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
Role for each program area: 

Conservation Ecology: Contribute to research on best practices for sustainable site design; consult on development of educational materials to ensure grounding in scientific research (critical).

Environmental Policy and Planning: Research potential policy levers that would facilitate implementation of sustainable site design on institutional scale; contribute strongly to site and educational plans (useful).

Behavior, Education, and Communication: Research best practices in site design for human wellness; recommend practices for non-formal education and gaining/maintaining community buy-in for innovative site design methods (critical).

Environmental Justice: Evaluate site plans and educational strategies for community impact and evidence of institutionalized racism. 

Sustainable Systems: Contribute to cost estimates/life cycle analysis of best practice models and proposed site plan (critical)

Landscape Architecture: Integrate information from project partners and develop actual site plan with installation guide (critical, 2 students)

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students will have the opportunity to experience the workings of higher education institutions, network with city officials and community groups in Kalamazoo and members of the FIC Advisory Board, and sharpen skills in communicating across sectors. We will ensure opportunities for students to present their work at local venues (for example, an annual local Foodways Symposium and the FIC Advisory Board) and support them in bringing their work to statewide/national conferences if desired (eg. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or the Community College Alliance for Sustainability Education). For students interested in Food Systems, this project is an opportunity to become closely involved with the Bronson Healthy Living Campus at KVCC, a groundbreaking new food/health/sustainability-themed campus that includes a culinary school and café, healthcare program facilities, and a working urban farm and food hub.

Funding Sources: 

No funding is available at this time to support student work, but we are willing and ready to work with students on grant proposals if a relevant funder is identified. Possible paid hourly summer positions for 1-2 students.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


  • Site plan with installation guide and recommendations for phased installation
  • Narrative report explaining benefit and suggested use of installations
  • Administrator’s Toolkit with descriptions of all installations, maintenance needs/costs, and ecosystem services provided or other potential benefits or cost-savings
  • Drafts of signage, workshop content, or other educational materials to accompany site design
  • (Tentative) Installation of one element of site plan with accompanying educational material; results of initial evaluation of educational effort.


  • KVCC will incorporate elements of the site plan into annual plans for site improvements over the next three to five years, installing as quickly as capital improvements budget or grant funding allows.
  • Administrator’s Toolkit and site plans will be shared with other institutions, with the intention to influence their future site planning.
  • Reports will be made available on KVCC website ( KVCC Marketing will issue a press release and promote the completed project through traditional and new media.
  • Site plan will serve as basis for another Masters Project group’s work. 
Contact full name: 
Rachel Bair
Job title: 
Director for Sustainable and Innovative Food Systems
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
MaryCarol Hunter
Contact Phone: 
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Ian Bernstein
  • Evan Granito
  • Derell Griffin
  • Zonghao Li
Project Status: 
In Progress