Psycho-Sustainability Connecting the mind, body, and soul to live a sustainable and healthy future

What is Psycho-Sustainability?

Psycho-sustainability studies human behavior upon living in a sustainable way (TedxTalks, 2012). It can be broken down into three simple aspects of an individual: Mind, Body, and Soul (TedxTalks, 2012). Bill Newman captured these aspects to connect to one another in order to gain perspective how and why people either sustainably or unsustainably act the way they do.

As shown in the video above, discovering motivation is controlled through the various desires in the mind. What makes a person motivated to learn? What is the driving factor that helps a person get out of bed each morning? (TedxTalks, 2012). The body aspect incorporates how well a person's physical well-being is treated and how they are taking care of themselves(TedxTalks, 2012). The third aspect of Newman's design, soul, illuminates engagement in an individual's lifestyle, environment, and community (TedxTalks, 2012). Maya has spread many of these aspects in her work and leadership that stretches from her farm to the community. She is motivated to keep expanding her knowledge of farming and learning new ways she can act more sustainably. For the body, she grows local, organic food that benefits individuals' physical health, while also boosting their mental sharpness. Maya's engagement in community and schools represents her soul of sustainability, as she gives back to the youth by passing on her knowledge of growing food and plants to spread the joy of local farming.

Maya Dailey has spread many positive aspects of sustainability in her work and leadership that stretches from her farm to the community. She is a prime example of Newman's theory of connecting the mind, body, and soul to build a framework of sustainability.
Values that Build and Destroy the Framework

Ellen van der Warff incorporates different values that study the mind in pyscho-sustainability in her lecture on sustainable behavior and psychology. She argues that the outcome of choosing values do not derive from sustainable behavior in individuals, rather it is the hierarchy in which individuals place these values at that determines the behavior (Umeå University, 2017). People hold these values to a certain extent, and it is not determined by choosing of which of the four values to follow them, but choosing the hierarchy of importance in which an individuals follows them (Umeå University, 2017).

Ellen van der Warff discusses four values that humans possess that have an affect on sustainable development. These values are highlighted with self-enhancement and self-transcendent causes. The table below shows the differences between the four values.

Four Values that have an Impact Sustainable Behavior in Individuals

Van der Warff's video dwells on the issues of human behavior and sustainable practices. One of the topics she discusses are four human values that can either positively or negatively effect a human's growth in sustainability. The first two values that hold negative effects toward sustainable behavior are being egoistic and hedonic (Umeå University, 2017). Through biospheric and altruistic values, there can be a change in how individuals seek acting sustainably. Sometimes individuals can be easily convinced by terms thrown at them by fast food companies that sound meaningful and just. With terminology like "highest standards of quality, service, cleanliness, and value" you have to wonder, by what standards are they measuring this by? Alice Waters also questions the usage of terminology in fast food values, as they can be misled to draw consumers in as a marketing ploy (ScienceAndFood, 2013). She extends this thought to how terms like organic, local, and fair trade are becoming an illusion to what these words really mean and how fast they can become opaque to people who do not see them for their real purpose (ScienceAndFood, 2013).

Growing Community Wisdom

A Times food critic, Laura Reiley, called out restaurants and farmers that also trick people into thinking they are eating "local" foods. When Reiley, (2016) called out a restaurant owner who prides himself on keeping all of the produce and meat within a few hundred mile radius in Tampa Bay about her discoveries of this not being true, his response was, "Well, we serve local within reason." This makes it hard to trust what we are actually eating. More and more people are wanting to buy food from local sustainable farming, but some restaurants will just use the name of a local farmer in their menu and then sell a different product to make more money (Reiley, 2016). Even farmers at a farmer's market will sell products that are not theirs, but claim it because many individuals do not bother to ask (Reiley, 2016). In order for truth around restaurants and farmers to be more sought out, there has to be more community efforts that pushes the pressure of being honest to make business, instead of lying to make business. Reiley (2016) offers solutions for aspiring locals trying to eat sustainably, which include: Understanding seasonality for what grows in your area, defining what local products actually are through collaboration with local farmers, and being afraid and informed of nutritionally related diseases that are arising. In order for a spark of change to occur an effort to seek honest knowledge and share them with other members of your community is necessary. Gaining the wisdom of a situation is the first step to learning how it affects the community as whole.

A plaque at a McDonald's in Sedona displays high standards for their work, but because of the over-consuming effects fast food restaurants have on our resources, McDonald's is still negatively impacting the biospheric values and helping exploit the egoistic value of saving time and money. The world's "community restaurant" is taking the community out of the picture.

A possible solution to bringing back more of the community to cities is by spreading collective efficacy. Dr. Daphne Miller (2013, p.184) refers to collective efficacy as, "...a community-wide belief that members of the community could make a difference by working together." Miller discusses this concept in her book, Farmacology, and the relationship of spreading community wellness and positive attitudes to decrease crime and vandalization among a community. She uses an example of an urban farm she visited in the Bronx called, La Familia Verde, and how the cause of a market setting up near a park helped drug dealers leave and increase the friendly faces around the community. Maya has a similar concept when it comes to keeping amiable goats around the farm.

Maya's goats that she teaches to be friendly to people. These goats have a strong connection to each other and the people around them.

When goats are born, Maya welcomes them and has them be surrounded by people to help welcome them to the earth as well. This helps the goats immediately feel connected to the people around them, while also giving the people a deeper connectedness with nature and the goats. When it comes to choosing which goats are needed for sale, Maya tends to keep the friendliest goats around, so she can have the "friendly gene" spread among the present and future goats. The friendly goats are an example to how the other goats tend to act, interacting with people around them and spreading joy by living for a community, not individual mindset. The farmer's market is an example of spreading this "friendly gene", as it happened with Karen Washington's market in the Urban Bronx. The market brought crime rates down and eliminated the past drug dealers from going to a local park (Miller, 2013). Washington described the transition of lowered crime rates come from the market entering starting, then the department of parks looking after the nearby park more, and more police to look after the park (Miller, 2013). Interconnecting the market to the community can allow decreased crime rates, as people want to live in safer and healthier places.


Taking Initiative on Long-Term Health

Long-term health can be easily forgotten about because of the fast paced society we live in. It's your an important concept for the body aspect of psycho-sustainability. The actions you take for on mental health and sustainable behavior will have an impact on your long-term health. Actions are usually determined how one values short and long-term gains. If a cheeseburger is chosen to eat at a fast food restaurant because it's cheaper for you now, what will that mean for the future you or future environment? This is simply a question of balance. The world is based off the balance of energy and the circular movement of behavior and outcome. According to Koger and Winter (2004), deciding to eat a cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant without thinking about this balance is linear thinking. This type of thinking does not fair well with the sustainable future of the planet. To think linearly, you can see everything for what it is, but are blinded to the possibility that there is an end to this line. Many individuals misinterpret the line of linear thinking as a ray, but it's really a line segment, containing a start and an end. Koger and Winter (2004) show that thinking circularly provides a sustainable lifestyle for humans that cause us to change manufacturing designs. An example of this was shown, with Sweden and how they use two compartment toilet bowls that separates urine, to be sold as a fertilizer, and feces, to be sold as compost (Koger and Winter, 2004). Thinking like a circle can bring many gains to living sustainably, but how can thinking like a circle help us battle stress?

Pasta ends from food producers that could not sell them, turned wasted ends into the next Italian family dinner.

Cosmic Carrots, not the prettiest, but giving a unique name to catch the eye of the consumer and make them feel like their purchase is special.

Stress: Down to the Science

A pioneer in stress related research, Dr. Bruce McEwen compares the effects of stress and how they positively or negatively affect a person's health. When individuals use the term "stressed out", it usually indicates negative aspects that are going on in one's life. However, what many people do not realize is that people face situations of stress everyday that attempt to disrupt our homeostasis. Dr. McEwen describes this as allostatic stress, stating, "...all the complex systems in our body that vary greatly in their set points in order to maintain overall homeostasis" (Miller, 2013, pp. 113). He then discusses that the reason why many people do not know about this natural phenomenon is because allostatic response turns on and off like a switch and we do not even notice it (Miller, 2013, pp. 113). The main issue many individuals face is having their allostatic switch constantly on, meaning they are consistently facing chronic stress and build glucocorticoids (stress hormones) that disrupt the energy balance the body demands.

Glucocorticoids, like cortisol, are stress hormones that are released the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, which is one bodily system that handles stressful situations (Carlson, 2017). The release of glucocorticoids have positive effects when it is able to be turned off, which allow a balance for energy in the body. These come from short term stressors. Glucocorticoids helps increase blood flow, improve the stimulation of behavioral responses, and break down proteins to turn into glucose for energy (Carlson, 2017). However, when glucocorticoid production does not turn off, this means that allostatic overload is occurring and will hinder the balance of the body. Energy storage, cell growth, and even the brain become targeted and impaired (Carlson, 2017). When dealing with this overload, glucocorticoids like cortisol can be carried to almost any tissue of the body because of it's lipid (fat) solubility (Carlson, 2017). This is even something we see in farm animals that experience large amounts of chronic stress. Pigs and chickens that are trapped in cages and overcrowded are constantly screaming and the stress hormones will be carried to their fat and meat, which individuals will then consume (Prime Video, 2014). The goats and chickens that are at Maya's Farm never have reason to scream and live very relaxed which transfers to the quality of their production for the farm. The long term effects of overproducing glucocorticoids are pretty damaging, causing increase in blood pressure, the suppression of the immune system, and even inhibition of growth (Carlson, 2017). The chronic stressors that affect an individuals well-being also have a drastic impact on one's physical health.

This illustration demonstrates the consequences of chronic stress on the brain and how it impacts the mental ability of an individual Retrieved from: (The Link).
The Cases of Mike and Carl

Two of Dr. Daphne Miller patients presented an excellent comparison on how quick stressors and long term stressors impacted their lives. Mike and Carl live very similar lifestyles with many challenges that can easily cause stress. Dr. Miller (2013) describes the the two men's similar challenges as "Jet lag, long and erratic hours, time away from families, work performance evaluations, and a cranky preteen." So how is it that only Mike suffers from allostatic overload? Here is a chart to show how the little differences in their similar lifestyles impact the ability to turn on and off the allostatic switch.

Carl's lifestyles contains many quick stressors and he has more behavioral freedom. Mike lacks behavioral freedom and faces more chronic stressors.

But what does this have to do with farming? Dr. Miller encompasses the stressors of Mike and Carl and compares each of them to two types of chickens raised in similar environments with different circumstances. Miller visited egg farms owned by the Mike Cox in Arkansas: Arkansas Egg and Heartland Egg. The two farms were both cage free, but Arkansas Egg has their chickens in a large hen house and Heartland Egg are pastured-based chickens. The chart below shows possible stressors each chicken can face in their environment.

This table shows the difference of stresses that the chickens face everyday, and how their allostatic stress is affected by it.

The Heartland chickens relate more directly to Carl, facing quick acute stressors like bobcats, rainstorms, infections from parasites, and even roosts falling. The Arkansas chickens face more chronic stressors like not being able to be alone, having mites, and dealing with load noise and a strong smell of ammonia. These effects correlate with how Mike deals with a life lacking behavioral freedom. His constant office life is a struggle that many people have to deal with.

Free-Range Chickens at Maya's Farm enjoying their walk in the tunnel connecting their house to their yard.
Community Gardens for Community Health
The parkway is the strip of land between the street and the sidewalk, and that's where Finley started Guerilla Gardening in South Central L.A. (The Ron, 2015).

The rate of community gardens among urban areas have been increasing in the recent years, due to a new demand of people needing to find "the green experience" (Okvat & Zautra, 2011). Slow food activists like Ron Finley does not just see vacant lots as opportunity to grow gardens, but he grows them on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street (Finley, 2013). His efforts in South Central Los Angeles can spark a change community health, as it has been found that individuals who live in low socioeconomic areas who work on these gardens can increase their wellness and prevent chronic diseases (Okvat & Zautra, 2011). Finley calls gardening, "The most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city" (Finley, 2013, 6:02). Feeling more connected to an ideal that can only give you positive benefits, while also helping others and fighting the tough challenges of climate change. To try and counteract the effects of increase carbon in the atmosphere, more plants around urban areas can have a reverse greenhouse effect, which can decrease the amount of new carbon emissions that go into the atmosphere (Okvat & Zautra, 2011).

PTSD and Farming

800,000 veterans are unemployed, 100,000 veterans homeless, and 30% of veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Prime Video, 2013). In the documentary Ground Operations: From the Battlefield to the Farmfield, veterans shared their story about how farming impacts their mental well-being and allows them to transform what used to be chaotic lives full of nerves, to peaceful lives full of vegetables (Prime Video, 2014). Farming offers a positive environment that allows veterans to care about growth and future goals, which helps them get their mind off of possible negative flashbacks from their past. From this care, they can connect themselves to new ideals and commit themselves to a new type of service. A veteran, Phil Northcutt, (Prime Video, 2014, 00:43) stated, "I don't want to spend the rest of my life just being a guy who fought in the war in Iraq." While veterans already give everything to their country, they still seek ways to give back to local communities and farming can give them this chance. It can also help reduce symptoms of PTSD for those veterans that suffer from them. The 30% of veterans who suffer from PTSD may also face deficits in their brain that they do not even know. In Sapolsky's (1996) study on combat stress and hippocampal volume, he found that Vietnam veterans with PTSD had 22 and 26 percent reductions in the volume of their left and right hippocampi. Dr. McEwen also discusses how the hippocampus (memory and learning center) can shrink and through constant amounts of anxiety exposure, our amygdala (fear and anxiety center) can increase in size (Miller, 2013, p. 122).

The amygdala is the control zone for fear, while the hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory (Clinton, 2008).

Many returning veterans that suffer from PTSD are placed with antidepressants, but those drugs can be risky as they take a few weeks to kick in and can have reserve effects if not taken in a positive environment (Miller, 2013, p. 122). To counteract the symptoms of PTSD, which include but not limited to anger, irritability, flashbacks, and negative emotion (Carlson), local farming offers an opportunity to connect back to the world, while still serving people positively. Introducing adults that have chronic anxiety disorders to mindfulness programs can shrink their amygdala (Miller, 2013, p. 122), and farming offers a free alternative to this. Although I do not suffer from PTSD, whenever I worked on the farm with Maya my stresses of school and my other job just seemed to melt away, as the quiet nature of the farm soothed my anxious thoughts and the constant growth of life that surrounded me reminded me that everything would be ok.

From the Humble Farmer to the Radical Farmer

To grow local organic food in a society that's dominated by fast and fake food seems almost irrational. Why not just take the easy way out and give in to the cheap and unhealthy food society pushes on us? Director Peter Sellars (The Edible, 2012, 55:37) has the perfect response to this: "Food is the spirit from which all things are born, by whom they live, towards whom they move, into whom they return."

Food carries much bigger implications then just satisfying our taste buds. It is the nutrition in which we use to power our bodies with, in hopes that it will provide sufficient energy and peace of mind for a person. By consuming unhealthy and unnatural food, individuals decrease their wellness and lose their connectedness with the natural world. Sellars challenges the students in his lecture, asking "How well do you know your irrational self?" (The Edible, 2012, 35:49) Your irrational self creates things that do not yet exist, and sees what is not yet here (The Edible, 2012), much like the work of farmers and artists.

Having a radical mindset can help seek out what needs to be created for improving social well-being. Much of the time, an artist creates work in which they believe should be placed in society, either as a solution or to spread awareness to a concept that is bigger than themselves. Ron Finley calls himself an artist and he uses gardening as his graffiti (Finley, 2013). When he was given citations and then a warrant for his arrest for turning streets of weeds and trash into community gardens in South Central L.A., he fought against the system (Finley, 2013). His deviance against his city led to a change in the law and allowed him to continue to grow these gardens. Emile Durkheim, a famous sociologist, theorized deviance and it's importance to society. One of her concept includes how deviance is a response to when something is wrong with society and that deviance sparks social change (Lamb). Finley's deviance comes from him seeing how his city is littered with fast food, food desserts, and tomatoes coated with shellac, a coating usually used for wood (The Ron, 2015). His radical mindset allowed him to imagine a world he wanted to live in, create it, and then live in it, which are Sellar's three steps to becoming an artist to spark a movement. The concept of psycho-sustainability can incorporate these steps; using your mind for wondering how you can work with the slow food movement. Then you can positively nourish your body with food from local farms. From this, your engagement in your community will increase, expanding and connecting your soul with like-minded individuals.

Maya has told me how her radical mindset gives her an advantage. As a local organic farmer, if she was to think "rationally", the quickest and easiest option would suffice for many situations. But not for Maya. As a farmer, she is an artist that sees the earth as her canvas and uses her shovel as her paintbrush. From growing a quarter acre garden to two acres (Dailey), Maya has expanded her canvas to places that need a way to spark creation, like elementary schools. From her roles in the farmer's market, CSA, and teaching classes for students, she has shown the type of leadership that can keep the slow food movement strong in our community.


Dana, Emily, Julia, George, Vittorio, and I after planting.

Vittorio Giacomini has very similar traits to Maya, an organic farmer whose values, connection to the land, and work ethic shows in the produce he grows. From working on Maya's Farm to working on Biocontadino with Vittorio, I have gained experience that will translate to every aspect of my life. Much of the work I did was very similar to the jobs I did at Maya's, from hoeing to planting and fixing things up around the farm.

Vittorio would tell us, "Hoeing is better than watering", because it allows the movement of the soil to help the growth of the produce.

While working, there were small differences between how Maya's Farm operates and Biocontadino. For example, after harvesting his garlic, Vittorio leaves it out in the sun to dry. He does not collect the weeds he pulls out. Instead, he leaves them in the soil, using them as a biological fertilizer. There also seemed to be less weeds at Biocontadino than at Maya's Farm. With one certain weed, porchacia, Maya collects it, while Vittorio does not. Dealing with weeds on an organic farm is a constant problem and involves much more work to go through in removing them.

Garlic being left out to dry.

For these small-scale organic farmers, many of the times they have to do it themselves because finding extra hands can be an issue. From working with Maya, she only had the help of two other men consistently and from her friends at other times. Although Vittorio did not come from a family of farmers, he relies on his family to help him when he needs it. It is difficult to find workers who are willing to meet the demands of working on an organic farm. In some parts of Itlay, farms will exploit immigrant workers, similar to how immigrant workers are exploited in the United States.

In Puglia, migrant workers are exploited working in the tomato fields. They live in makeshift communities, in the "Runway Ghetto" of Foggia, working long hours and making far below the minimum wage (D'Agostino, 2018).

A makeshift community hosting immigrants from Pakistan, Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Romania, and Africa (D'Agostino, 2018).

The system is corrupt from the middlemen who employ them called "Caporali" (gangmasters) (D'Agostino, 2018). Local farmers will go to the Caporali to find the immigrant workers for cheap hands, but the Caporali will charge the immigrant workers for transport to the fields, water, food, and take part of their wages (D'Agostino, 2018). This kind of exploitation is basically like treating the immigrants as slaves, hidden by the concept of fresh produce that boost the local economies. However, this concept disrupts the balance of the slow food movement, where it demands fair trade and wage for workers. In Carlo Petrini's book, Terra Madre, he sees how money is becoming the way to build happiness, and that food is no longer being produced to be eaten, rather it is being produced to be sold (Petrini, p. 62). So while strolling around the markets in Puglia to obtain fresh produce, it is important to know exactly where it comes from and who are the farmers working with the food, to enhance your community wisdom and do your part in obtaining fair trade for food. Small-scale organic farmers are becoming a solution to this, and now there are more ways to connect and buy directly from them.


Much like CSA (community supported agriculture) is becoming widely used here in the states, there is a program similar in Italy called, GAS (gruppo d’acquisto solidale). The mission is to buy organic and biodynamic, ethically correct food that will leave a low environmental impact. Having these types of programs to make it easy for consumers to connect with farmers and make alliances with them, growing the food community to new levels (Petrini, p.36). When more consumers join this movement, Carlo Petrini describes the consumers turning into coproducers, (p.36) as they know first hand where their food is coming from. By doing this, it helps individuals in a community to learn who their local farmers are, what type of produce grows in their area, and support their local economy. Italy has many small towns that show strong support for their local farmers, including one called Varese Ligure. This town is an example of how small towns are able to be an example of sustainability. Because of how small the town was, farmers could not even afford chemical fertilizers, so they were farming out of tradition, and the town recognized this (Guevara-Stone, 2014). With 108 organic farms around the Vara Valley, they supply 98% of the town's food (Guevara-Stone, 2014). The towns success keeps improving from educating schoolchildren so they keep to past traditions, but also learn new ways to being sustainable.

The Cultural Perspective of Food

After being in Italy for seven weeks, it was apparent that the diet of Italians was very different than the diet of Americans. From breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, Italians ate well. Part of the reason for this is the time they took to eat. The more you dive into looking how Italians eat food, you realize that food is not just a meal, but it is a culture. The way you cook, eat, and connect with others over food shows the importance it has on their everyday life, whereas in the United States, food has taken the backseat to our busy lives. Since food is necessary to live though, Americans will tend to look for the cheapest and quickest way possible to obtain it, forgetting what real food actually is. So to this point, its no wonder why the United States ranks 19th in the world for total population percentage of obese individuals and 1st for total number of obese individuals in a country (obseity website). Italy on the other hand, is ranked 90th in total population percentage of obese individuals. The overwhelming difference of these numbers may come from the way Americans choose what foods to eat.

This diagram developed by Jane Ogden in her book, "The Psychology of Eating" (2010), demonstrates three different models that factor into our food choices.

In her book The Psychology of Eating, Jane Ogden demonstrates how food choice begins to develop at a young age. One way is through exposure of the food. In a psychological study about youth intake through the exposure of "threatening foods", (like vegetables) the more exposure of that food was linked to preferring that food (Ogden, 2010). It was also shown the more foods that were introduced to a child, the less number of exposures it took for the child to like the food (Ogden, 2010). Education kids early to healthy foods can help them develop these foods into a norm of their everyday diet as they grow up.

Campaign logo among schools in the Marche region (Regione Utile).

The Marche region is also promoting sustainable eating among schoolchildren, using campaigns that appeal to kids early, so it can help them treat eating sustainably as a social norm. It's slogan, "Eat well, grow healthy as a fish" (Regione Utile), incorporates the importance of local organic agriculture and introduces fresh fish in school. Becoming familiar with these concepts at an early age can improve the cultural aspect that food has on the Marche region, and is a great tool to use to promote local foods in other regions of Italy and even the United States.

However, the same effects can be reversed if children are constantly exposed to fast food restaurants and other unhealthy foods. And with almost 50,000 fast food chains in America (World Rankings, 2017), it's no wonder why the U.S. is where it is at with obesity. Many times we give into the quickest and cheapest way possible to feed our bodies. By doing this, Petrini concludes the term "We eat food" has turned into "We are eaten by food" (Petrini, p. 43). This is through how eating food in an unsustainable way causes the quick consumption of the earth's resources with no chance of renewal (Petrini, p.43). However, these issues have been becoming apparent in the eyes of many people and awareness is starting to be spread.

One way that awareness is being spread is through large expos, specifically in Italy that deal with the rights people have to food. In the Milan Charter of 2015, they list one of the rights that food has a strong cultural value and should not be tampered with my economic or political pressure (Rights, 2015). Food can be a symbol of a culture, and should not be changed because of media views, price scandals, or unfair political acts. Another right it lists is about conserving the biodiversity of the land through agricultural for the protection of sustainable lands (Rights, 2015). It seems in many ways we see the land in which we grow food on as a straight line where we can use chemicals and treat it any way we want. This is not the case, as many organic farmers already know. The land has to be treated in a full circle mentality, where what we take out, we give back. From working with Maya and Vittorio, I see how they have this cycle in place, not only giving back to the land, but their community as well.


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Gerardo Moceri

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