The night before, he had gone to the mainland to pick up his brother from work for the weekend and had gotten back late. But still, he was up with the sunrise, and ready to get to work. We grabbed our machetes and headed out behind the house. We were walking towards Jona’s cassava patches on the edge of the village of Vesi. Jona has a whole plantation behind his house, full of cassava plants, banana trees, coconuts, and more. We were headed out to pull some Cassava for breakfast.

Fiji House Photo
Typical House In Vesi Photo Credit: Emily Ollero

As we walked on a dirt path through the trees, I noticed that Jona had a limp, and a pretty bad one. His knee was all twisted, and he moved in jerky, irregular motions. He pointed to a ripe papaya above his head and told me to grab it. I plucked it off the tree and we kept going. A few minutes later, we reached Jona’s cassava patches, and quickly pulled three of the large plants out of the ground. After planting a few more cassava plants to replace the ones we took, Jona and I sat on the ground and cut into our papaya.

While we were sat there eating, we got to talking. We exchanged stories about our families and talked briefly about my trip to Fiji so far. Jona then told me that he used to be a fisherman, going diving for a living. One day, while he was out spearfishing, he lost track of time and ran out of oxygen at 60 meters below the surface. He had just enough left in his tank to make an emergency ascent to the surface, but in doing so he got decompression sickness, and was paralyzed from the neck down for a year. Years later, he still struggles to walk, and his fine motor skills in his hands have not completely recovered yet.

Even with these injuries, Jona continues to go fishing regularly, although he rarely sells his catch anymore. The fish, combined with what he grows on his plantation is enough for him. If he needs anything else, he can trade with other people in the village. On the occasion that he does really need to buy something, he will catch some fish, pull cassava, and head into the town of Labasa to sell them. Other than that, Jona said that he doesn’t need any money in Vesi, and he likes it that way. His friends in the village will always be there for him and will help him out if he is in need. That is the way life works in the village. Everyone is family, and they all help each other. After we finished our papaya, we grabbed our machetes and fresh cassava, and walked back to the village to have breakfast.

I learned a lot from Jona that day. He taught me about a whole different way of life. He taught me to look at money differently, and to not get so caught up in trying to become rich. I learned about community, and the importance of family- even if they are not related by blood. He made me think about my life, and where I am headed. Will I ever be as happy as the man that I met in Vesi? Will I be able to live my life as sustainably as him? Hopefully, one day, I will have it all figured out, just like my brother Jona.

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Sustaining Small Farm Sales in an Online World

Post contributed by Jessica Kelton, Regional Extension Agent, Farm & Agribusiness Management Team

With the advent of the internet, almost every aspect of our lives have changed.  Access to information is instant, banking and bill paying can be done from a mobile device, and even shopping by U.S. consumers has shifted to online in lieu of brick and mortar stores.  In previous years, online grocery purchases have been a relatively small percentage of online sales, however, the trend toward internet grocery shopping is growing dramatically.  A recent Nielsen survey reported that nearly 50% of consumers had made grocery purchases within the last three months, and this number is expected to continue to grow.  Given the demand for buying with the click of a button, how can small farms and agribusinesses remain relevant and economically viable when traditional in person sales are at risk of declining in the future?

One such solution to this issue, particularly for small and niche market producers, is a relatively simple, but unique sales model that brings together many local growers to provide customers an online farmers market.  The online farmers market system, a concept which has been implemented by, an Athens, GA based company established in 2007, is somewhat of a mesh between farmers market and CSA.  The basis of the system is to provide an online platform for many local producers to come together with each having their own ‘booth’ to list items for sell each week.  Customers can then choose what they want to buy before the order deadline and pick up their purchases once a week similar to a traditional CSA. There are several advantages to vendors participating in an online farmers market.  It provides small growers a marketing avenue even if they can’t produce enough to stock a weekly booth at a traditional farmers market.  This method of internet sales also gives smaller producers the ability to spread the cost of the online system among multiple vendors rather than individually shouldering the expense and time investment required to operate and manage a website for online purchases.


Photo of farmer selling goods at the Dothan, Alabama Farmer's Market.
Market manager, Roslyn Horton (right) with Birdie Martin of Martin Teas.

In the southeast corner of Alabama, the Market at Dothan has been successfully using this online model for several years, providing its customers access to over 20 vendors’ products on a year-round basis.  The Market, managed by Roslyn Horton, is unique in that it isn’t just in place because it makes financial sense for the farms involved.  The growers are a close-knit community that all ascribe to utilizing farming practices that are environmentally and financially sustainable.  Vendors are committed to producing products free of pesticides and located within 100 miles of Dothan to reduce fuel consumption and provide the freshly harvested goods to its customers.  Not only does the Market provide the local community access to sustainably grown products, members also strive to serve as educators and proponents of sustainable agriculture and the value of these management practices.


A visit to the Market at Dothan’s Friday morning pick up site is a great indication of the current success and future potential of the online market model. With all of the growers walking in with everything from fresh eggs to grass-fed beef and customers dropping by to pay and pick up bags of purchases, it was evident that for everyone there, this was about more than just buying and selling.  This was a group of people coming together to fellowship, catch up, talk shop and enjoy being a part of this community.  Too often, this sense of community is lost to consumers when making a purchase on computer.  However, with the Market’s mix of online and in-person service, customers have the opportunity to shop from home at their leisure without sacrificing the ability to personally connect with the individuals that grow and produce what they are buying.  It’s this piece, the piece that gives customers a reason to keep coming back, that adds to the success of this model.  And it is unique ideas like this that will help keep Alabama’s small farmers in business for years to come.

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Small Beginnings

Post contributed by Jonathan Lillebo, Graduate Student in Adult Education, Bachelor of Science in Horticulture ‘18, President, Organic Garden Club ’16-‘18

You are strolling through the market and as you pass the flower and plant section, you spot a sweet little row of succulents and decide you are going to go for it and create a lovely succulent table. You take your new little friends home, but much to your dismay, a week goes by and instead of being a master of eco interior design you are instead a serial plant murder. Or perhaps you decided to try your hand at growing your own veggies; you purchase all the seeds, build a darling little garden bed and plant each row ever so carefully. Yet, week after week, instead of a bountiful garden, you are still gazing at a patch of dirt. These are just a few examples of the experiences many people have shared with me over the years.  Struggling with plants can be such a discouraging experience people often feel they simply do not have a “green thumb” and give up altogether. I, like many others, started out with a larger garden and quickly became confused and discouraged when my plants did not thrive the way that I expected. Jumping in with both feet can be a great way to start toward many goals, however, unless you are an experienced gardener or farmer it may be too much for many people and lead to a negative experience.

A great remedy for this could be taking your time and starting with a few (or just one) simple herbs. Things like peppermint or basil would be a great place to start, and you can begin to enjoy the flavors of your herb garden within a few short weeks. Adding some fresh basil leaves to a pizza or a sandwich, or some fresh mint to a cool beverage can be very rewarding! If you don’t know how to get started on your own, garden centers have started selling pots with a mix of herbs and the manager could recommend an organic fertilizer to keep your herbs looking beautiful.

Herbs in Pots

If you are associated with Auburn University you are welcome to join the Organic Garden Club to learn more about sustainable gardening. The club meets every Monday from 4-6 at the Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve. Another place to find resources on getting started with a personal garden is your local Extension agent. They will know about community gardens or classes in the local area where you could start building your knowledge base while you grow a productive garden and lasting friendships. Learning about edible plants that are native to your area is beneficial as well. Great joy comes from discovering ripe muscadines while on a hike!

Soon you will have a few plants you have kept alive on your own and be able to enjoy the tasty fruits of your efforts! As your expertise grow (pun intended), you will be able to expand to more plants and further increase what you are contributing to your diet. Experiencing these small successes will boost your confidence and allow you to enjoy the process rather than struggling. Gardening should, after all, be a relaxing and enjoyable experience!

You don’t have to grow a large garden to contribute some home-grown flavors to your diet, or to reduce what you are purchasing in the grocery store. Starting with a few plants and learning about native edibles can make your life a little more sustainable, bring you joy, and add some nice flavors to your diet.

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Investing in the Health of our Soils & the Health of our Communities

Post contributed by Alice Evans, Executive Director of the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN)

Agriculturally, economically, and socially, Alabama has a problem retaining resources – be they nutrients, dollars, or talent and expertise.  Economically, Alabama farmers spend dramatically more on inputs sourced outside the state, than they bring into the state in income each year:  in North Alabama farmers earn $267 million each year producing food commodities while spending $733 million on inputs sourced outside of the region[1]; and in Central Alabama farmers bring in $7 million annually on food commodities, but spend $40 million annually on inputs sourced outside of the region.[2]

At the same time, Alabama consumers purchase $11 billion of food each year, including $6.5 billion to eat at home, of which $1.1 billion is spent on fruits and vegetables.  Over 90% of this money is spent on food grown outside the state.

3rd Annual Graze: Birmingham, photo by Say Bre Photography
3rd Annual Graze: Birmingham Photo Credit: Say Bre Photography

In other words, on both the production and consumption side of Alabama’s food supply chain, we are exporting far more wealth than we are building or retaining within the state.  This can change.  If Alabamians purchased 15% of their food for home use directly from Alabama farmers, farmers would bring in an additional $980 million in income annually.  Meanwhile, sustainable and organic approaches to agriculture require far fewer inputs than conventional agriculture, lowering the cost of production and effectively increasing the wealth retained with the producer (and within the state).

The same sieve-like effect that takes place economically, also takes place agriculturally.  When agricultural systems focus on maximizing production instead of optimizing the overall health of the soil, we see a reduction of soil organic matter, which in turn reduces the soil’s ability to retain vital nutrients.  As a result, conventional farmers must “import” ever-increasing amounts of replacement nutrients… all while an ever-increasing percentage of those “imports” run straight through the soil without being absorbed, and run-off to eventually pollute waterways and downstream ecosystems.[3],[4]

One of the primary aims of sustainable agriculture is to avoid these downward spirals and instead seek to create closed or self-feeding loops.

When the focus is on the health and resiliency of the overall system, the system can actually run better and “run on less” because it uses, retains, and reuses the resources it has available.  Focusing on health instead of output, changes the fundamental way we view agriculture and our role in it.  As farmer and author Wendell Berry writes, “We apply the word “health” only to living creatures, and […] a healthy soil is a wilderness, mostly unstudied and unknown, but seemingly alive. The soil is at once a living community of creatures and their habitat.”  The farm’s crops, animals, and farmers, he says, “all are members of the soil community; all belong to the character and identity of the place. To rate the farm family merely as “labor” and its domestic plants and animals merely as “production” is thus an oversimplification, both radical and destructive.”

To cultivate a healthy soil, a web of healthy soil relationships, we must cultivate a deep familiarity with the personalities, preferences, and needs of all the members of the soil community.  We must embrace complexity and inconvenience and interdependence.  We must be humble enough to see ourselves as part of the soil community, not master of it.

These same things hold true for cultivating healthy human communities.  When we focus on cultivating a deep and wide network of healthy relationships with the people with whom we live in community, we cultivate more elegant, cyclical, and self-strengthening ways of reinvesting in ourselves and banking up resilience and collective prosperity.

This sort of community-building is ASAN’s goal year-round, but as we move into the fall we would like to highlight two noteworthy opportunities.

Our farm-to-fork picnic Graze: Birmingham is coming up on September 9, and is meant to bring consumers closer to area farmers and local chefs who raise and prepare amazing food.  Graze is a family-friendly shindig with live music and grass to spread out on while you enjoy good food and drink and the warm vibes of community.  Learn more and buy tickets on the Graze page.

Round Table Discussion at Regional Food & Farm Forum in Mentone, Photo Credit: Alice Evans
Round Table Discussion at Regional Food & Farm Forum in Mentone Photo Credit: Alice Evans

Secondly, our December Food & Farm Forum, accompanied this year by our first-ever Youth Food & Farm Forum, seeks to create a platform for peer-to-peer sharing and relationship-building as well.  The Forum and Youth Forum are a conference, a space for learning hard skills about food production, sustainable living, food systems, and more… but they’re also a celebration of the end of the year and the growing season, and a reunion of friends old and new.  This year’s event will be December 7-8 at Camp McDowell, about an hour northwest of Birmingham.

“Soil science,” as practiced by soil scientists, and even more as it has been handed down to farmers, has tended to treat the soil as a lifeless matrix in which “soil chemistry” takes place and “nutrients” are “made available.” And this, in turn, has made farming increasingly shallow — literally so — in its understanding of the soil. The modern farm is understood as a surface on which various mechanical operations are performed, and to which various chemicals are applied. The undersurface reality of organisms and roots is mostly ignored.

“Soil husbandry” is a different kind of study, involving a different kind of mind. Soil husbandry leads, in the words of Sir Albert Howard, to understanding “health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject.”

Sustainable or regenerative agriculture on the other hand is successful when the farm – above and below the soil level – is teeming with abundant, diverse, and interdependent life forms.  The micorrhizal fungi life on plant root systems and draw nutrients and water from much farther than the roots themselves extend.  Dung beetles break apart manure pads, distributing it laterally and digging down and burying it into the soil, aerating it and recovering lost nitrogen that then does not need to be added synthetically.

When we are intimately familiar with the people and communities around us – and each of their unique skill sets, needs, and backgrounds – and when we open ourselves up to be changed by our experience of being part of community, the result is empowering and enriching.





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Auburn City Farmer’s Market Kicks Off This Month!

Post contributed by Crystal Boutwell ‘18, Graduate Student, Rural Sociology

Fall will be here soon, alongside lower temperatures and thoughts of the outdoors. Football, camping, the changing color of leaves, and fresh produce all come to mind as essential elements of fall. Where better to get fresh produce than a farmer’s market? So grab your reusable shopping bags and get ready for the second annual Auburn Parks and Recreation Department’s Monthly Market.

The market aims to involve growers who aren’t big enough for larger markets like those in Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Birmingham, and to connect community members with the people growing their food. A fall starting date helps those farmers who also participate in the summer’s ‘the Market at Ag Heritage Park’ to have an income in what would normally be their “off-season.”

Last year, six farmers were represented at the market. This year, the city hopes for at least eight with the potential for new growers like the AU Medicinal Plant Garden, healthy catering options in Auburn, and a local butchery. “There’s a lot more than just produce,” Whitney Morris, the City of Auburn Aquatics and Special Events Coordinator, says. Hornsby Farms who produces jams and jellies and Pecan Point who produces oats and yogurt will both be returning to the market.

Guests and vendors at the Monthly Market
Guests and vendors at the Monthly Market. Photo contributed by Whitney Morris.

The Harris Center will become a hub for local farmers and producers to sell their goods to the Auburn community from September to April. Those interested can shop from 4:30-6:30 p.m on the fourth Tuesday of each month. According to Whitney, this time choice accommodates people who want to buy local, but don’t get off work until late in the afternoon.

The location of the market is favorable in many ways. The Harris Center is located across from the Post Office with plenty of parking. The building has an interior large enough to house six or more vendors and their produce with the option of moving outside in months with nicer weather.

Buying produce and other goods locally has many benefits for a community. Local markets create a connection between the consumer and the grower/producer. This connection makes shopping personal. Instead of picking tomatoes off a shelf, you’re handed the basket of tomatoes by someone who had a role in growing them. In addition, local markets keep the flow of money within the community. Buying local is also better for health reasons, as food decreases in nutritional value the longer it takes to get from harvest to your plate. Lastly, local markets give the Auburn community the chance to see all that agriculture in Alabama has to offer.

A flower vendor at the market
The monthly market offers both produce and other goods. Photo contributed by Whitney Morris.

The dates of the Monthly Market this fall are

  • September 25,
  • October 23rd,
  • November 20th, and
  • December 18th.

For more information on the Monthly Market, contact Whitney Morris at (334) 501-2948 or

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