Sustainability at Culver

Conserve – Reduce – Educate

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Culver Academies to Participate in Project Green Challenge!

Led by Culver’s Green Life club, Culver students will be participating in Project Green Challenge beginning on October 1st.

Project Green Challenge

Project Green Challenge seeks to inform, inspire and mobilize high school, college, and grad school students globally. The contest features 30 days of environmentally–themed challenges. Since it started in 2011, more 35,000 students have participated in the event. By signing up you will be receiving emails every day for one month, starting October 1st.  These emails will include a daily challenge.  If you complete and submit the challenge you are eligible for an award, from a water bottle all the way up to $5,000! You can register as an individual or as a team (limit 4 people/team).

Green Life will also post the daily challenge on Schoology and offer prizes to those who participate from Culver.

Check it out. If you have any questions, please contact Green Life’s Campus reps for this project, Tyler Voreis, Ben Brummel, or Samantha Bialek.




Big Step for Solar Power @ Culver!

Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Educational tool as well
August 10, 2018

After two years of planning and fundraising, it has taken just two days to construct Culver Academies’ first three racks of solar panels. Each rack, known as an array, holds 32 panels, Sustainability Director Chris Kline ’82 explained. And, while they have been installed, they still need to be connected to the campus power station before they are operational.

The 96 panels will generate enough power to run two homes, he said, which should be enough electricity to operate the Naval Building and Beason Hall. Still, “it is a drop in the bucket” when it comes to the Academies’ overall electrical use. The 24-kilowatts generated still represents less than one percent of the overall campus usage.

But this first phase of the solar project will provide more value as a learning tool for both students and school officials. Located in the well field across from the Sgt. Hudson Pasture on State Road 10, the solar panels will provide data that students and school officials can review to learn how to operate a larger system more efficiently. The panels were purchased with $60,000 raised through a crowd-funding campaign.

The necessary cable work is to be completed and the panels operational by Sept. 1. Each panel is outfitted with a micro-inverter, which converts the direct current generated into alternating current. It will also provide the operational data for each panel. Since the panels can be tilted and locked into a variety of different angles, Kline said students will be able to look at the individual data for each panel and determine the best angle for different times of the year.

Along with his new class, Honors in Sustainability, Kline said the science and engineering classes will be studying the data. Economics classes may want to determine the payback period on the panels by looking at the numbers. Culver Summer Schools & Camps classes will also use the panels and data for different projects. And, he added, plans also call for the well field to be planted in native flowers and grasses for another pollinator prairie, which add to the student research value.

Kline credited several recently graduated students with carrying the solar project torch since it was originally discussed. Nate Cripe ’17 (Bremen, Ind.) did most of the initial work. Elena Prieto ’18 (Culver) used the solar panels as her senior service project and worked with the Development department on the crowd-funding program. George Cruickshank ’18 (Anchorage, Alaska) and Yutao Li (Hangzhou, China) also assisted on the project.

Facilities Director Jeff Kutch and Assistant Director Darryl Garbacik, Controller Rick Tompos, the Alumni Sustainability Committee, and the Development staff have also backed the project, he said. Selecting Ag Technologies from nearby Rochester as the contractor also made the process smoother. The company’s knowledge of local regulations, state laws, and past work with area utilities has been extremely helpful.

Future plans call for the solar field to be expanded to a two-megawatt system, followed by a third phase that would see it grow into a “micro-grid,” he said. For now, though, he is hoping everyone enjoys this important first step and learns from the current system.


Summer Sustainability @Culver

Hard to believe Culver’s Summer Camp is half way over!  Pleased to share that our sustainability program is going strong.  Apologies for the long post, but there have been lots of cool things happening!  The images below will give you some idea of what our students, campers and staff have been up to.  Safe to say there’s nothing like #CulverSummer !

Recycle Relay — The girls of Butterfly Wing 2 helped get Woodcraft off to a great start with the first ever Recycle Relay.  Following the relay, the girls produced some excellent recycling graphic posters.


Community Sustainability

Lots of exciting sustainability events throughout our community in the past few weeks.   Culver campers and staff have participated in several informative and forward looking events.

Ancilla College cut the ribbon on their new 80 Kw solar facility last month.  Pictured below are members of Culver’s staff, including Dr. Power, listening to Dr. Michele Dvorak, President of the College, connect the benefits of this renewable energy source to the mission of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.  Culver will be inaugurating its new solar system later this summer.

solar panel power

Another  informative event was the Climate Change and Indiana discussion which took place in Plymouth at Opie’s Deli on June 28th.  More than 40 community members listened to Purdue climate expert Melissa Widhalm describe how Indiana’s climate is expected to change over the coming decades.  Melissa shared lots of interesting information — worthy of a separate post — but as just a teaser, the average number of days above 90 degrees in northern Indiana is expected to rise from the current 16 days/year to 65 days/year by 2050.


Community Service

Thoughtful, sustainable programs continue to take place on campus.  Pictured below are  Upper School campers and Culver Sustainability Interns working with Winter School rising seniors, Jack Schmiedlin and Amanda Kurteff sorting uniforms collected at the end of the 2017-18 school year.  Jack’s and Amanda’s service project will help ensure these uniforms don’t end up in the landfill and will be made available to incoming 2018-19 Academy students.  Dozens and dozens of bags of clothes have been collected and sorted.  This project would not be happening without the excellent support and cooperation of Culver staff, particularly Facilities Department Manager, Estill Rice, and Uniform Manager, Matt White and their teams.  This project illustrates the “reuse” aspect of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra.

Culver’s Food Recovery Program continues into its 7th month of operation with the strong support of Culver’s Dining Staff members, Lee Willhite and Amy Collins.  Pictured below are community members and Sustainability Interns packing meals for delivery.  We continue to average more than 200 meals/week donated to local charities which serve our community.

meal packing

Another important aspect of Culver’s Sustainability Program is our food waste program.  Food scraps (about 1,000 pounds/week) from our dining hall are transported to Homestead Dairy south of Plymouth which operates a large methane digester.  The facility converts organic material, including cow manure and food scraps, into electricity — enough to supply about 1,000 homes.  The Culver Upper Camp Sustainability Class and Interns paid a visit to this innovative clean energy operation.  Many thanks to Ryan Rogers for his tour!

Save the Turtles!

Always important to help protect wildlife.  Pictured below are Culver summer staff flagging a turtle nesting site adjacent to Lake Maxinkuckee.  If you look closely near the red flag at the bottom right of the picture, you will see a few of the more than 2 dozen turtle eggs in this area.  Several days later the turtles hatched.


turtle nest

Pollinator Prairie in Full Bloom

Culver’s pollinator prairie is in spectacular display this month with bergamot, coneflower, false sunflower, black-eyed susan, milkweed, butterfly weed and other native forbs in full bloom.   This 4.5 acre prairie will continue to attract a diverse array of pollinator species throughout the summer and fall.


Culver Woodcraft Rain Garden is Thriving!

The images below illustrate how rain gardens perform valuable services for our watershed.   Culver’s rain garden is located adjacent to a 25,000 square foot parking lot and drains an even larger area of roads and other impervious surfaces.

Earlier today we received a 1/2″ rain over the course of an hour, a good soaking.  In the upper right photo, we see the “first flush” from the rain as water pools in the parking lot and makes its way to the rain garden.   If you look closely, you can see the sheen of oil which is typically associated with the “first flush.” Prior to construction of this rain garden, the water would have just flowed across the turf grass into a storm drain and directly to a creek which flows into Lake Maxinkuckee (near where 750 summer campers swim).

Now however, the storm water flows through the rain garden.  The water is slowed down by river stones and native plants with much of the initial flush being absorbed into the ground through the deep root channels created by the native vegetation.  In the image below the parking lot image, we see the storm water wend its way through the rain garden.

The two larger images illustrate another benefit, or ecosystem service, performed by the rain garden, pollinator habitat.  In the upper image, we see a yellow flower, Zizia Aurea, or golden Alexander (also called meadow parsnip).  This flowering perennial is a member of the carrot family and attracts butterflies to the rain garden.  The lower image shows spiderwort, in full bloom.  This native tolerates shade quite well, which is convenient because of the river birch which shades a good portion of this rain garden.

As Culver prepares to welcome 732 campers to our Woodcraft camp, we are excited to share the many natural wonders of our beautiful campus.

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Climate Change and Indiana

We read and hear about climate change nearly every day.  Often it is difficult to separate facts from hype; hand-wringing from doom-saying and denial from misunderstanding.

On June 28th, we will have a chance to learn about climate change and how it is affecting Indiana.  You are invited to attend a presentation by Melissa Widhalm, operations manager with the Purdue Climate Change Research Center .  The PCCRC is a collaborative hub for interdisciplinary research on climate change.  Melissa  also serves as the program coordinator for the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA), a statewide collaborative effort to develop a series of reports designed to help Hoosiers better understand climate change-related risks so they can better prepare for the future.

This presentation and discussion will enable you to learn more about what climate change means for us.   The event takes place from 6:30pm-8pm  at Opies Office, 114 Michigan Street in Plymouth Indiana.  The event is free and open to the public.  See poster below for more information and please share with friends and family.

climate change discussion

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Rain Gardening at Culver

We spent a perfectly lovely morning with Culver’s AP Environmental Science class weeding the rain garden at the Woodcraft Camp.    This class is putting together a design and proposal to build a rain garden on our main campus.  Sorely needed with all of the impervious surface, parking lots and building downspouts which drain directly to Lake Maxinkuckee.  Stay tuned.  Hope to have more pictures soon.  Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Sam for encouraging her students to pursue this project!


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Earthworks, a Great Opportunity for Kids!

If you are a Culver-area parent looking for a wonderful outdoor program for young kids (age 6-10), check out Earthworks.  This innovative, nurturing program gives children a chance to explore nature at the amazing Center at Donaldson, about a 20 minute drive north of Culver.  Click on the link above, or better yet, stop out at the Center or Moontree Studios to see for yourself.

earthworks logo

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Denver, Here We Come!

A contingent of six students and two adults from Culver Academies is heading to Denver today for the Green Schools National Conference, a two day event dedicated to making green schoGSNC logools a reality.   This trip will mark the third time in the past four years a group of Culver students have participated in the conference.  The Culver group is participating in the conference thanks to the generous support of the Surdna Foundation.   Watch this space for updates from our group as we head west!

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Green Week in Full Swing

Lots going on at Culver Academies to celebrate Green Week.   Pictures from the weekend are below.  We enjoyed a combination of service, celebration and thought.

On Friday, our community came together for an informative all school assembly dedicated to sustainability.   On Saturday, another group of faculty, students and alums spent the morning reviewing our Alumni Advisory Council’s report on sustainability (all  63 recommendations!).  Later on Saturday, yet another group of students, parents faculty staff and alumni worked together to plant a small peach and apple orchard on our property.

More to come as Green Week is in full swing!