Sustainable Food Systems Design and Education at a Multi-use Community Site

Client Organization: 
Kalamazoo Valley Community College (Food Innovation Center)
Project Location : 
Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Background on Client Organizations:

Kalamazoo Valley Community College is an accredited 2-year public educational institution, awarding certificates, associates degrees, and various non-academic certifications. KVCC has four campuses in/near Kalamazoo, Michigan, and about 9,000 students. Kalamazoo Valley Community College as a whole is committed to enriching the lives of students and communities through quality educational programs and services. The KVCC Food Innovation Center is a new demonstration urban farm and food hub that intends to model sustainable site design techniques on its 5-acre reclaimed urban site. The FIC is part of a 13-acre redevelopment adjacent to Downtown Kalamazoo and hosts an academic department (AGF/Agrifood) that provides food systems content for a 2-year Culinary Arts degree program. It is an educational site for formal and informal/nonformal programming and a social enterprise job training site.

Goals & Objectives:

The Masters Project group will create a site plan for the KVCC Food Innovation Center. Objectives are:

1. Develop a site plan for the KVCC FIC that minimizes GHG-emitting maintenance, supports human wellness, addresses existing environmental contamination, and maximizes ecosystem services and/or food production.

2. Create content for interpretive signage and/or workshops that educate various audiences about FIC site design and components. Collect community and/or student input to inform and/or evaluate educational components.

Additional objectives could be incorporated into the currently proposed project if there is strong student interest, such as:

  • Developing a plan for “Green Care” style therapeutic employment or mental health treatment in a strategically designed area of the site.
  • Creating a public education strategy that will increase community support/buy-in to new sustainable site design methods and inspire implementation of sustainable site design by homeowners or other businesses/institutions
  • Exploring integration of the sustainable site design into existing course curriculum.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance:

The Food Innovation Center at Kalamazoo Valley Community College wishes to implement more sustainable site design principles on campus in order to reduce resource use, adapt to climate change, and provide ecosystem services such as stormwater retention and pollinator habitat. As an educational institution, KVCC is well-placed for its properties to also serve as demonstration site for the purposes of public education, and we seek support in developing these educational materials.

We face difficulty in implementing our visions for sustainable site design due to the unique challenges of maintenance and limited staff training, due to public misunderstanding and resistance to the appearance of installations such as native prairie and wetland areas, and due to administrative conservatism. Fears of increased maintenance costs in a time of shrinking education funding can limit creativity and encourage continued use of conventional resource-intensive methods. The site plan and toolkit requested as part of this project will provide the justification for a shift toward sustainable site design at our school, and create a model that other institutions can replicate for amplified impact. A model for sustainable site design on the institutional scale could have huge benefit for the Kalamazoo River watershed; over 50% of land in the city of Kalamazoo is owned by non-profit or public institutions, primarily colleges, schools, and hospitals.

Specific Activities & Duration:

Literature Review and Best Practices (4-6 months): Students will assess needs of client (KVCC) and of other interested institutional partners. Students will then research sustainable site design methods that are appropriate for the institutional scale and/or for brownfield sites, and identify models of these methods in practice. Students will research landscape design impacts on human health and well-being. Methods will include extensive literature review and telephone (or in person, depending on funding) interviews with practitioners.

Implementation (6-8 months): Working closely with client preceptors, students will create site plans for the FIC site including cost implications, based on maintenance needs and valuable ecosystem services. Students will also create and evaluate accompanying educational strategy and draft materials. If desired, students could install some of the proposed landscape elements in order to evaluate their impact during the project period.

Integrative Approach:

Integration of disciplines will be critical to the success of this project. It is crucial that site plans are grounded in ecological theory, practical to implement, and clearly communicated. Successful completion of this project will require participation from students in Landscape Architecture, Conservation Ecology, BEC, EPP, and Sustainable Systems; contributions from other disciplines could add further value.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
MaryCarol Hunter
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Ian Bernstein
  • Evan Granito
  • Derell Griffin
  • Zonghao Li
Project Status: 
In Progress