Sustainability

Sustainability Topic

Dylan Kulik, sustainability farm manager at Interlochen, developed a plant cultivation project for Arts Academy students.

Interlochen students working on a hands-on cultivation project

Interlochen students working on a hands-on cultivation project

Dylan Kulik, sustainability farm manager at Interlochen, recently received a $500 grant from the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education to develop a plant cultivation project for Arts Academy students. 

“The Plant Nutrient Experimentation Project is an opportunity for students to have a hands-on cultivation experience through a scientific, experimental lens,” Kulik said. Students in groups of three were assigned different nutrient conditions in which they grow spinach plants and compare cultivation results, discovering how abundances or shortages of certain soil nutrients affect plant growth.

“My intention for this project is to have students think about a ‘full diet’ of nutrients that plants can access in soil, just like we humans need a full diet to stay happy and healthy,” Kulik explained. “All of the students in Agricultural Science this spring will be able to learn in a hands-on setting, experimenting with live plants, different organic nutrient substances, and thinking about how ‘full diets’ in soils, for plants, and for us as consumers, ultimately have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing.”

Since 2016, when Interlochen's Board of Trustees pledged to create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus, Interlochen has implemented a variety of sustainability initiatives. The R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, which opened in 2017, has expanded over the years to encompass an 800-square-foot botanical laboratory and greenhouse powered by solar and heated with geothermal energy; three 800-square foot hoop houses focused on research and experimentation; a chicken coop; an aquaponics unit; an educational apiary with four beehives; a student-designed and installed fruit yard with an orchard, brambles, and a vineyard; and an outdoor community kitchen with a stone bread oven.

Under the leadership of Interlochen Director of Sustainability Emily Umbarger, the complex has been designated Certified Naturally Grown, a Monarch Waystation, a National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat, and a Michigan Green School. It has also received several certifications from the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

Umbarger has collaborated with colleagues across campus on several sustainability efforts, including the construction of a 100-foot composting facility and the facilitation of single-stream recycling; zero-waste dining products; water-bottle filling stations; low-flow showerheads, toilets, and sinks; and a high-efficiency dishwashing system.

In 2019, Interlochen Arts Academy was the only school in the state of Michigan to receive the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School Award, which recognizes institutions that reduce their environmental impact, improve the health of their community members, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

Free classes will focus on nature-based artwork, hands-on sustainability projects, and cooking with local chefs, nutritionists, and culinary experts.

RB Annis Botanical Lab

Building on its legacy of fostering a sustainable campus, Interlochen Center for the Arts will offer a series of outdoor classes for adults this summer at the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, a complex on the Interlochen campus where students study botany, agriculture, and ecology. 

Classes will focus on nature-based artwork, hands-on sustainability projects, and cooking with local chefs, nutritionists, and culinary experts. All programs are free and open to the public; advance registration is required. In accordance with Interlochen’s COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols, classes will be limited to 12 participants and masks and social distancing will be required. (Campus access will be limited to the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden.)

“We are so thrilled to invite local community members into our garden to learn, create art, eat delicious, locally-sourced food, and reconnect with nature,” said Interlochen Director of Sustainability Emily Umbarger. “Summer is a glorious season in northern Michigan and an ideal time to recommit to caring for the natural world.”

This summer will mark the opening of the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden’s new outdoor kitchen, which was made possible through a grant from the Allen Foundation. The kitchen encompasses a pizza oven, a 42-inch rotisserie grill, four burners, and two counters. 

It’s the latest expansion to the outdoor complex, which also includes an 800-square-foot botanical laboratory and greenhouse powered by solar and heated with geothermal energy; two 800-foot hoop houses; a chicken coop; an aquaponics unit; an educational apiary with four beehives; and a student-designed and installed fruit yard with an orchard, brambles, and a vineyard.

ART & CULTURE IN THE GARDEN | 6-8 p.m. | Second Wednesday of the month

June 9: Baagadowe in the Garden
The modern sport of lacrosse has its origins in the traditional games of Native communities, including those here in the Great Lakes. Regarded as something more than a game, the Great Lakes version called “Baagadowe” has a deep meaning and significance to those who played it and continue to play today. The historical aspects of the game will be discussed along with the sports’ resurgence in Native communities, as well as the construction of traditional Great Lakes-style lacrosse sticks.

July 14: Sensory Poetry in the Garden
Spend a moment of silence to discover the transformative power of observations in nature. Craft your own poem inspired by the rich beauty of nature. Feel yourself surrounded by the buzz of bees, the splash of color all around you, the earthy soil beneath your feet, and the scent of herbs fresh in the air. Come write, observe, and share in this immersive poetry experience! All materials will be provided.

August 11: Repurposed Materials
We’ll be using some repurposed materials and up-cycling them into natural beauties to bring eco-art to our garden space—and yours! All materials will be provided.

September 8: Photography in the Garden
Participate in an introductory photography class designed for amateur photographers, using nothing more than your smartphone. Grab your phone, be inspired by our natural gardenscape, and fall in love with nature and photography! Students are asked to bring their own smartphones.

LEARNING IN THE GARDEN | 6-8 p.m. | Third Wednesday of the month

June 16: Logs to Lumber
The tree service came, and now I have all these logs. What do I do? Don’t let those logs be destined for the fire pit! With some simple tools and a little know-how and planning, you too can turn logs into lumber! Come join us to discover how to process your logs to use in all of your home DIY projects.

July 21: Soil Health for Backyard Gardening
Are you interested in getting the most out of your backyard garden? By exploring the building blocks of soil, this course will provide an introduction to soil health and ways to optimize your local soils. Like humans, soils are happiest when they have the right amounts of water, air, and certain nutrients. We will learn how to attain and maintain an ideal soil composition for a variety of gardening purposes.

August 18: Being Sustainable at Home
What can we do to be more sustainable at home? We will discuss ways that each of us can consider our carbon footprint and the impacts we have on the environment. Join us for 10 tips and tricks on how to be more sustainable at home.

September 15: Native plants of northern Michigan
We are surrounded by an abundance of flowering plants in Northern Michigan. In this class you will learn about what plants are native here and how they can be a part of your home landscape.

CHEFS IN THE GARDEN | 6-8 p.m. | Fourth Wednesday of the month

June 23: Spring Savory Crepes 
Join culinary artist and registered dietician Laura McCain on a delicious egg-loving adventure. With simple fillings like soft scrambled eggs and quick sautéed asparagus, this event will be rich with culinary memories from her trip to France in June 2019.

July 28: Eat the Rainbow
Join chef Loghan of Planted Cuisine and understand how you can turn your fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits into every imaginable dish with a few simple techniques and fundamentals.

August 25: Inspiration from Provence
Join local journalist and chef Madeleine Vedel for a culinary experience inspired by her years-long friendship with her beekeeper in Provence. Explore recipes with a touch of honey, fresh flavors, and love.

September 22: Roll Models
Rolls Rice is a Michigan-based food business specializing in vegan and gluten-free spring rolls, rice bowls, and sauces. In this class, they will demonstrate how to make their famous spring rolls and discuss their passion for working with their community.

Advance registration is required for Education in the Garden offerings. To register, email Emily Umbarger at emily.umbarger@interlochen.org.

With conservation projects, Earth Day art installations, eco-friendly facilities, and more, Interlochen continues to create a sustainable campus.

Heads of lettuce growing in a raised bed

Heads of lettuce growing in a raised bed.

One of the garden’s three hoop houses

One of the garden’s three hoop houses.

Emily Umbarger leads a class of Arts Exploration campers

Emily Umbarger leads a class of Arts Exploration campers during the summer of 2019.

Junior campers attend a class about pollinators

Junior campers attend a class about pollinators during Arts Camp 2019.

In the months after Interlochen Arts Camp was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Interlochen’s sustainability team handpicked hundreds of pounds of organic fruits and vegetables grown on the Interlochen campus and donated them to a nearby food pantry.

The partnership was made possible by the addition of two new hoop houses to the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, a complex on the Interlochen campus where students study botany, agriculture, and ecology while growing fresh produce for the campus community. One-hundred percent of the produce grown last summer—including tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, microgreens, and peppers—was donated to the food pantry at Redeemer Lutheran Church of Interlochen.

The initiative exemplifies Interlochen’s commitment to creating an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus—despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. Throughout the global health crisis, Interlochen’s sustainability manager Emily Umbarger and her team continued their work, maintaining the momentum of recent sustainability milestones, which include the creation of a community garden and composting facility, and the U.S. Department of Education recognizing Interlochen Arts Academy as a Green Ribbon School, among many others.

“While the pandemic creates logistical challenges for some of our work, it also inspires us to recommit to fostering a sustainable campus,” said Umbarger. “In times of crisis, the natural world provides comfort, hope, and healing.”

Hand-on conservation at Interlochen Arts Academy

In recent years Interlochen Arts Academy courses such as the Ecology and Agricultural Science have mobilized students to take part in Interlochen’s sustainability efforts, while giving them hands-on conservation experience. In Umbarger’s Agricultural Science class, for example, students assist with seeding, propagating and growing plants, and harvesting.

This work often inspires students to lead green initiatives themselves. For example, Interlochen now boasts its own chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth effort focused on fighting climate change. Arts Academy students and Sunrise Movement co-chairs Mia Yiannias and Daniel Voight organized campus-wide trash pickups and assisted in the Academy’s composting efforts. “We’ve been gathering student volunteers to monitor a composting system that will allow for practices we had in place before COVID,” Yiannias said. “It’s inspiring to see my friends whom I didn’t know were interested in sustainability take on these roles.”

This year, the Arts Academy’s annual Earth Day celebration will emphasize the mental health benefits of being in nature. “We’re thinking of the wonderful effects of being out in the woods after a COVID winter,” said Mary Ellen Newport, ecology instructor and director of the R.B Annis Math Science Division. “We’re empowering students to find their way in the woods and enjoy these spaces for themselves.”

As part of the celebration, the Riley Woods section of campus will showcase student art installations and presentations that invite students to learn more about conservation practices and reflect on environmental issues. The walk will culminate in a bonfire where students can make prayer flags and celebrate the natural world.

Interlochen Arts Camp 2021: A summer in nature

This summer, students at Interlochen Arts Camp will take advantage of many opportunities to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Interlochen’s 1,200-acre campus and get their hands dirty. “Sustainability will be a big focus this summer,” Umbarger said. “Many kids have been stuck at home this year, and we can’t wait to rejuvenate and inspire them through nature.”

Sustainability offerings will be woven into the Camp experience. During Camp Life programming, for example, cabin counselors can choose from several enriching activities, including classes on pollinators, composting, recycling, and growing vegetable gardens.

For campers in grades 3-6 enrolled in the Arts Exploration program, an ecology component called Environmental Exploration will teach them about the surrounding ecosystem through exercises, activities, and experiments. “Student campers will come to our garden site and learn in a really hands-on way,” Umbarger said.

A new chapter for geothermal energy

When the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden opened in 2017, it introduced sustainable energy to the Interlochen campus via a four-well geothermal system whereby underground water is pumped up and passed through a series of tubes underneath the flooring system. The water carries an ambient temperature that heats the lab in the winter.

This fall, geothermal energy will help further reduce Interlochen’s carbon footprint with the opening of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow House, a 38,000 square-foot lakeside facility with 36 student rooms, four visiting artist suites, four practice rooms, and multiple lounges. The Dow House will include a geothermal system that will both heat and cool the facility, with 16 400-foot wells.

“Installing a geothermal system is an enormous feat since it requires a complex system of wells and tubing,” said Umbarger. “We’re enormously grateful to our donors who made this new environmentally friendly facility possible.”

Located on the shore of Green Lake, the Dow House’s exterior design incorporates natural earth tone color and some exposed wood structures that allow it to blend in with the surrounding wooded area. Efforts were made to save trees along the shore, and to maintain a natural shoreline vegetation buffer alongside the property to help keep unwanted nutrients out of the lake.

Community sustainability hub

This summer, the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden will open its brand-new outdoor kitchen, which was made possible through a grant from the Allen Foundation. The kitchen encompasses a pizza oven, a 42-inch rotisserie grill, four burners, and two counters. “I can’t think of a better way to get people excited about eating their vegetables than to grow, harvest, prepare, and eat them together as part of a shared communal meal,” Umbarger said.

Community members will get a chance to enjoy the new kitchen during Chefs in the Garden, a planned program for adults that invites local chefs to prepare meals for attendees with local organic produce. Two additional upcoming programs will also bring community members to Interlochen’s community garden: Art in the Garden, featuring art classes by local artists, and Chats in the Garden, a lecture series focused on green topics such as gardening and composting. Due to the pandemic, admission will be limited and safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing will be required. (Registration will open later this spring.)

For Umbarger, though, the future of Interlochen’s sustainability efforts goes beyond campus. She recently initiated conversations with local organizations that focus on issues related to education, nutrition, conservation, and sustainability. These dialogues inform her application for Interlochen’s first USDA Food and Agriculture Service Learning grant to help the institution become a hub for community partners interested in sustainability.

“We have a really great foundation and infrastructure, and fantastic people who are passionate about these issues,” said Umbarger. “It’s a natural time to ask, ‘how can Interlochen do even more and spread this message in the community?’”

The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) certification is awarded to the top 5% of Michigan farms.

Arts Academy students pose with their MAEAP certifications

Interlochen Arts Academy Agricultural Science students celebrate their certification through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

Interlochen Center for the Arts has been awarded environmentally friendly certification in Farmstead, Greenhouse, and Cropping Systems through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

Since 1998, MAEAP has functioned statewide as a voluntary organization that helps farms of all sizes to reduce soil erosion and minimize agricultural water pollution through the implementation of cost-effective and sustainable means. MAEAP certification is awarded to the top 5% of farms following an extensive application process and a rigorous inspection. Verification through MAEAP acknowledges an organization’s environmental stewardship and sustainable farming efforts.

“We are thrilled to be recognized for our sustainable and environmentally friendly practices,” said Interlochen Sustainability Manager Emily Umbarger. “When I first learned about MAEAP certification, it brought to light the various factors that have a significant impact on our local watershed. Every farm, including our own, affects the surrounding lands and watershed. That’s why it’s important for our students and the greater Interlochen community to understand why environmentally friendly agriculture is so important.”

Umbarger adds that this certification means that Interlochen, “[Follows] best practices around crop production, erosion control, chemical and pesticide usage, and recordkeeping in line with the MAEAP’s rigorous guidelines.”

The certification comes on the heels of Interlochen Arts Academy being named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, an award that recognizes schools that reduce environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of students, faculty, and staff, and provide environmental and sustainability education opportunities. Interlochen Arts Academy was the only school in the state of Michigan to receive the award this year.

Since 2016, when Interlochen Center for the Arts’ Board of Trustees pledged “to create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus,” Interlochen has implemented institution-wide sustainability efforts, including the construction of a 100-foot composting facility, the installation of a high-efficiency dishwashing system, the introduction of single-stream recycling, the opening of a botanical lab and community garden, and unique course offerings for Academy students and the local community.

Building on Interlochen's institution-wide sustainability efforts, Arts Academy students will help plant and harvest organic fruits and vegetables that will be donated to the food pantry at Redeemer Lutheran Church of Interlochen.

Botanical Lab
One of Interlochen's hoop houses

Beginning this summer, hundreds of pounds of handpicked organic fruit and vegetables grown on the campus of Interlochen Center for the Arts will be donated to the food pantry at Redeemer Lutheran Church of Interlochen.

The partnership is made possible by the addition of two new hoop houses to the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, a complex on the Interlochen campus where Arts Academy students study botany, agriculture, and ecology while growing fresh produce for the campus community. One-hundred percent of the produce grown this summer—including tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, microgreens, peppers, and more—will be donated to Redeemer's food pantry. Once Interlochen Arts Academy resumes classes in the fall, over 50 Arts Academy students will assist with planting, tending, and harvesting.

"We are thrilled to give back to our local community and to engage our students in this important work," said Emily Umbarger, sustainability manager and instructor of agricultural sciences at Interlochen Arts Academy. "It's a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about food accessibility and security, poverty and hunger, and appreciating what you have. Our goal is not only to teach them about growing methods, but also the importance of ongoing, meaningful, and connected community service."

During the academic year, half of the produce from the new hoop houses will go to Redeemer's pantry, and half will go to Interlochen's Stone Cafeteria. Since Redeemer's food pantry opened in 1984, it has served over 100,000 people. Most of its produce comes from grocery stores—fruits and vegetables that can no longer be sold because they are approaching their expiration dates.

"Many of our customers are accustomed to canned fruits and vegetables," said Rev. Mark Berlin, Redeemer's senior pastor. "Being able to offer fresh produce will support the health and wellness of many people in our community. We are deeply appreciative of this partnership."

In the coming weeks, Redeemer's food bank plans to introduce resources on how to prepare fresh produce for healthy meals.

Since 2016, when Interlochen's Board of Trustees pledged to create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus, Interlochen has implemented a variety of sustainability initiatives. The R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, which opened in 2017, has expanded over the years to encompass an 800-square-foot botanical laboratory and greenhouse powered by solar and heated with geothermal energy; an 800-foot hoop house focused on research and experimentation; a chicken coop; an aquaponics unit; an educational apiary with four beehives; a student-designed and installed fruit yard with an orchard, brambles, and a vineyard; and an outdoor community kitchen with a stone bread oven. Under Umbarger's leadership, the complex has been designated Certified Naturally Grown, a Monarch Waystation, a National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat, and a Michigan Green School. It has also received several certifications from the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

Umbarger has collaborated with colleagues across campus on several sustainability efforts, including the construction of a 100-foot composting facility and the installation of single-stream recycling; zero-waste dining products; water-bottle filling stations; low-flow shower heads, toilets, and sinks; and a high-efficiency dishwashing system.

In 2019, Interlochen Arts Academy was the only school in the state of Michigan to receive the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School Award, which recognizes institutions that reduce their environmental impact, improve the health of their community members, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

The new hoop houses were made possible by the Allen Foundation and a grant from the American Heart Association's Teaching Gardens Network Grant Program. A grant from High Mowing provided organic seeds.

About Interlochen Arts Academy
Interlochen Arts Academy is the nation's premier fine arts boarding high school, where emerging artists from around the world transform passion and potential into purpose. Guided by distinguished artists, students pursue pre-professional training in music, dance, theatre, visual arts, creative writing, and film alongside a robust academic curriculum, preparing them to excel in the arts and beyond. Nestled in scenic northwest Michigan, the Academy has been a leader in arts education since 1962 and has produced 46 Presidential Scholars in the Arts, more than any other high school in the country. To learn more, visit academy.interlochen.org. Follow Interlochen on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at @interlochenarts.

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From June to October, Sustainability staff will lead monthly programs in composting, seed saving, native flora and fauna, and more.

Interlochen gardeners show off handfuls of cherry tomatoes

Interlochen Center for the Arts will offer a series of gardening workshops this summer and fall.

From June to October, Interlochen’s sustainability staff invite the local community to join them for five 90-minute sessions on gardening and local ecology. Hosted in the R.B. Annis Botanical Laboratory, the programs will introduce participants to topics such as native flora and fauna, composting, and herb gardening. All sessions are free and open to the public.

“Interlochen has made a commitment to embrace sustainability,” said Emily Umbarger, Sustainability Manager and Instructor of Agricultural Sciences at Interlochen Center for the Arts. “We hope to bring our community together in a meaningful way to explore various topics of sustainability that can be used at home or on campus. We are also excited to partner with Oryana this year to bring our attendees local, healthy, organic snacks! All are invited to attend!”

In May, Interlochen Arts Academy was recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. The award recognizes schools, districts, and Institutions of Higher Education that reduce environmental impact and cost, improve the health and wellness of their students and staff, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education. The Academy was the only institution in the state of Michigan to receive the designation this year.

You can learn more about the R. B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden and other Interlochen Center for the Arts sustainability efforts at interlochen.org. Registration for these programs is not required. A schedule and course descriptions can be found below.

June 26 - Gardening 101
Are you interested in learning how to garden? Have you ever wondered which would be the very best vegetables to try to grow successfully in northern Michigan? Join us as we explore the basics of gardening. Participants will learn about soil preparation, sun conditions, plant needs, and walk away with a host of resources to help start your very own successful garden.

July 24 - Aquatic Native Communities at Green Lake & Duck Lake
Are you familiar with the native aquatic flora and fauna surrounding Green and Duck Lakes? Are you able to identify which species are invasive? Are you curious about how we can help support and preserve the local aquatic communities of our area? Join our aquatic biologist as we take a hike and explore the aquatic native communities of Green and Duck Lakes.

Aug. 14 - Composting Successfully at Home
Do you really want to compost at home, but you’re not quite sure where to start? Have you thought about reducing your waste but aren’t familiar with how to compost? Let us help you! We will discuss the basic science behind backyard composting and give you all the tips and tricks you need in order to walk away with the knowledge necessary to be a backyard composting expert!

Sept. 18 - Seed Saving
Have you ever wanted to save seeds from your garden to plant next year? Got a favorite tomato variety that's been passed down to you? Whatever your skill level, you are welcome to come and learn more about the amazing world of plant genetics, and how to use that information to grow flowers and vegetables in your home garden. We'll discuss how and why gardeners save seeds, as well as share our favorite plant varieties. Please bring seeds to share!

Oct. 16 - Herb Gardening for Winter
Do you love the smell of fresh herbs in your favorite dishes? Are you interested in learning about container gardening? Want to keep your green thumb alive while the snow is flying outside? We’ve got just the class for you! Come learn about potted herbs and indoor seasonal growing as we prepare for the cooler season ahead. Participants will leave with several plant starts, too!

How Interlochen’s school garden became an award-winning outdoor education complex.

RB Annis Botanical Lab
Students harvest radishes

Students harvest radishes from one of the raised beds.

The Interlochen delegation, including Pat Kessel (second from left), Cookie Dutch (third from left), Emily Umbarger (fourth from right), Lauren Greene (third from right), and Cindy Hann (second from right) with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Interlochen delegation, including Pat Kessel (second from left), Cookie Dutch (third from left), Emily Umbarger (fourth from right), Lauren Greene (third from right), and Cindy Hann (second from right) with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.

In 1927, Joe Maddy selected a stand of virgin pines between two pristine lakes as the perfect setting for his great experiment. Nine decades later, those lakes and pines are still a central component of the Interlochen experience for thousands of Arts Camp and Arts Academy students, patrons, and guests.

As the world and its climate began to change, Interlochen Center for the Arts recognized the urgent need to protect its natural resources. In 2016, the Board of Trustees pledged to “create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus” at Interlochen. This Earth Day, we look back at our journey of sustainability, celebrating our successes and looking forward to the exciting developments yet to come.

Planting the seeds of sustainability

When the Board made its 2016 sustainability resolution, Interlochen was struggling to encourage a campus-wide, recycling-first mindset. Vice President of Operations Pat Kessel was tasked with creating and implementing a new direction for the organization.

One component of Kessel’s plan for a greener Interlochen was the creation of a school garden. In July 2016, Kessel reached out to Emily Umbarger—one of the Academy’s academic and college counselors—and asked her to start Interlochen’s garden. Umbarger, an organic homestead farmer, was a natural choice.

“I told him, ‘I’ll take on this project, but you have to give me 12 months,’” Umbarger said. “I want to go into this intelligently, with a plan and a research model in mind.”

Kessel’s timing was serendipitous: As Umbarger was planning the garden, other departments were taking significant steps toward sustainability. A gift from the R.B. Annis Foundation had allowed the Academy’s Math and Science Division to build a state-of-the-art botanical laboratory envisioned and designed by division director Dr. Mary Ellen Newport. Meanwhile, the Advancement Department, with support from Umbarger and Newport, was applying for a grant from the Allen Foundation to be used for a campus-wide composting facility.

“I said, ‘These things fit nicely together, and they’re all exciting from a sustainability perspective,’” Umbarger said. “‘Let’s make a larger entity out of our school garden.’”

In 2017, Interlochen received its first grant from the Allen Foundation. Umbarger and her team—two gardeners, an intern, and dozens of volunteers—put the funds to work building a hoop house, nine raised beds, a pollinator garden, and a permaculture scape. The remaining funds went towards a future composting facility, which Umbarger and Executive Director of Facilities and Maintenance Eric Gray were researching.

Umbarger and Gray visited other organizations to learn more about composting operations. The two ultimately decided to design their own, a 100-foot-long, multi-bay system that would meet Interlochen’s unique needs. The facility opened in June of 2019 and now collects and processes all pre- and post-consumer food waste from Stone Cafeteria as well as all organic landscape waste.

Cultivating allies through education

As gardening and composting efforts gained momentum, Umbarger reduced her counseling load and began working part-time in both capacities. In June 2019, she left counseling to accept the position of Sustainability Manager.

“I wanted to hire someone else to do this, because I really loved counseling,” she said. “But as I spent more time with my hands in the soil, and learned more about sustainability, I fell in love with it.”

Part of that love came from Umbarger’s educational efforts. Since 2017, Umbarger and her team have been offering free seminars for the local community. In 2018, Umbarger launched the Academy’s first Agricultural Science course, which featured units in composting, soil science, botany, aquaponics, and other regenerative, sustainable agricultural techniques. In 2019, Umbarger began offering special cabin-night programs for students of Interlochen Arts Camp.

But Umbarger has not just been teaching children: As structures continued to pop up and the complex began to earn accolades, Umbarger has found herself teaching her colleagues as well.

“I’ve really become the face recycling and composting on campus, and that has allowed me to work with many different departments on a wide variety of sustainability projects,” Umbarger said. “For example, the Scholarshop reached out and said, ‘We want to get rid of plastic bags. What might that look like?’ People from every department are coming up with really exciting ideas on their own.”

Taking root in the campus community

Today, Umbarger leads a team of three: Sustainability Gardener Christina Barkel; Garden Intern Brooke DeVault; and Composting Technician Adam Olson. Umbarger’s team has also collaborated with other departments to implement earth-conscious upgrades across campus, including: a water-saving dishwasher in Stone Cafeteria; single-stream recycling; zero-waste dining products; water bottle filling stations; and low-flow shower heads, toilets, and sinks. The Botanical Complex has expanded to include an aquaponics system, geothermal heating, beehives, a chicken coop, and an outdoor education pavilion. The complex has been designated Certified Naturally Grown, a Monarch Waystation, a National Wildlife Federation Certified Schoolyard Habitat, a Michigan Green School, and has received several certifications from the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.

“I think the biggest change is that sustainability is now a buzz word on campus,” Umbarger said.

That buzz will continue to grow in the summer of 2020. Umbarger’s long-awaited outdoor kitchen—complete with grill, bread oven, sinks, and work space—will be installed as soon as the last of the snow melts. Umbarger and her team will also be introducing large-scale sustainability efforts at Arts Camp 2020. “We plan to get composting online at all three cafeterias, which means two more kitchens and thousands of students and staff,” Umbarger said. “We’re also bringing recycling to every cabin and every headquarters in the Camp divisions.”

Reaping results and giving back

Most importantly, however, Umbarger looks forward to the completion of two more hoop houses that will serve not as educational laboratories, but as production spaces cultivated for optimal output. Half of this food will be served in Interlochen’s cafeterias; the other half will be donated to the food pantry at nearby Redeemer Lutheran Church.

“Redeemer’s food pantry serves more than 100 local families, but the pantry receives limited amounts of their produce directly from a farm,” Umbarger explained. “Most of their produce comes from ‘food rescue,’ which means they get what grocery stores can no longer sell because it’s about to expire. We’re excited to be able to provide these families with vegetables that come directly from our farm to their table. For our students, it’s an opportunity to learn about food accessibility and security, poverty, and appreciating what you have. Our goal is not only to teach them about growing methods, but also the importance of ongoing, meaningful, and connected community service.”

Thanks to Umbarger’s service, Interlochen has transformed into a healthier, more sustainable community. Just three years after the Board’s resolution, Interlochen Center for the Arts was designated a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. Umbarger and Kessel, along with trustee Cindy Hann, student Cookie Dutch, and “Green Team” member Lauren Greene accepted the honor at a special ceremony at the White House on Sept. 25, 2019.

Umbarger says everyone can take small steps towards a brighter future. “Recycling and composting are two easy ways to live a more sustainable life,” she said. “Volunteer in your community in a way that is meaningful to you. Plant trees, promote biodiversity by not mowing your dandelions in the spring, and add pollinator-friendly native perennials to your flower beds.”

“Collectively, we can take care of our earth. If every person does one small thing, we can make huge ripples.”

Sustainability at Interlochen infographic

R.B. Annis Botanical Lab brings sustainability to Interlochen Arts Camp.

A girl in a field of tall grass

Junior camper Caris Kojima walks to the bee hives near the R. B. Annis Botanical Lab during a class on July 2. Agricultural sciences instructor Emily Umbarger taught the class on pollinators as a cabin night activity.

Students in an outdoor learning space

Juniors Jay Mauff (left) and Julianna Kun listen to Umbarger’s class about pollinators. The pollinator class was the first agricultural science program offered for campers.

Students learning about pollinator plants

Junior campers Ash Hundley (left) and Zoe Lelevich participate in an activity to identify pollinator plants in the R. B. Annis Botanical Lab. The lab features a pollinator garden to attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Students play with bee-shaped hand puppets

Marketing intern Hannah Good participates in a demonstration of bees’ communication habits. Umbarger used bee puppets to demonstrate how bees dance to communicate paths to pollination sources.

A bee hive

One of four beehives owned and operated by Interlochen Center for the Arts sits in the lab’s educational apiary. Students in the Academy’s agricultural sciences class helped start the hives in spring 2019.

A girl in a beekeeper's veil

 

Junior Cara Murtagh tries on a beekeeping hat and veil. The class consisted of interactive activities about bees and other pollinators.

Emily Umbarger helps a student try on a beekeeping hat

 

Umbarger helps a junior camper wear a beekeeping hat and veil after her class. Umbarger has kept bees for eight years.

Students walk through a field

Umbarger (right) leads junior campers to the lab’s educational apiary. The apiary, which is a collection of four beehives, was built in spring 2019.

It was a warm, breezy evening at Interlochen Center for the Arts’ R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and the eight campers of Junior Girls Cabin 7 were learning about pollinators.

“How do bees communicate?” instructor Emily Umbarger asked. She paused to allow their curiosity to pique, then revealed the answer: “They dance.”

“They dance?!” someone called out.

Under the lab’s newly built wooden shelter, eight sets of eyes widened. Umbarger called up three volunteers to demonstrate. Together, they bobbed and danced their bee finger puppets as the lab’s chickens clucked nearby in their coop.

This class on pollinators marked the beginning of the Botanical Lab’s collaboration with Interlochen Arts Camp after a year of use by Interlochen Arts Academy. This class was the first of at least four others that will take place during Camp this summer. Umbarger helped organize the series along with Kathleen Regovith, the Cabin Night Manager, and the program directors of the junior divisions.

“No one else has ever done this in the history of Interlochen,” Umbarger said at the start of the class.

Until recently, the resources haven’t been in place. Three years ago, the land the lab occupies was an empty field. Just two months ago, the pavilion the class stood under did not exist. Now, the lab features a solar-powered greenhouse, hoop house, aquaponics system, nine raised garden beds, a newly planted orchard, and a chicken coop. Nearby, there are four beehives and a composting facility, which began operation in June after two and a half years of research and planning.

Umbarger is currently transitioning out of her role as an academic counselor into her new role as sustainability manager—a title made just for her. Last year, she taught the Academy’s first agricultural science class. She’s also an organic farmer, a beekeeper of eight years (even though she’s allergic to honey bees), but none of these compare to her greatest roll.

“I'm a mother first and foremost,” Umbarger said. “I feel like I have to answer to my children in some way to promise them a future that will be there for not only their generation but, as the Native Americans say, for seven generations ahead.”

Her students of all ages understand this urgency too.

“The decrease of population in bees is just rocketing,” said Ash Hundley, a student in the class. “It does not wait for you. Learning about it is very good, so you can help slow it down.”

Another student, Caris Kojima, said her favorite part of the class was getting to see the four beehives near the Botanical Lab.

The hives were designed and built by Umbarger and her Academy agricultural science class last year. Conor Dailey (IAC 15, 18, IAA 15-19) was a student in the class who helped start the hives. As a recent graduate, Dailey said he’s looking forward to seeing how the legacy of sustainability he helped start grows over time.

“I look forward to coming back and seeing … not only what my class did that's still there, but then coming back and seeing what other classes have done,” Dailey said.

After the pollinator class ended, the campers of Cabin 7 hung around to try on beekeeping gear, ask Umbarger questions, and thank her for the class. As the students took turns holding Cheryl, Umbarger’s fluffy angora rabbit, Hundley said it’s important for young people to learn about sustainability.

“We’re Generation Z,” Hundley said. “As children, we need to carry on the human population and not let it end like the alphabet.”

The school was officially honored as a 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

The Interlochen delegation, including Pat Kessel (second from left), Cookie Dutch (third from left), Emily Umbarger (fourth from right), Lauren Greene (third from right), and Cindy Hann (second from right) with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Interlochen delegation, including Pat Kessel (second from left), Cookie Dutch (third from left), Emily Umbarger (fourth from right), Lauren Greene (third from right), and Cindy Hann (second from right) with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.

On Sept. 25, representatives from Interlochen Arts Academy traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools ceremony.

Vice President of Finance and Operations Pat Kessel, Sustainability Manager Emily Umbarger, Brand Specialist Lauren Greene, Interlochen Center for the Arts Trustee Cindy Hann, and Arts Academy theatre student Cookie Dutch joined delegations from the other award-winning schools for a series of recognition events, culminating in a formal awards ceremony at the White House. Interlochen’s award was first presented by the Michigan Board of Education in an on-campus event on May 22, 2019.

“It was inspiring to be in a room filled with other educators and proponents for environmental stewardship,” Umbarger said. “I'm so proud to be a member of this school and of a community of people who care deeply for our Earth.”

For the past several years, Umbarger has been one of the leaders of institution-wide sustainability efforts, including the construction of a 100-foot composting facility, the installation of a high-efficiency dishwashing system, and the introduction of single-stream recycling. Umbarger also oversees the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, which provides fresh produce and agricultural educational opportunities for Interlochen’s students, staff, and local community.

“Receiving the U.S. Department of Education's recognition for this award has been an incredible honor, as well as a reminder to step back and to feel proud of the many things we’ve achieved so far,” Umbarger said. “We have made significant improvements to our facilities, and we're raising awareness about our footprint on the earth. As a community, we're embracing a cultural mindset that is sensitive to healthy lifestyle choices.”

While Umbarger has been the architect of the institution’s sustainability strategy, she hasn’t worked alone. Since 2017, representatives from other Interlochen departments—known as the “Green Team”—have consulted with Umbarger to plan and implement sustainability initiatives.

Greene, a member of Interlochen’s Marketing department, represented the Green Team in Washington. “Every year, we continue to make environmentally positive strides, and our commitment to a greener campus is one of the aspects of working at Interlochen that makes me the proudest,” she said. “Traveling to Washington connected us with other like-minded schools that share our values and sparked new ideas that we're looking forward to sharing with our community.”

Dutch, a four-year student and current senior, echoed Greene’s excitement about new ideas. “It was an incredible experience to hear what other schools across the United States are doing in terms of sustainability,” he said. “I'm grateful to be able to take the knowledge of these inspiring sustainable and environmentally friendly practices back to Interlochen.”

Ultimately, Umbarger notes, the award is not a destination: It’s an indicator that the journey of sustainability is off to a strong start. “While we should be extremely proud of what we've accomplished so far, we should never rest on heels,” she said. “There is so much work yet to be done, and it truly will take the entire community to embrace a sustainability-first mindset.”

The U.S. Department of Education recognized the Academy’s success in becoming an environmentally conscious, forward-thinking institution

Interlochen's Green Team with representatives of the Michigan Department of Education.

Interlochen's Green Team with representatives of the Michigan Department of Education.

Arts Academy students at work in one of Interlochen's hoophouses.

Arts Academy students at work in one of Interlochen's hoophouses.

On May 22, 2019 representatives from the Michigan Department of Education presented the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools award to the Interlochen Arts Academy on the campus of Interlochen Center for the Arts. The award will be celebrated again in the fall when representatives of Interlochen Arts Academy will travel to Washington, D.C. to be officially recognized at a series of events, culminating in an event at the White House.

The aim of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program is to inspire schools, districts, and Institutions of Higher Education to strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can employ. The award recognizes schools, districts, and Institutions of Higher Education that reduce environmental impact and cost, improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff, and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

Combined progress in all three of these areas, known as Pillars, serves as the basis for recognition. The U.S. Department of Education found that Interlochen Arts Academy met and surpassed all qualifications.

“We had to complete an extensive application process and an intensive review that delved deeply into the three Pillars,” said Emily Umbarger, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy, and also the Sustainability Coordinator and Instructor of Agricultural Sciences. “We are the only school in the state of Michigan to receive this award this year. Once this award is earned, the institution is recognized as a lifetime recipient.”

“There were several distinguishing factors the Green Ribbons Schools considered, including our compost building that will allow our entire campus to move to a compost-first model as well as a new dishwashing room in Stone Cafeteria that has reduced our water consumption by 600,000 gallons of water each year - the size of an olympic swimming pool,” continued Umbarger, “Other factors included our focus on health and wellness plans and incentives, student activities and fitness and active opportunities, staff support for bio-screening and health initiatives, and our educational programming, which demonstrates incredible opportunities for students to engage in sustainability within their curriculum.”

Learn more about Interlochen Arts Academy.

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