Campus Changemaker: Marley Halter’s Journey with Community Gardening

Located on West Samford Avenue, The Auburn University Community Garden is a touchstone for sustainable eating practices in the Auburn-Opelika area. Operated by Tiger Dining, they purpose their land for multiple uses. The Garden hosts faculty, students, and community members alike who want to participate in growing their own food. Some plots are also used to grow crops that are sold to local restaurants. Alongside these efforts, the garden devotes 20 of their plots (which totals roughly 12,000 square feet) to grow food that they donate to either Campus Kitchens—an on-campus organization working towards alleviating food insecurity in our area—or to the East Alabama Food Bank.

Marley Halter posing with produce at the community garden.
Marley Halter, Manager of Auburn’s Community Garden

Though the garden does an exceptional job of providing the means to eat healthily and locally, their focus is on educating people about gardening practices. “We are also an outdoor classroom,” said Marley Halter, manager of the garden. “My goal is to make the garden a classroom, so that students are coming out to the garden to use it as a teaching space.” Halter elaborates that the primary purpose of the Community Garden is education. The garden facilitates education through encouraging classes to visit, but they also host several educational events that provide people with resources to garden as well as information about the importance of local gardening efforts.

Marley has a dynamic position as the manager of the garden. Working under the umbrella of Tiger Dining gives her a unique opportunity to engage with students. Oftentimes, she uses her expertise from the garden as a way into critical discussions about sustainable living. She hopes to broaden her managerial position to allow her to be the liaison for sustainability within Tiger Dining. This includes a potential collaboration with the Nutritional Resource Center that will soon be added to campus.

Eating locally is an issue close to Marley’s heart, which informs her work at the community garden. When speaking on the issue, she remarked “If we are going to seriously do something about climate change, we are going to have to focus more on local food.” According to Halter, eating locally comes with a wealth of benefits: your food tends to be more nutritional, you can reduce your carbon footprint, it helps to boost local economies, and it strengthens social ties. Halter emphasizes, however, that you do not have to get all your food locally to make a difference. “If you can get most of your food or the majority of your food locally then you are already making a huge difference and having a huge impact on your community and on the world.”

A group of people working and smiling in Auburn's community garden.
A group working in Auburn’s community garden, taken by Marley Halter

Given her experience in the world of gardening and sustainability, it is no surprise that she brings so much enthusiasm and vision to her position. Marley has been gardening since she was in college. In her undergraduate years, she had an internship at an organic farm in rural Arkansas. This experience was what made her fall in love with gardening. By working closely with the woman who owned this farm, she gained an intimate knowledge of all that goes into running a small-scale organic farm. Whether it was balancing finances, securing relationships with local farmer’s markets and grocers, or simply getting her hands dirty, Marley soaked in every experience. She remarks how empowering it was to work at a woman-owned farm. Women in agriculture are very underrepresented, so watching a female farmer own and operate a highly successful farm made a huge impact on her career.

When she relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, Marley was met with a starkly different environment. An urban center in a much different climate than Arkansas, Phoenix offered her new insights into gardening and sustainability. She got involved with a local community garden, first volunteering, but she quickly became invested and ended up taking on many managerial roles. What stood out to her most about this experience was the cultural and social impact on community gardening. When asked about her time in Phoenix, Halter said “I realized that you don’t have to be a farmer necessarily…to do this, to impact your local community. You can start it with a group of friends, you can start it with your neighbors, and you can still grow a lot of food. You can grow a lot of culturally, socially, nutritionally meaningful food.”

Community Garden Manager Marley Halter takes a smiling selfie with some corn.
Community Garden Manager Marley Halter takes a smiling selfie with some corn.

These lessons inform her work here at Auburn, especially as she continues to learn what it means to form a community around gardening. She defines sustainability not only as the effort to conserve the earth’s resources but also an effort to build equitable, viable communities. She is most interested, now, in the social and cultural importance of food, particularly in how these attachments to food can bring humans together.

One of these moments happened quite recently. Marley recalls a day when she was harvesting in the garden and a student worker noticed large, grey fungal growths on some of the corn. The student recognized the fungus, also called corn smut, and she explained that in Mexico, the smut is called huitlacoche and is often used in Mexican cooking. The student was excited because her roommate—who is Mexican—used to eat the food often, so she brought the corn smut back to her apartment. Her roommate called her father and he gave them a recipe, excited that she was able to find huitlacoche, which is seldom sold in the United States. Apparently, her family had been cooking with huitlacoche for generations. All the roommates prepared dinner together and learned how to cook with the corn smut. That evening, they were able to find human connection around the cultural significance of an ingredient that, in America, would likely be thrown away. “To me, that was it. I had this moment as she told me that story where I said, ‘This is what a community garden is supposed to be.’ Facilitating those kinds of experiences is on my radar.”

 

To get involved with the community garden, visit the Community Garden website to find out about their Monthly Community Days, and to follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

Post Contributed by Chloe McMahon, Office of Sustainability Program Coordinator.

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Director’s Corner: Eating as if Food is the Point

“What we discovered in Italy was that if an establishment serves food, then food is the point.” (original italicized). Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

In her marvelous book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver describes her food experiences during a trip to Italy.  She was amazed that wherever she and her husband ate, a museum cafeteria, a simple diner, or a pizzeria, the food was always wonderful, intentionally prepared with care to make “food the point.”

She contrasts that with eating in America, where at fast-food restaurants “‘fast’ is the point”, at sports bars sports is the point, and at airport restaurants “the premise is ‘captive starving audience.’”  All of which equals mediocre food at best.

That got me thinking about habitually mindless or careless eating to indiscriminately silence hunger, to self-medicate during times of stress, or out of boredom; to eating distracted, while on our phones, while watching tv, while sitting at our desks.

That got me thinking about the pace of ‘life’ and how inattentive we can be every day to the small but meaningful pleasures as we rush about from one thing to the next.

I think because we are so distracted and rushed, we find ourselves tolerating a lot of things that, when we stop to think about them, are intolerable — politically, socially, environmentally, economically.  But for now, I’ll stick with food.

In his enlightening book Real Food, Fake Food, food and travel columnist Larry Olmsted writes about food fraud, how much of what we think we are eating is something else, and invariably something less.

For example, parmesan cheese.  The real deal is crafted in Parma, Italy and is called Parmigiano-Reggiano.  By law, it must contain only three ingredients: fresh (out of a cow less than 18 hours) drug-free milk, salt, and rennet.   The stuff in the green cardboard tube that I grew up eating is called parmesan and is made of “milk of unknown origin and purity, cellulose powder (wood pulp! ed.), potassium sorbate, and cheese cultures.”

Because “parmesan is the direct English translation of Parmigiano-Reggiano” they should be the same thing when clearly they are not.

There are so many examples of fake foods in his book: seafood, beef, oils, cheeses, honey (the third-most faked food), coffee, teas, wine, champagne, scotch, fruit juices, maple syrup, and more.  Some of the fakes are not just cheap and deceitful but downright dangerous.  According to Olmsted, improperly farmed salmon and shrimp imported from other countries can be laden with PCBs, dioxins, and other toxic chemicals.

Olmstead’s biggest criticisms are directed at the Food and Drug Administration, whose mission is “protecting and promoting your health.”  Read his book and you will see just how little oversight there is, how much influence industry has, and therefore how much fraud there is.

The good news is there are simple and, in many cases, inexpensive ways to make food the point and avoid these problems that also get at more mindful and pleasurable living.  Real Food, Fake Food is full of recommendations, like buying local for example.

And rather than grabbing a frozen pizza at the store, he encourages us to slow down, take a few extra minutes, and make a pizza that is far more nutritious and enjoyable.  He gives us some good reasons for doing this besides making food the point of eating.

Next time you are at a grocery store, or perhaps go into your freezer, check out the ingredients in a frozen pizza.  One brand Olmstead checked had 52 ingredients, many of which are not a good idea to eat.  Is one of the ingredients butylated hydroxytoluene?  It is “banned in England and the FDA has said (for years) ‘should’ be investigated owing to the possibility of turning other ingredients toxic or cancer-causing.”  How about the petroleum-derived additive butylated hydroxyanisole, is that an ingredient too?  I don’t know about you but I don’t want anything petroleum-based in my pizza or any other food for that matter.

Is it a pepperoni pizza?  Researching the book Olmsted learned that the FDA has a lower grade of pork than “acceptable.”  It’s the grade used by processed food producers.  Great.

Instead, Olmsted recommends making your own pizza.  Here’s how he does it:

  • Freshly made dough at a local market, the canvas upon which to create a culinary masterpiece
  • If appropriate fresh, local tomatoes are unavailable, a can of high-quality tomatoes; he uses Pomi, an Italian brand that is 100% Italian tomatoes and nothing else
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese
  • For pepperoni, he recommends buying from Applegate, available nationally
  • Add whatever fresh veggies or anything else you want
  • Grate some fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, drizzle some high quality balsamic, and add a few drops of olive oil (see his recommendations for these)
  • Bottom line: use real food, locally produced as much as possible.

The slower pace of preparing and cooking a pizza this way requires attention and intention.  It creates a more relaxed mental and emotional state in which to enjoy the work of culinary art just created and pulled out of the oven or off the grill.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle tells the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family committing to living and eating like this for a year, respecting the natural processes of food production, preparation, and consumption.  The values that led them to make this effort strengthened and became more intentionally infused in every area of their lives to greater, more rewarding effect than they ever expected or considered.

In the effort to “make food the point,” wherever we fall on the scale between making a simple homemade pizza with fresh ingredients and moving to a farm to live off whatever can be produced locally for a year,  being more intentional about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced is guaranteed to have salutary effects on our physiology and our psyche, while making the world a better, more enjoyable place for the effort.

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What is the Connection Between Climate Change & Our Food System? Does What We Eat Really Make a Difference?

Post contributed by Lecturer Ana Plana, ME, Culinary Science, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics & Hospitality Management, College of Human Sciences.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment concluded in its Fifth Assessment Report: “climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.” Dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures increasing, oceans warming, and sea-level rise; represent just a few consequences of climate change. Yet for many Americans, the topic of climate change remains a generalization. Many simply fail to make the connection between their own daily habits and the increasing global impact on climate change. The problem with lazily looking at the problem in the abstract is that it provides a convenient excuse to not act responsibly. All of us must understand and appreciate the need to adopt new food habits and choices in order to prevent the harsh effects of climate change for ourselves and for future generations.

In April 2019, The New York Times published the article “Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered” By Julia Moskin, Brad Plumer, Rebecca Lieberman and Eden Weingart. This informative article breaks it all down for us. Yes, our food choices affect climate change. The “food system is one-quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases.” The food cycle includes clearing the forest for livestock, animal digestion releases methane gas, the usage of fossil fuels to run the machinery necessary to operate the farm, and the subsequent transportation of the meat, all of which contribute to climate change. The article makes four meaningful conclusions: 1) Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, and some foods contribute negatively more than others. Beef is the most significant contributor, and plants, the least. 2) Your food choices (i.e., reducing the amount of animal protein) has a greater impact than the effect of choosing local vs. organic. 3) You don’t have to adopt a vegan diet; changes occur as a result of even minor adjustments to one’s diet. For example, reducing red meat consumption to once a week, or substituting poultry for red meat a few times a week can have a substantial effect 4) Purchase and use only the food you need, will reduce waste tremendously.

Similar findings can be found in other publications. In Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Eating Planet, states: 

“sustainability of the agri-food chain of production depends not only on the commitment of the farmers, the producers, and the distributors but also -and perhaps even more so – on the individual choices and families, who have such a powerful effect on the entire market and the environment in which we live with daily choices and decisions they make.”  

Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), a research center that studies and develops an understanding of the many complex global issues involving our food system.  BCFN developed a double food and environmental pyramid model to reflect the relationship between the nutritional value of foods and the environmental impact of those decisions. The double pyramid suggests that following a Mediterranean diet, as recommended by many health professionals, will decrease the environmental impact. This diet entails eating without excess, reducing meat and dairy consumption, increasing fruits and vegetables, and eating whole grains.

These are just three examples of research confirming that YES, there is a connection between our food system and climate change, and our daily food choices have an impact on our environment. Reducing your environmental impact by slowly making changes will have a more permanent effect. Start with mini modifications in your diet (lifestyle changes). For example, finish your sauces by blending them instead of adding cream or butter, skip the cheese on your burger, make your burger with beans or pulses instead of meat, have a sustainable seafood night once a week. Bottom line: making a few small changes to your diet will help our environment and your health.

References:

Food For Sustainable Growth, Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Eating Planet Food and Sustainability: Building our Future, Edizioni Ambiente, 2016 p. 92 -115.

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A Taste of Sustainability

Post contributed by Campus Dining.

It’s a spring day, the sun is warm, and the flowers and plants outside are displaying the most vibrant hues.  You stroll to the garden and pluck a perfectly ripe tomato from the vine.  The aroma is irresistible, and you take a bite; enjoying the firm texture and fresh taste while allowing a river of red lusciousness to escape down your chin.

There’s absolutely nothing that matches the experience of enjoying great tasting food and sharing it with good friends.  During your college years, you begin to develop preferences that can last a lifetime.  Tiger Dining wants to help you develop a taste for fresher, healthier foods that are locally produced. We believe that when people are exposed to products that are allowed to ripen naturally and are served fresh, their taste buds will tell them the difference.  There is an ancient proverb that says that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and maybe your first step into a more sustainable lifestyle is enjoying locally grown produce in one of our dining halls.

Once you have taken that first step and realize that local food tastes better, you will be happy to know that when you create a custom salad in one of our dining halls, you will be helping to support a farmer who lives just down the road.  Like the idea of helping local folks? Look for the Auburn Foods icon around campus.  By eating Auburn Foods, you’re getting the freshest food possible and are directly involved in improving the lives/livelihoods of local residents.

Not a salad eater?   Tiger Dining has options for you as well!  Join us at a dining hall to enjoy a burger or fish entrée, and you’re directly supporting fellow Auburn students.  Burgers served at Foy and the Village are procured from the Lambert-Powell Meats Lab, providing Meat Sciences students with necessary real-life experience.  Tilapia served is grown at the Aquaponics project located at E.W. Shell Fisheries on North College Street.  These fish are served within a day or two of harvest – to get any fresher, you’d have to catch it yourself.  In addition to creating a tasty plate, these fish are the generator of the Aquaponics system which uses water from the fish tanks to grow produce.  The cucumbers, tomatoes, and various other vegetables grown in the greenhouses are harvested and served on campus. When you enjoy these foods, you’re supporting the research efforts of multiple graduate students who are working to perfect a more sustainable food system that we anticipate will be replicated throughout the world.

Finally, Tiger Dining believes that the highest purpose of food is to feed hungry people; we prize food as a resource.  To promote individual health, societal connectedness, and general good stewardship of our resources, Tiger Dining saves any unserved food at the end of each day.  We store it safely until the Campus Kitchens Project (CKP) volunteers’ next pickup.  CKP collects unserved food from campus and local restaurants and repackages it into nutritionally balanced meals that are distributed to food insecure individuals within the local community.  Last year, CKP distributed more than 53,000 meals in the local area.  In addition to saving unserved food, scraps from food preparation are collected and composted to start the food cycle all over again.

This is sustainability you can taste!  Share a meal on campus with friends.  You’ll not only fuel your body well, you’ll also support sustainable efforts throughout the Auburn community.

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Did You Know That Before the Grocery Store and the Food Truck, There Are the Bees?

Post contributed by Selina Bruckner, Auburn University Bee Lab.

Figure 1: Honey bees filling wax cells with pollen collected from plants that may end up in the grocery store as fruit or vegetable.

Whether we prefer to eat something sweet (imagine those blueberry pancakes dripping with maple syrup!) or savory (hear the crunch of a fresh juicy !); whether we like to drink a cup of steaming coffee or freshly pressed orange juice; our plates share one thing: Pollinators!

At least one third of the food we eat relies on pollinators! These creatures move pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part. This results in ovule fertilization, production of seeds, and ovary tissue development.. Long story short – the ovary tissues are the part of the apple or pear that we eat!

Figure 2: For simplicity, here a few honey bee colony migratory routes.

But who are these pollinators?

There are the inconspicuous ones: bats, birds, butterflies, beetles and others. And then, there are the more obvious, well-known ones: Honey bees and native bees. Bees don’t just selflessly pollinate plants though. This ecosystem service is rather a by-product of bees collecting pollen for themselves to eat. Economically speaking, honey bees pollinate crops worth about $15 billion each year in the United States! To provide such extensive pollination services, beekeepers purposefully move their colonies across the country to pollinate different crops (Figure 2).

Figure 3: Mining bee (genus Andrena) with pollen pants in an Auburn parking lot.

Estimating the monetary value of pollination provided by the ~ 4,000 species of native bees isn’t as easy. Unlike honey bees, most native bees are living solitarily in the wild without human management pollinating plants incognito (Figure 3). There are some exceptions. Bumble bees for example, can be native bees hired to pollinate tomatoes, and the solitary mason bees are often used in apple orchards.

One thing honey bees and native bees share is that they face some serious problems. Last year alone, beekeepers lost about 40% of their colonies. It’s even worse for native bees. In 2017, an extensive review revealed that more than 50% of native bee species are in decline. Scientists agree that these declines cannot be explained by one single but rather an interaction of multiple factors. And climate change plays a notable role in this complex system of bee stressors. Here’s how:

Shifting temperatures. Overall, monthly average temperatures are increasing. One could argue that this is beneficial for some bees; honey bees for example rarely fly at temperatures below 50˚F (10˚C). On the flip side, shifting temperatures could also cause flowers to bloom earlier in the season and we don’t understand yet whether bees will follow suit (Figure 4). Generalist bees that forage on a variety of different plants may be able to cope with such mismatches, but especially affect specialist bees which forage exclusively on one plant. As an example: The Gulf coast solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria) only consumes pollen and nectar from the coastal plain honeycomb-head, which in return cannot reproduce without this particular bee.

Figure 4: February 2020 in Auburn, AL. Frozen ground around a beehive at the same time Dandelion is blooming. Are the bees ready to go out and forage on it?

Habitat loss. Some animals like butterflies have been able to expand their habitat further North while maintaining their Southern range limits due to warmer temperatures. Bumble bees don’t seem to follow the same pattern though. Not only do they NOT move further North, but their Southern habitats are actually shrinking rather than staying the same. One potential reason for the smaller Southern ranges is land-use change. In recent years, urban areas and agricultural landscapes have expanded. Along with this, intensified agricultural practices such as pesticide use further limit suitable habitat for pollinators.

Pest and diseases. Due to the high densities and large-scale movements, honey bees are prone to disease outbreaks, invasions of pests and parasite infections. Nosema ceranae is a gut parasite of honey bees (Figure 5). Originally from Asia, this parasite has spread into other parts of the world (including the United States) due to global trades and has been associated with elevated colony losses. The good news is that colder temperatures help to reduce the prevalence of Nosema. The bad news is that with increasing temperatures, this parasite is predicted to become more prevalent and virulent strains will likely predominate in the future. This does not only concern honey bees though! Nosema can be transmitted to bumble bees when they forage on the same flowers as infected honey bees did.

Figure 5: Microscopic picture of Nosema spp. found in a honey bee gut.

In summary, climate change adds another layer to other environmental stressors that honey bees and native bees already face. Given that bees are critical to our food security, the U.S. economy and environmental health, something has to change…

To end on a positive note: Everybody can actually change something and support bees and pollinators on a small scale. Why not planting some wildflowers out in your garden (or in pots if you happen to live in an apartment)? Planting a variety of flowers that bloom at different times of the year will benefit all kinds of pollinators (Figure 6). There are plenty of resources providing lists of pollinator friendly flowers.
Even better: Why not plant your own vegetable and/or herb garden? Squash, tomatoes, rosemary, and lavender will attract a diverse group of pollinators and your dinner plate will look appealing to you.

Figure 6: Wildflowers for pollinators. Planting a variety of different flowers that bloom at different times will make pollinators and yourself happy all year long.

 

 

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Campus Changemaker: Mike Stover

Post Contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Employee Engagement Coordinator

For the past five and a half years, Mike Stover has worked as the Assistant Director for Employer Relations in the Office of Professional and Career Development in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business. In other words, Mike plays a vital role helping students connect with companies and enhance their professional skills. Beginning in August, Mike began expanding his own professional development by becoming a Peers Ambassador. 

 Getting Involved with the Peers Network

Profile Photo of Mike Stover
Mike Stover

Although Mike has not had any professional experience with sustainability prior to becoming a Peers Ambassador, he has been a sustainability advocate for years. Mike’s interest in sustainability covers every end of the spectrum, from climate change to our dwindling food supply.

Perhaps the main reason Mike wanted to join the Peers Network was to learn more about how Auburn approaches sustainability. While Auburn has many sustainable programs and practices, not all of them are widely known. Mike’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn more and engage in opportunities are one of the foundational pillars of the Peers Network itself. 

Working Toward Change

Even though Mike has just become a Peers Ambassador, he already has several ideas in mind on how to make his unit more sustainable. One area of sustainability Mike is focusing on is waste management, ultimately hoping to foster a change in his unit’s waste habits. For instance, Mike says even the simple switch from plastic water bottles to a reusable bottle would have a significant impact on the unit’s overall waste production. He also plans to address his unit’s paper consumption as well as the utilization of single use plastics, such as K cups. Overall, Mike’s main goal is to educate his colleagues about how simple changes such as these can dramatically reduce their collective environmental footprint.

Sustainability Challenges and Inspiring Initiatives  

 Mike believes the greatest challenge to sustainability is public perception. He says that many times he has encountered people fallen prey to the common misconception that being more sustainable is difficult to do. It’s something that they don’t have time for, that isn’t a necessity, but instead merely something that’s nice to do, if you want. Mike thinks a cultural shift away from this opinion will be imperative to the success of the sustainability movement. 

 Out of the many sustainability initiatives Auburn has undertaken, Mike’s favorite happens to be perhaps the simplest, yet most important one. Mike says the fact that Auburn officially acknowledges sustainability as an area of importance is absolutely inspiring. The impact large institutions such as Auburn can make paves the way for others. Furthermore, Mike appreciates that Auburn does not just talk about what we WILL do for sustainability, but instead we let our actions speak for themselves. From Tiger Dining to Tiger Transit, Auburn has and will continue finding ways to incorporate sustainability into our culture.

 

 

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Considerations of Sustainability in Agriculture

Contributed by Kevin Burkett, Regional Extension Agent – Farm & Agribusiness Management

Sustainability is something that has received an increasing amount of attention. Any idea/product/business/practice can be great but if it cannot sustain over time, its ability to survive and make an impact is small. Production agriculture as a whole has to be sustainable otherwise, at some point, we as humans would cease to exist. Related to this, farmers typically want to continue what they are doing long term and we need them to be successful, so we continue to have food and fiber available. Something we stress in Extension programming is financial sustainability. Simply put, are the participants in a given industry/commodity market/farmable to receive enough financial return to continue operations into the future? When the answer is no, that farm will go out of business and affect not only the farmer, but everyone up and down the food supply chain. One thing to note, the overall economy has been positive but the agricultural sector does not always mirror that. Farmers can be subject to a multitude of factors and the last several years almost all sectors of agriculture have struggled.

In agriculture, as in most markets, consumers are affected by price. Hypothetically, if food was produced but no one could afford it, you could imagine what kind of reaction there would be. Much of the food supply chain is set up to produce a sufficient (even abundant) quantity of food at an affordable price. This is evident when a customer goes to the supermarket, can choose a number of products and has the ability to pay for the products they choose. There is recognition that simply finding the cheapest price may not be the best way to determine sustainability for both consumers and producers. In fact, sometimes paying more for higher quality products is better for both. Financial return is important but sometimes calculating that return can be complicated. We may not fully understand how something positively or negatively affects sustainability until a point later in time. It is important to look big picture and see that the system as a whole is sustainable. This means natural resources, financial resources, and human resources are all available long-term.

Two things almost everyone can do to understand more about agriculture sustainability (1) get to know and support your local agriculture and (2) grow your own food. Getting to know producers within your area allows you to understand how, what, and why something is produced. You can see their stewardship practices and can understand how sustainability is implemented on their farm. Being familiar and appreciating the work they put into the community, our willingness to pay for these products increases and adds financial sustainability into the system.

Secondly, if we ask the question why is production agriculture important or necessary, it is because people stopped producing their own food. There are a number of reasons for this but in an earlier time, people produced and consumed what they needed within their own property. As times progressed, a farm was producing for themselves and their neighbor down the road. Take it a step further and that farm is producing for themselves and ten other members of their community. It would be difficult to expect everyone nowadays to be able to do this; however, producing at least some of your own food can have numerous benefits. This includes cost savings, quality, variety selection, appreciation for producing something, exercise, and less reliance on a production chain. If it does not come from you, supporting local growers shortens the link between how food gets from a field to your plate and provides benefits to local business and your community. Contact your Alabama Cooperative Extension System to get information on developing your own plot and to understand more about agriculture in your area.

To contact Kevin Burkett, email him at Ksb0002@auburn.edu or call 205-245-5365

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Dining Goes Greener

Post contributed by Gwen Ward, Campus Dining

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is the first thing we’re taught about creating and maintaining a sustainable world.  In our very earliest years, we’re taught that we are responsible for the impact we make.

At Campus Dining, we’re diligently working to minimize the impact we have on the environment.  Last year, we opened two new dining halls – places where students dine using reusable plates, cups, and flatware – eliminating quite a bit of paper waste.  This is great for all those times you’re able to hang out in the dining hall and enjoy a meal with friends, but what if you need to get to class or meet up with some friends to study? Last year, your only option was a disposable container.

Reusable To Go ContainerThis year, we’re proud to introduce our reusable to-go containers!  These boxes are literally GREEN.  They’re colored green and they greatly reduce the amount of disposable waste coming out of our dining halls.  These boxes also hold a full meal’s worth of healthy foods from the Foy Commons or Village Tiger Zone buffets.  When you need a good meal on the go, we’ve got you covered!

Every student who has purchased a block meal plan receives a free reusable to-go container.  Simply stop by the dining hall and pick yours up.  If you don’t want to use one immediately, we’ll give you a tracker that you can turn in for your to-go container the next time you want to use one.  Can you get a reusable to go container if you haven’t purchased block meal plan?  Absolutely!  A one-time $5 fee (payable with your dining funds) will allow you to use these containers as well.  Return your container or your tracker each time you want another to-go container.

If you have any questions about this program or Campus Dining’s other sustainability initiatives, give us a call:  334-844-8504 or email dining@auburn.edu.

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One Fish, Two Fish, Grow Fish

Contributed by Bill Walton, Associate Professor in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture & Aquatic Sciences and Extension Specialist with Alabama Cooperative Extension System

silver fish captured in netWhen we think of the oceans and sustainability, we often think of what we harvest from the seas. Thinking about harvest, there are now clear patterns emerging that should have us rethinking that harvest. First, as the global population increases, the demand for food from the oceans will increase as there are more mouths to feed. Second, the per capita rate of seafood consumption is increasing, and has, in fact, doubled over the last 50 years! That math adds up to higher and higher demands on the oceans for food.

Of course, the oceans have limits. At the end of the last century, the annual harvest from wild capture fisheries leveled off at somewhere under 100 million metric tons. The difference between the world’s increasing demand and that supply has come from aquaculture. In fact, in 2014, for the first time, more seafood was harvested from aquaculture than the wild fisheries. Looking forward, it’s clear that there’s a need and opportunity for aquaculture to expand and increase production to satisfy the growing demand for seafood.graph showing increased fish harvesting through aquaculture

In many countries around the world, individuals have seized this opportunity. In the US, despite our extensive coastlines, we have been slower to adopt marine aquaculture. According to recent statistics, the US ranks a distant 16th in global aquaculture production. While there are many reasons for this, one certainly has to be the US public’s questions about the sustainability of aquaculture. I would argue that marine aquaculture will happen and we, as a nation, need to decide if that happens here in our waters or overseas. We will keep eating seafood and more and more of it will be from aquaculture. So, the question to me becomes how we sustainably conduct aquaculture here in the US.

The good news is that US private industry, academia, and the federal government have embraced that challenge, with an emphasis on reducing environmental impacts, reducing waste and improving quality. US consumers and relatively strict environmental regulations have provided a strong incentive for aquaculture production to strive for increasing sustainability.

One early success story for US marine aquaculture has been shellfish farming. Currently, domestic marine aquaculture production is dominated currently by bivalve shellfish, with over 80% of harvest by value from farmed oysters, clams and mussels. As conducted in the US, shellfish farming is generally considered to have minimal environmental impacts and, in fact, shellfish farms are often credited for providing environmental benefits, including improving water quality and providing habitat for other species. This industry produces food, while also supporting jobs in rural coastal communities in an environmentally sustainable manner.wild shrimp caught in hand

Shellfish farming alone though cannot address our ‘seafood deficit’. Work by my colleagues in the Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture & Aquatic Sciences and by researchers and industry members around the country have had dramatic successes in sustainable production of shrimp, fish, and seaweeds. All these efforts, including shellfish farming, will be challenged to continue to improve sustainability, and that’s a good thing. That said, we need to recognize and support sustainable marine aquaculture in the US, both as a means of decreasing our seafood deficit and improving the sustainability of marine aquaculture.

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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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