EMU students are provided with fresh, organic produce from our six campus gardens, pioneered years ago by a professor hoping to give students a practical exercise in sustainability.

100 years of commitment to sustainability and creation care, from farm-grown food to LEED buildings

With thanks to Kenton Brubaker, Beryl and Mark Brubaker, Clair Mellinger, Eldon Kurtz, Jonathan Lantz-Trissel, Ed Lehman and LeRoy Troyer.


The school opens in Assembly Park.


The school adds the 103-acre Whitmore farm to the west. Farmer D. Stoner Krady, paid $80/month (as much as a faculty member), is employed to work tillable portions of the land. His living quarters are built with funds donated by Brunk. A heifer and three goats are butchered during the ‘20-21 school year, and the farm provides milk, butter and eggs to campus.


In fall 1921, Krady decides he wants to go to school, which means he, wife Frances and young daughters Elva and Ruth must move out of the dwelling. Emanuel Suter becomes the campus farmer.


Farm operations ceased. Equipment, crops and stock are sold along with 30 acres.

Students provide labor for grounds beautification. Individuals sometimes purchased and planted trees themselves.


Frugality leads to students paying two cents a term for every watt of light above 40.


During the Great Depression (1929-1933), faculty and their families living on campus maintained gardens and kept goats, chickens, and even a cow or two on campus.


The agriculture curriculum includes a “home project,” designed for practical application of classroom learning in which students choose animals to work with, including broilers and laying hens, sheep, pig and heifers. This program lasts about two years and is dropped because of lack of interest.


The high school agriculture program is revived, and farmland leased. Rural Life Week features an all-school visit to a Sparkling Springs farm, with demonstrations of bread-making, quilting, soap-making, rug-making and weaving. Dairy practices, stock-raising, soil conservation and tree culture were also demonstrated.


The agriculture program is dropped again.


During an inter-term all-school seminar on the topic of Christians in a hungry world, Earthkeepers is founded by students and faculty members Claire Mellinger, Kenton Brubaker, Miriam Martin, Beryl Brubaker and Mark Brubaker. The group begins recycling newspapers for money and starts a compost pile.

EMU plants an arboretum and experiments with soil treatment for maximum vegetable production.


Professor Robert Lehman spends his sabbatical year studying campus energy consumption. He and Physical Plant Director Herman Schrock are primarily responsible for saving EMC over $4,000 in energy costs by turning off unnecessary cooling systems, shutting doors to unused rooms, and turning off auxiliary lights. Lehman’s research prompts other measures, which save EMC $66,000 in one year.


Architect LeRoy Troyer is hired to create a master plan for the campus.

Earthkeepers begins recycling glass and newspapers across Harrisonburg, largely using recycling bins outside of grocery stores. “It was the start of recycling in the city before there was curbside recycling,” says Sustainability Coordinator Jonathan Lantz-Trissel. The club made around $27,000 in revenue from this enterprise. In 1978, they received a Special Merit Award for “distinguished public service” from the Keep America Beautiful organization.


EMU installs a closed loop water-sourced heating and cooling system (designed by Troyer) in the new Campus Center, which saves $3-4 million in energy costs in its first 10 years.

Eldon Kurtz becomes physical plant director. He maps campus energy usage and works toward even more efficiency.


Kenton Brubaker gets a grant from the U.S. Forest Service to survey Park Woods. Work study students Jonathan Lantz-Trissel and Micah Shristi ‘00 mark trees and measure their circumferences. Professors Steve Cessna and Jim Yoder continued to evaluate changes in the forest’s health over the years.


Jonathan Lantz-Trissel becomes EMU’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Manager, leading EMU to become the first university in the U.S. to collect recyclables by bicycle rather than motor vehicle.


President Loren Swartzendruber signs the Climate Change: an Evangelical Call to Action document.

LeRoy Troyer in the winter of 2003-04 before the Campus Center, which he designed. Troyer Group has been EMU’s lead planner and designer, under three university presidents, and integrated sustainability into plans for more than four decades.


EMU ranked third out of 90 U.S. colleges for its efficient energy use.

The Creation Care Council is founded after growing out of an initiative of students, staff and faculty concerned with EMU’s practical efforts in accordance with a theology of creation care.


EMU finishes first in Virginia in the RecycleMania national recycling competition.

Professor Peter Dula helps form the Sustainable Food Initiative, which begins to organically grow vegetables for campus consumption, compost food waste, and donate untouched cafeteria leftovers to Our Community Place.

A composting class researches and tests various methods for composting food waste on campus, leading to approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to run an on-site compost facility in 2009. “This facility closes, in part, the nutrient cycle from table to food waste to compost to garden and back to the table,” says Jonathan Lantz-Trissel.

Fourteen students in Douglas Graber Neufeld and Jim Yoder’s Green Design class present semester-long research to the Board of Trustees, prompting the Board’s decision that all new buildings would meet basic Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.


Earthkeepers begins awarding mini-grants for projects that “impact the campus in a visible, creative, educational way,” such as the founding of the Bike Co-op on College Avenue, which provides bike rentals, repair tools, repair education, and free tune-ups.


EMU begins installing the largest solar deployment in Virginia on the library roof.

Jonathan Lantz-Trissel becomes the first Sustainability Coordinator at EMU. “His work includes measuring and reducing the university’s carbon footprint, leading campus efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian friendliness, speaking on and off campus on a variety of sustainability-related topics, and providing leadership for setting and attaining EMU’s long term sustainability goals.”

EMU submits its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to help fulfill re-accreditation requirements. The QEP, titled “Peace with Creation: Environmental Sustainability from an Anabaptist Perspective,” outlines a five-year plan to promote a theology and ideology of sustainability, and include them in university curricula.

Harman Construction (led by Wayne Witmer ‘88) builds Cedarwood and renovates Elmwood dorms to be environmentally friendly.


EMU launches its environmental sustainability major, with concentrations in environmental science or environmental and social sustainability.

Student Aly Zimmerman and Supervisor of the Grounds Will Hairston start the edible landscaping initiative on campus. They receive grant funding, and with help from Earthkeepers, transplant 1000 plants for landscaping and food, including asparagus, apples, pears, persimmons, figs, grapes, juneberries, and raspberries.


EMU installs a 100,000 gallon stormwater harvesting and storage tank, which was named one of the best “green projects” in the nation that year by the National Wildlife Federation.

Renovation finishes on the Maplewood dorm, which along with Cedarwood and Elmwood, receives an LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

EMU earns a Bronze designation for bike friendly universities by the League of American Bicyclists.


The EMU President’s Cabinet passes the Conflict Free Resolution, drawn up by student group Peace Fellowship, which states a commitment to consider the mineral sources in their electronic purchases to avoid contributing to armed conflict over mineral acquisition from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

President Loren Swartzendruber signs the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, agreeing to address climate change and its consequences by creating a comprehensive Climate Action Plan for EMU.


Professors Jim Yoder and Doug Graber Neufeld win a $200,000 grant from the National Wildlife Federation to fund GIS mapping, hydrology lessons and restoration design training for students to work towards restoring German River and Crab Run near Bergton, Va.

Engineers for a Sustainable World, with funding from Earthkeepers, construct a solar powered greenhouse in one day. Its design won second place in the American Society for Engineering Education undergraduate regional competition the previous spring.

EMU joins a university collaboration led by the University of Virginia (collaborated on by EMU alumna Laura Cattell Noll ‘09) to research its nitrogen footprint, its effects and alternatives. The final report is published in 2015.


The Climate Action Plan is published, in which EMU commits to achieving Climate Neutrality by 2035.

Sustainable Food Initiative begins partnering with The Farm at Willow Run to learn agricultural skills, contribute labor, and receive produce for their campus market.

Engineers for a Sustainable World, Earthkeepers, Sustainable Food Initiative, and the Creation Care Council partner to install solar panels on top of the campus chicken coop.

Weaver Irrigation installs a new irrigation system on EMU’s baseball fields which uses non-potable stormwater collected in the cistern near the Physical Plant.

EMU places in the top 10 out of 125 U.S. colleges in the Campus Conservation Nationals, a competition which monitored the reduction in energy consumption over three weeks in Roselawn, Hartzler Library, Elmwood, Maplewood and Cedarwood. Our prize was a one-year license to install Lucid energy monitoring equipment on two campus buildings.


EMU finishes first again in the state of Virginia in the RecycleMania national recycling competition.

The Sustainable Food Initiative begins giving away its campus-grown produce for free to EMU students.

EMU leads the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions initiative, accompanied by Goshen College, MCC, and a one million dollar donation by Ray Martin. The center intends to network nationally and globally, research best practices for sustainable climate solutions, share educational findings, and experiment with innovative ideas and methods.

Eastern Mennonite University was among the first schools involved in groundbreaking work that is raising awareness about institutional nitrogen footprints. Laura Cattell Noll ’09, a graduate student in environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, works with Professor James Galloway and project manager Elizabeth Castner on the “N-Print” project. Read more here.

Discussion on “100 years of commitment to sustainability and creation care, from farm-grown food to LEED buildings

  1. I am so proud of EMU for all of the efforts over the years to save energy and find renewable resource.

  2. EMU’s initiatives in sustainability, creation care and farm-grown food are truly commendable!

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