Sustainability at Culver

Conserve – Reduce – Educate

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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.


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Dinner and a Movie? How Inconvenient!

On Friday, November 10th at 7pm in the Roberts Auditorium, please join Culver Academies’ Green Life Club and the Global Studies Institute for a viewing of the recently released film, An Inconvenient Sequel.  This highly-regarded documentary addresses the latest issues concerning global climate change.  A discussion focusing on what we can do at Culver — and as individuals — will follow.  Pizza will be served!

Inconvenient Truth


Where does our trash go?

If you live near Culver, you have likely driven by Republic Services County Line Landfill hundreds of times.  And if you are like most people, if you have thought about the landfill, it has probably not been with the most charitable of intentions.  Today, three members of Culver’s Sustainability Committee, Chad Gard, Don Fox and Chris Kline,  took advantage of a break in classes and some periodic rain showers and attended a fascinating tour of this facility.

Republic Services handles more than 1 million pounds of waste from Culver Academies every year.  Our waste that isn’t recycled ends up at County Line.  (Republic runs a different facility which process recyclables.)  We wanted to see what happens when the trash trucks leave our campus.

Our hosts were Bob Shoots, Operations Manager of County Line, and Cody Humphrey, General Manager for Republic Services. Both men and the entire team of Republic Services were quite gracious and very open to answering our questions.  Joining us on the tour were other Republic customers, including Marianne Peters, Director of Marshall County Solid Waste District, and Lyn Ward, MCSWD Citizens Advisory Committee Member.

group photo

l-r Chad Gard, Lyn Ward, Don Fox, Marianne Peters, Chris Kline


From a distance, County Line is truly a big pile of trash.  Up close, it’s even bigger.  Covering more than 200 acres, the landfill is a remarkably complicated operation.  Scores of monitoring wells and air sensors cover the facility and data is collected for both management and regulatory purposes.

landfil profile

County Line Landfill looking south from the waste-to-energy plant.


top of landfill 1

A few of the large vehicles at the top of the pile.

Dozens of large vehicles — semi trucks, earth movers, large trash trucks and other equipment — move across the facility, managing the tons of material deposited there on a daily basis.  From this vantage point, I’m quite certain we were at the tallest point in both Marshall and Fulton counties.

top 2

Trash compactor vehicles, weighing more than 100,000 pounds, help manage the “air space” at the landfill,

Landfills are a significant source of climate-warming greenhouse gases, particularly methane.  Methane is produced when organic material, like food waste, breaks down in an anerobic environment (like that found in the cell of a capped landfill.)  Typically the methane escapes through vents and goes into the atmosphere where it disproportionately contributes to climate warming.

Not the case with the methane from County Line.  A waste to energy plant operated by Aria Energy, generates up to 6 MW of electricity from this gas, enough to power more than 3,000 homes.  This schematic from the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, depicts what is happening at County Line.

waste to energy schematic


Based on EPA calculations, Republic Services said that the County Line Landfill gas-to-energy project prevents carbon emissions equivalent to the consumption of more than 32 million gallons of gasoline.   Here are some pictures from the Aria facility.

Our group came away from the tour with a greatly expanded appreciation for the complexity of managing a modern landfill.  We certainly appreciate the work provided by Republic Services, particularly its efforts to prevent methane from getting into the environment.  And we appreciate the advice from landfill manager Bob Shoots, “Keep Recycling!”

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Green Life Club Underway!

green life first meeting pano

Culver’s Green Life club had its first organizational meeting of the 2017-18 school year this past week.  More than 50 students made it to the 7:45 am meeting, notwithstanding the fact a regimental sleep-in had been declared the night before! That’s dedication!  With more than 200 students expressing interest in Green Life, the club is poised to hit the ground running in 2017-18.

The full club meets the first Tuesday of every month at 7:45 am in Roberts Auditorium. Club leaders for 2017-18 are Adam Davis ’18 and George Cruikshank ’18, co-presidents, and Molly Kubaszyk ’18, communications.

green life officers 2017 2018

Green Life officers at first meeting of 2017-18 School Year

The club also has two working committees, one focusing  on education and outreach and the second focusing on projects.  The education/outreach committee is led by Helen Johnston ’18 and Nora Kline ’19.  This committee will meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month for breakfast in the Dining Hall.  This committee will focus on providing information to the community on sustainability and the Green Life!  If you have an idea for films, speakers, or other outreach activities, this is the group for you.

The projects/outings committee will meet on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 6:30pm in the Dining Hall mezzanine.  This committee is led by Goldie Blackson ’18 and Henry Stewart ’19.  This group will work on setting up specific projects for the community, including volunteer trips to the Recycle Depot, trail maintenance and cleanup, camping trips and other outings.

Very excited about the club and its prospects for the upcoming year!