Sustainability scholars tour Southwest Michigan

By Eric Freedman

Growing hops

Bell’s Brewery is experimenting with growing hops next to its facility in Galesburg

From recently cleaned stretches of the Kalamazoo River to a craft brewery committed to environmentally sound production practices, Southwest Michigan is the site of many environmental commitments – and challenges.

A study tour organized by the Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project (SMEP) brought MSU doctoral students and faculty to businesses, agencies and organizations working on related issues, from food innovation to urban revitalization to ecological research. SMEP, funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, says it “serves as a catalyst and convener of interdisciplinary dialogue and research around existing and emerging sustainability topics.”

Don't eat the fish

Michigan Department of Health & Human Services sign warning the public not to eat fish caught along a cleaned-up stretch of the Kalamazoo River

Our itinerary included MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station and the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, the Battle Creek Farmers Market, Tillers International in Kalamazoo and Bell’s Brewery in Galesburg. We also met with food scientists at the Kellogg Co. and with a Kellogg Foundation official.

In Benton Harbor, the sustainability scholars visited the Fresh Start Children’s Garden, the Race2Equity Benton Harbor Hub and the Cornerstone Alliance.

In Kalamazoo, experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality guided us to parts of the Kalamazoo River that had been once polluted with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from sludge dumped by paper companies. The river was designated as an Area of Concern under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Three paper companies are paying for the project that includes removal of obsolete hydroelectric dams and cleanup of a 3-mile contaminated section of Portage Creek at an estimated cost of $1 billion.

River view

Overlooking a clean-up section of the Kalamazoo River

The MSU group also met with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council to discuss the cleanup and lingering contamination of the river from a 2010 oil spill caused by a broken Enbridge pipeline near Marshall.

It was the third annual SMEP study tour. Previous ones went to the Detroit and Traverse City areas.

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