“The garden and greenhouse are spaces of experimentation to relearn essential human skills—i.e. how to grow food,” said a recent article in College Planning & Management, referring to Marlboro College’s “farm.” ”The students build knowledge by building community, while decreasing dependency on industrial agriculture.”
The article on Marlboro was included as part of a regular column on “Outdoor Learning Spaces” in CP&M, a magazine providing planning solutions for colleges and universities across the country, with more than 30,000 subscribers. “The space lives on and adapts to the current needs and interests of the community,” concludes the article. “New challenges create new opportunities for knowledge experimentation.
Although there are still a couple feet of snow on the Marlboro Farm, things are warming up in the greenhouse this spring. That’s because there is a class this semester called Finishing the Greenhouse: Collaborative Research & Action that is taking a closer look at how to make this community space a more effective resource for year-round, farm-related activities. Taught by writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard and chemistry professor Todd Smith, in collaboration with admissions counselor Kenton Card, carpenter Don Capponcelli, and Outdoor Program director Randy Knaggs, this class has the task of making the greenhouse more functional.
The purpose of the Finishing the Greenhouse course is to bring together a team of faculty, staff, and students to study the performance of the greenhouse and how it can best be integrated into the farm. Working together as well as on independent projects, the class is asking questions like: How will the greenhouse be most effectively used? How much light does the greenhouse receive? How much heat does it retain? What kinds of plants are a good match between the performance of the building and the community’s needs?
Students started the semester by building electronic light and temperature loggers, to measure these variables in different parts of the greenhouse over the season. Then they measured the overall surface dimensions and volume of the space, and learned how to conduct a “blower door test” (pictured above) to measure the air-tightness of the envelope. All of these measurements will help instruct the design of a ventilation system, solar-powered lights, and other systems that will help make the space more effective. Throughout the semester the course is rooted in collaborative and site-specific learning, known as place-based pedagogy. The greenhouse presents a unique opportunity to generate empirical data, find design solutions, and construct projects that will make a difference.
On August 26, Marlboro hosted the annual meeting of the Vermont Campus Sustainability Network, a group of sustainability coordinators from colleges and universities across the state. Seven colleges were represented, including University of Vermont, Green Mountain College, and Norwich University, and 17 people attended the meeting—one of the biggest meetings in recent years, contrary to expectations given Marlboro’s location far away from most other Vermont campuses. Attendees also included representatives from Efficiency Vermont, who sponsored the event.
After being welcomed by Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, Marlboro president, the group discussed their experiences and campus initiatives in energy conservation, carpooling, socially responsible investing, and more sustainable food options. A highlight of the meeting was a visit to the Marlboro greenhouse and farm, where attendees learned about these student-initiated projects to bring more focus on local food at the college. Marlboro looks forward to further engagement with, and new ideas from, this network of like-minded campuses.
While Marlboro College is making every effort to be more sustainable, in its operations, academic programs, and administration, how does it stack up to other colleges? Marlboro now has a window into this important issue through the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a methodology developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. As part of her Plan of Concentration work, Joy Auciello ’13 compiled answers to the 135 comprehensive questions, detailed in the 300-page STARS technical manual, and found that Marlboro scores equivalent to a Silver rating.
“At Marlboro, we can think of STARS as a template for environmental improvement,” said Joy, pictured right helping build the new greenhouse. She built an internal website that will let the college track it’s sustainability work, using metrics that that reflect Marlboro’s place in the higher education landscape. Of the schools that have officially joined STARS, fewer than 50 have a Gold rating and none have the best-possible Platinum. For now Marlboro’s results are unofficial, as the college has chosen not to report directly to AASHE. But with so much work into it, and such a positive outcome, Marlboro will likely revisit joining STARS in the future.
“This is a great piece of work by Joy,” said Matt Ollis, math professor and chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee. “It gives us the chance to identify areas where we should pay more attention in the coming years and highlights some of our past and ongoing successful hard work.”
Marlboro’s Environmental Advisory Committee has initiated a community “green revolving fund” to support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects around campus. Starting with a seed grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation gift, the GRF will provide capital for these projects and be replenished out of the savings those projects generate.
“In the last few years there has been significant growth in this type of fund at colleges and universities,” said Matt Ollis, math professor and chair of the EAC. “There’s little doubt that it can be an effective way to implement structural energy efficiency measures.”
Two projects already under consideration for funding through the GRF are installing more efficient lighting in Persons Auditorium and a photovoltaic (solar panel) array on the maintenance building to offset electricity costs. The money that these measures saves the college each year will be reinvested into the fund, to provide for other green projects in future years.
It takes between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of oil each year to heat Persons, Marlboro’s spacious gym and auditorium. That is about to change, as nine 500-foot-deep geothermal wells are being drilled in March 2013. The geothermal project was proposed and paid for by the Marlboro Music School and Festival that occupies campus during the summer months, but it will also be a boon to the heating bill during the winter.
The geothermal system works by circulating water through a closed loop, in and out of the wells. The groundwater in the wells never leaves the ground, but cools the system water by heat transfer, the same as a radiator. The circulating water cools the building in the hot summer months and, because the ambient temperature is so much colder than the 55-degree groundwater, helps heat the building in the winter. Although it will result in more electricity costs, because of the circulating pumps, the new geothermal system will significantly reduce Marlboro College’s carbon emissions. Something worth thinking about, while you’re playing basketball or listening to a concert.
What better place to share a car than a tucked-away college campus where there is limited public transportation and few personal vehicles? At least that was the thinking behind making Marlboro College a location for a U Haul Car Share, an initiative spearheaded by writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard and the rest of the Environmental Quality Committee. Marlboro sophomore Brandon Batham, pictured here with Kyhl and his fuzzy green son Lars, is the first student intern for the new car share program.
How does it work? After becoming a member for $25, students and other community members can schedule the car in advance of using it, for which they pay about $5 per hour. All this happens on line at www.ucarshare.com, which is accessible at any time. You can sign up to use the car, a Toyota Prius, that same afternoon or a month away, as long as it is available. Just be sure to return the car to the visitor’s parking lot. For a fuel-efficient ride to the airport or an evening out shared among friends, this little car should make a big difference to students with cabin fever.
This fall, the Environmental Advisory Committee presented updated graphs of heating oil use to the college, reflecting improvements in building insulation and energy efficiency. These results show that there was a massive drop in heating oil use in fiscal year 2012 compared to previous years (Fig 1, click to enlarge). The college used around 77,000 gallons in FY2012, a drop of around 15 percent from FY2011 (the recent year with lowest use). Perhaps the most impressive data point on all of the graphs presented is the drop in heating oil use in the Admissions building, completely renovated last year, to about a third of its usual amount (Fig 7, below).
It is hard to say to what extent these impressive gains are attributable to the mild winter and slightly smaller campus population, and to what extent they are due to the insulation work and other efforts. But despite the huge drop in oil use the college saw a rise in the total cost of heating oil because of soaring prices. From a budgeting point of view the college will have to continue working hard in order to stand still, as the price of oil rises. The EAC is currently expanding on this report to cover electricity and propane use, and further tracking year-to-year will help them tease out the effect of mild weather and changing campus populations.
What has a steep, glass roof, features a silo-like entryway that doubles as a community meeting space, and is made mostly of local or recycled materials? Marlboro’s new greenhouse, which was officially opened last week. Students, faculty, staff, neighbors and friends gathered for the dedication of the 700-square-foot, wood-and-glass structure, the culmination of three years of planning and community labor.
The plan for the greenhouse was devised by student Kenton Card ’10, working with fellow students, staff and faculty, as part of his final Plan of Concentration. Kenny began milling local wood for the structure and collecting stones for the foundation and retaining walls that year, and the structure has steadily grown since then with the help of other community members. Materials have included local black locust and white oak timbers and pine siding as well as insulated glass re-cycled from Persons Auditorium.
Present at the dedication were Bob Allen, president of the Windham Foundation, and neighbor David White, both of whom have been instrumental in generously supporting the building of the greenhouse. Other supporters, not able to be present, include Charles J. and Susan J. Snyder, Dr. Suzan Olhbricht and Jon A. Souder ’73. Card was present at the celebration via Skype from Germany, where he is attending a graduate program in architecture.
With support from the recent MAC grant, two student managers were able to work through the summer to keep the organic farm thriving through the summer. The result was an abundance of produce for the first community supper and an increased awareness on campus about the farm as a community resource.