Sustainability at Culver

Conserve – Reduce – Educate

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Help Support Solar Panels for Culver!

Culver Academies is seeking your support for our first foray into solar power.  Check out the video at this link  and join these folks in supporting renewable energy for our school!


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Green Life Volunteers at Recycle Depot

Earlier this week, an intrepid band of 10 Green Lifers made the trip to Plymouth to help out the Marshall County Recycle Depot and Executive Director Marianne Peters.  Club members sorted batteries, recycled CDs and did some other cleaning.  We even made the Depot’s Newsletter!

Greatly appreciate the pizza afterward too!

Here are some more pics.



Food Recovery Project @ Culver

Did you ever wonder what happens to Culver’s food waste?  There are two main sources of food waste from our Dining Hall.  The first source is the scraps from individual plates as well as from the food preparation process; the second source is prepared food that is never eaten.  While the Dining staff make every effort to reduce our food waste, some is inevitable when we serve nearly 3,000 meals a day.  Over the past 3 years, we have made a valiant effort to compost food waste from the Dining Hall.  Due to a number of technical reasons, our compost program just hasn’t worked very well.  Before Fall Break, we decided to try a different tack.  We now send our food scraps (nearly 1,000 pounds/week) to a nearby dairy farm that operates a methane digester. The methane digester uses organic matter (our food scraps and animal waste) to create methane fuel used to power an electricity generator.  Culver’s food scraps now become “green” power!

The second major source of food waste is food that is prepared but never served, think the extra tray of baked ziti.   Up until now if extra food isn’t consumed, it has been thrown into the trash.  As part of Charles Mahoney’s (CMA ‘18) Service Leadership Project, the Dining Hall team, the Faculty Sustainability Committee and several Culver community members have been working on a better solution for this food.  We have acquired a machine that packages food into individual portion containers.


Culver will be using this machine that heat seals individual portioned meals in a recyclable container.

These containers will be labeled and frozen.  Once or twice a week, we will deliver the frozen containers to the Culver Food Pantry, the Meals on Wheels program and other organizations in our local community who provide food to people in need.  We estimate we will provide up to 40 meals per day once our service is up and running.  This “food recovery” program begins this week!

Between these two programs, we are significantly reducing the amount of food waste we send to the landfill while also providing useful community services.



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Holiday Sustainability Tips from Culver

Here are some holiday sustainability tips, courtesy of the Culver Faculty Sustainability Committee. 

  1. Real Tree vs Artificial vs Live Tree?  Which is the more sustainable option?  This article helps sort out this question.  Spoiler alert – if you can’t do a live potted tree, real is the way to go.  And here’s a link to Hensler’s Nursery, a great place to purchase local trees especially if you have kids as there are lots of kid-friendly things to do.
  2. Give a gift that will help a child think a bit and be curious about the natural world: Potawtomi zoo membershipan ant farma kite, games (check out this list of 45 indoor games for kids of all ages), or a tree you plant together.
  3. Skip material gifts all together! Give an experience: performance/event tickets, a camping trip, cooking classes, a hot air balloon ride. Give a service: provided by you or a local business: a baby-sitting gift certificate, a massage, a dinner out, hire a chef, dance lessons
  4. Give gifts you make yourself. For adults, these often have more meaning (and a smaller environmental impact than mass-marketed products):
    1. Cook or bake a gift
    2. Write a poem or story about the person
    3. Make a frame for a photo or other piece of art – check out these creative ideas.
    4. Contact Xenia Czifrik (jewelry) or Nick Counts (iron tools and art) Bill Browne (honey) for great locally-made products.
  5. Shop local.  Supporting local merchants helps sustain our community.  Lots of great options in Culver, Plymouth & Rochester.  And to save money and reduce waste, think about shopping at the Wesley Church Thrift Shop here in Culver on Ohio Street – lots of great items for a fraction of what new ones would cost, for the entire family.
  6. Give socially conscious gifts! Shop fair trade:
    1. Ten Thousand Villages Fair Trade Online Store
    2. Grounds for Change Fair Trade Coffee, Tea & Chocolate
  7. Put your money to work helping others and the planet. Instead of buying a physical gift:
    1. Adopt a whale, wolf or polar bear
    2. Give a flock of chicks, a pig or llama to families living in subsistence communities
  8. See if you can find or create holiday decorations that are made from natural materials, will last from year-to-year and provide a unique holiday feel (unlike the cookie-cutter decorations found in stores).  Pinterest provides a ton of inspiring ideas.
  9. Stuff stockings with nuts and fruit instead of plastic do-dads. Most of them end up in the wastebasket before Christmas day is over and last hundreds of years in a landfill. My family did this and we would always end up sitting around cracking and eating nuts for days after Christmas.
    Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season? That amounts to 25 million tons of garbage!
  10. Wrap your gifts with newspaper (Sunday comics are great!), cloth that can be reused or wrapping paper made with recycled content. Save and re-use ribbon from year to year.
    If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet! 
    If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  11. Use holiday lights in moderation. If you are buying new lights, buy LED lights that use one tenth as much energy as conventional holiday lights and last much longer. If you enjoy holiday lights, turn them off during daylight hours and after most people in your neighborhood are in for the night. This can be done easiest with timers that can be found at your local hardware store.
    study by the Florida Solar Energy Center found that average household energy use for lighting increases 130 kwhs during the thirty-day holiday season following Thanksgiving. That’s the same amount of energy that would be consumed if every household in America left an electric oven on 350 degrees for 2.5 days!
  12. Buy energy efficient appliances and electronics, if those are on a wish list. Look for the ENERGY STAR label!
  13. Send e-greetings. Instead of sending cards through the mail. You can find great e-greetings from sites like If you must mail cards, try to keep your card list to a minimum. Send postcards instead of envelopes to save paper or buy holiday cards that are made from recycled paper. Recycle the holiday cards you receive or make gift tags out of them for next year. Another idea is to re-use part of holiday cards for post holiday thank you notes.
    The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill in a football field 10 feet high. That doesn’t even include birthday cards!
  14. Donate unwanted gifts or items replaced by new gifts. Should you receive any unwanted gifts or if you are replacing old possessions with new ones then consider taking them to a charity shop, instead of throwing them away. The Wesley Thrift Shop on Ohio Street in Culver is awesome – a great place to drop off items to give-away, and to shop for gently used things.
  15. Share these sustainable holiday tips with your family and friends! They can be a great conversation starter.

Credit to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for many of these ideas.


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Apples, Batteries and Climate Change… it’s as easy as A, B, C…

The past 10 days have been an enlightening and rewarding time for sustainability at Culver.   When one has the opportunity to peer into our food future, as we did on a visit to Purdue’s Pomology Field Research Lab; or make a positive contribution to a community recycling program, as we did during a volunteer outing to the Marshall County Recycle Depot; or be inspired by our students and faculty after a community viewing of “An Inconvenient Sequel,” it is hard not to be optimistic about our future.

Certainly one could take the opposite view.  There are certainly many reasons to be pessimistic about the environmental arc of our planet.  However after witnessing a diverse combination of students and adults interact with one another, each of whom icommitted to living a sustainable life, I am more convinced than ever that optimism is not merely rosy thinking, but the clear path forward.

Let’s see if some images can shed some light.


Peter Hirst, Pomology Professor at Purdue and Dave Blalock, Culver’s Ground’s Supervisor, at Purdue Research Orchard


Gabby Woempner (CGA ’18) points to some new apple varieties on dwarf root stock, similar to what we will be planting at Culver

Building on the efforts of Katie Derwin (CGA ’17) and Linnea Karahalios (CGA ’17), Gabby Woempner is committed to bringing the Culver orchard to fruition.  (sorry).  Drawing on the expert advice and extensive knowledge of Prof, Peter Hirst of Purdue University, Gabby, Dave Blalock and Chris Kline spent a fascinating afternoon touring the research grounds of Purdue where new apple varieties are being cultivated.  We learned about planting techniques and strategies and discussed how we might best create a student run orchard at Culver.

apple variety

Each of these apples has the same parent, don’t ask me how.

paw paw

A Paw Paw orchard at Purdue, the Indiana banana!

On the way back to Culver from Purdue, we took the time to stop by one of our region’s most fascinating natural events, the daily migration of Sand Hill cranes to the Jasper Pulaski Wildlife area.  At its peak a little later this month every evening before sundown more than 15,000 Sand Hill cranes glide into the refuge.  About 6,000 birds were there when we stopped by.  The birds socialize and eat before returning to their roosts for the  evening.  If you live in the Region and have never seen this phenomena, you should. Check out this link for more information.

sand hill cranes

From the wonders of nature, we migrated to the detritus of humans.  However, the optimism remains as a core group of Culver Green Life students volunteered a few hours  of their time on a beautiful sunny afternoon at the Marshall County Recycle Depot.  We have written about this invaluable community resource before in this blog.  The Depot offers useful services to all Marshall County residents —  from collecting household hazardous waste, old electronics, tires and paint to providing valuable sustainability education services to the community.  The dedicated staff make sure materials are recycled or disposed of properly.  This image of the interior of the depot gives an indication of the sophistication of the operation.

recycle panarama

Interior panorama of Marshall County Recycle Depot

Culver students’ efforts focused on sorting the myriad of batteries collected at the depot.  We sorted the equivalent of a 55 gallon drum of batteries!  Many of which were generated from our own campus.  Way to go Green Life!

green life sorting

Isabel Ralphs, Apple Li, Elisa Huang, Marianne Peters (Depot Director) Goldie Blackson and Bob Fan get busy sorting batteries

Our week ended in a most rewarding fashion — with pizza and excellent, impassioned conversation about climate change and what our community can do about it.  Following a screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel,” more than 30 students, faculty and staff talked about ways we might do a better job bringing sustainable thinking to our community.  Great ideas from young and old centering on the core element of Culver’s mission — to educate students for leadership and responsible citizenship in society.   Look out Culver… we just might have a movement!


Students, faculty and staff discuss action steps following a screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel.”


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Dining Hall Update

The following post is reprinted from the November 2017 “Academy Road” Blog

By Chef Amy Collins , Sustainability Director Chris Kline and Wellness Consultant Tracy Fox

With the ever-growing popularity of the local food movement, veganism, eating “clean,” and gluten free, it  seems only natural that the trends would eventually creep into our student populace. Each year we get more and more Senior Service Projects focusing on food and its many facets and effects on the community. This year is no different, with several students focusing on all areas of food from waste, to health, to promoting local farm to school initiatives. These students are passionate, well-informed and eager to make a difference when it comes to how we operate Lay Dining Hall.

The first example is focusing on the Farm to School initiative. Megan Collins is aiming her project at educating the student body as to what the Lay Dining Hall is doing when it comes to local food and why it should be important to them. She’s conducting a real grass roots initiative, talking to her fellow students, creating signage and inserts for the dining room, and working with our staff so that students know what is local on our menu. As highlighted in last month’s Healthy Campus Update, over the last several years Culver has been sourcing an increasing amount of food from local farmers and producers.

A couple of other projects are aimed at reducing sodium and saturated fat in our meals with the goal of having a healthier campus. We struggle with this regularly, as many students are interested in healthier food, but we dare not take away their pizza puffs or baked ziti or we’ll feel the wrath of a social media campaign! However, students are eager to prove that students can be conscious about what they’re eating. Along those lines, a group of students meets regularly to prepare a healthy meal together to serve to fellow students, and share ideas on healthy eating and how the food environment is
often challenging when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

A couple of other projects in the works seek to reduce the impact of our uneaten food, both prepared food that is never served and food “waste” (scraps, peelings, etc.). One that is just getting off the ground includes purchasing a system to safely package uneaten but perfectly safe food from the dining hall. We will be looking into options and outlets that will accept food and have been inspired by schools nationwide that are packaging “to go” meals for donation. With labeling and a vacuum sealer, we may be able to box “to go” meals for local persons and families in need. We hope to get this program off the
ground later this year.

A complementary project that is underway includes diverting food scraps. When food (or any organic material) is sent to a typical landfill, the material decomposes producing methane, a potent contributor to climate change. Recently we have begun to divert our food scraps from the landfill to a local dairy which operates a methane digester. Culver’s food scraps (anywhere from 700-1,000 pounds per week) are dumped into the digester and the resulting methane is captured and burned to generate electricity. The leftover material makes an excellent natural fertilizer.  This project stems, in part, from two students from the Class of 2017 who examined food waste in our dining services.

We hope to provide additional updates and information about the efforts of students and staff to continue to provide and promote healthy, and in some cases locally grown and produced, food and reduce food waste. We are especially proud of many of the students who are leading a number of these exciting efforts and look forward to continuing to support them.