Emma Latham August 2015
Research & Resources for the Amrita Farms
Prepared for Ajitha Kymal and Chad Kymal
Sponsored by Nathan Ayers



Green STEAM Education

Michigan Educational Partnerships

Michigan STEM Partnership

Michigan Mathematic and Science Centers Network

Local Model Organizations

Leslie Nature and Science Center

Ecology Center

Delhem Nature Center

Ann Arbor Schools





Local Funding Opportunities

Large Funding Opportunities

Education Center Model




There are inconceivable inequalities and faults in the current American education system. The emphasis on standardized testing has encouraged students to memorize answers for tests instead of teaching critical thinking. Arts, humanities and outdoor programs are being slashed, at the detriment of students’ imagination and creativity, (1).  Although this problem affects most American students, it hits poor and minority communities the hardest. It perpetuates the opportunity gap, which is when students in predominantly white communities score significantly higher on exams due to the educational resources of their neighborhoods, while the deprived communities struggle without the basic educational necessities, (2). In response to these problems, Amrita Farms offers a solution: a Green STEAM Education Center. The Amrita Farms Education Center will be an embodiment of Amma’s belief in quality education, green initiatives, and community outreach. This Future Farm is a place where children can learn problem solving through nature. They can immerse themselves in science and their imagination through various activities, like learning about nutrient cycling through worm compost systems or understanding 3D spatial engineering through weeding a Hugel bed. And although learning from nature seems intuitively positive, there is evidence showing that students in outdoor environmental education programs have better academic performance in all subjects, better health and decreased stress levels, (3) (4).  With our program, students will have the opportunity to engage, play and study the environment, learning both science and life skills.

However, in order to make this ideal a reality, we need to understand how to structure and fund this program. For Amrita Farms to offer an effective program that has access to the proper funding and community support, it is vital that we recognize the status of science and environmental education on the statewide and local level. This paper will start on the macro-level, with an analysis of the STEM Partnerships that exist in Michigan, examining their goals, their structure, and their funding opportunities. I will then zoom closer and examine local organizations in Southeast Michigan that can act as a model for Amrita Farms. Lastly, the final stop will bring us to the core of Green STEAM education: the classroom. I will examine the Ann Arbor STEAM schools and curriculum, to see how our programming can fit together with what they are learning. I will compile these analyses into a series of core recommendations for how we can tailor our program to have access to funds and fit the needs of Michigan students. I will conclude the paper with a model for a potential Amrita Farms Education Center.


The concept of “Green Steam Education” is a synthesis of STEM, STEAM and Environmental education methods, so before we break down how other organizations implement them, we first have to understand what the acronyms mean and why it matters. STEM is an education method based on improving and integrating science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The goal of STEM education is to create a new generation of problem solvers. As the job market moves from industrial to specialized labor, many view STEM education as an investment for a better economy, (5). However the “STEM” acronym misses a vital component of creative thinking: the Arts, which changes STEM to STEAM. STEAM education is a multidisciplinary approach for offering opportunities for all types of learners and communities. The humanities are crucial not only for problem solving, but also to give ethics to innovation, (6). And the last component for a holistic education model is the environment. Outdoor education gets kids out of the classroom, engaged in their learning, and builds skills for scientists like observation and questioning. Furthermore, schools with environmental education have been shown to have better academic performance in all subjects (7). So to synthesize the three important components and simplify the acronyms, I will refer to our approach as “Green STEAM”, although not every organization we examine will contain all three key components.


To begin the examination of Green STEAM in Michigan, I will analyze the statewide partnerships that connect the STEM community all across Michigan. There are two Michigan based partnerships that are aligned with the Future Farm’s educational goals: the Michigan STEM Partnership and the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network. I will break down these organizations in terms of their goals, structure and funding. Then I will illustrate how this organization could impact Amrita Farms and what we should include from their model.

The Michigan STEM Partnership is a non-profit organization that connects employers, educators and policy makers to the students. They want to improve STEM education through sharing knowledge and resources, while also promoting cross-disciplinary, project based and applied learning that aligns with the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. The organization is divided into five zones, which are each managed by a board of employers and educators. Amrita Farms is part of the St. Clair hub, which contains members from Wayne RESA, Square One Education Network, Project Lead the Way, and the Michigan Department of Education. Each year the organization offers seven grants to each hub, ranging from $1,500 to $30,000, with the majority of grants approximately $6,000. Themes from many of the grants are: environmental projects, middle and high school age range, technological and scientific equipment implemented, and hands on learning (8) (9). Overall, the Michigan STEM Partnership contains some of the biggest names and organizations in Michigan STEM community.

Based on the criteria for grants and the mission of the Michigan STEM Network, these are ways that the Amrita Farm Education Center could improve its structure. First, it should target under-served communities that often are deprived of educational opportunity, like low-income areas and low-achieving school districts. Secondly, the curriculum should include outdoor projects that use technology and data collection. Thirdly, we should start building relationships with other STEM organizations, because a large component of acquiring these grants is building connections within the STEM community. Finally, the Michigan STEM Partnership offers a potential place to advertise our program, with their statewide newsletter. In all, by connecting with the Michigan STEM Partnership, we could receive grants for our programming, find potential business sponsors, and form partnerships with other local organizations.

The second organization that offers important information about Green STEAM is the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network (MMSCN). This is a collaborative of 33 regional centers, which each provide services for educators, including leadership, curriculum support, professional development, and student services, (10). The Annual Report of this organization gives us important information about the realities of funding in Michigan. Currently, the organization is working with 80% less funds than it did in the early 2000s, due to cutbacks in 2002 and 2009. A large percentage of their funding now comes from businesses, universities and colleges. Of the two major government grants, the first was the Investing in Innovations grant, which was through the Department of Education and focused on supporting and improving teachers in STEM. The second important grant was the Science and Mathematics Misconceptions Management, a program that offers professional development courses for mathematics and science teachers, and was funded through the Michigan Department of Education, (11). Overall, from connecting with MMSCN and our local Washtenaw branch, we would be able to connect with a community of teachers interested in STEM education and could also receive assistance with curriculum development. As a model, we can see from this organization that a large portion of education grants is going towards professional development, so possible future programming could include courses for teachers that want to integrate permaculture lessons into the classroom. Another takeaway from this organization is that government funding is low, so we should be looking for business and university partnerships for the majority of our funding.


On the local level, I have examined organizations in the Ann Arbor area that have similar structure and goals with our future Green Steam Education Center. These organizations offer programming in nature education, STEM education or environmental education. These organizations are the Leslie Science and Nature Center, the Ecology Center and the Dahlem Nature Center.

Leslie Science and Nature Center:

The Leslie Science and Nature Center, located in northern Ann Arbor, is an educational space for both children and adults. The center offers nature camps, tours and public programming. The organization has a similar mission to the Future Farm, with a goal of connecting the public to the natural world through its 50 acres of land. A key component of their programming is field trips, which have specialized curricula and activities for each grade level. Field trips are 1.5 hours long, with a set cost per child, (12). Their 2012 annual report for last year shows that out of all the programs offered, a third was outreach to schools, while field trips and public programming comprised another third of their programs. The report also shows that nearly 60% of their income was from program attendance, while 8% was from grants comprised, 11% from in-kind donations, and 10% from donations. They have been able to obtain funds from a large number of corporate sponsors including Toyota, the REI, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Mott Children’s hospital to name a few. Also in 2007, they restructured their organization to stay economically sound by becoming a 501c3 nonprofit in 2007, with the help of a $40,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACR), (13).

The Future Farm can learn a lot from the structure and budget of the Leslie Center. First, we can establish specific field trip curriculum for elementary, middle and high school levels, with a similar payment plan per student. Secondly, we should start to build connections with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, which has a large budget and a history of supporting educational, environmental, and youth centered organizations. Their close connection with Ann Arbor schools is also notable, for they were able to access funds from the AAPS Educational Foundation by connecting with teachers. Finally, they receive a large portion of their funds through private donations, so the Future Farm should invest in family centered education opportunities that build bridges to the community and encourage private donations.

The Ecology Center:

One of the leaders in environmental education, advocacy, and change in Ann Arbor is the Ecology Center. Founded in 1970, it educates consumers, pushes corporations towards safe and sustainable solutions, and recycles waste through its partner Recycle Ann Arbor.  The center has many programs, but I will focus specifically on their education program, which develops curriculum for teachers and teaches lessons in schools in southeastern Michigan. Their education team offers classroom visits, curriculum development, and teacher training. Their classroom programs are catered towards specific grade levels and Michigan state standards, with lessons like Pollution Prevention And You for 5th graders and Engineering Safe Systems for the high school level, which explains the safety issues with landfills and poses problems that chemical engineers would face, (14). The Recycling Center also interacts and educates the community, with tours open to groups and schools throughout the year. They hold open house events with activities for all ages, with different themes throughout the year. One other relevant component of the Ecology Center is their Farm to Institution Network, which connects large institutions to local farmers. The goal of the project “Cultivate Michigan” is to reverse the culture of cheap non-local food sourcing to community connections. To sustain these initiatives, they receive funds from the AAACR, Energy Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, and other foundations.

Although the Ecology Center has a long established history and large budget of over $1,700,000, there are still important components that can be integrated into the Future Farm. A study by the University of Michigan Journal of Sustainability noted that a large part of the center’s success is due to their “organizational structure and leadership. Despite transitions from hierarchy to flatness and eventually to the current hybrid model of a ‘structured egalitarian workplace,’ the focus on respect and empowerment of staff and stakeholders has remained constant,” (15). Essentially, this study showed that one of the key elements that made the Ecology Center a success was their high quality treatment of workers, and the independence that workers had with projects.

The Ecology Center offers many key lessons on how to structure a sustainable non-profit. Through its history of collaboration between local organization and strong community support, it shows how the strength of community connections can keep and organization thriving for 40 years. It is able to engage a community of all ages with different levels of programming, seen in their 3 types of tours of the Recycling Center for preschoolers, students, and adults. It teaches us that the worker happiness at Amrita Farms is essential for productivity that each member needs to feel like they have control over their own projects and can contribute to the success of the organization. We could also partner with them in the future through the Farm to Institution network and distribute our produce. In all, Ecology Center is a model for quality business practices, programming, and community.

Dahlem: Jackson’s Nature Place

The Dahlem Nature Center in Jackson is a farm based education program, and represents what I hope Amrita Farms could become in the future. The center acts as a bridge “between people and the natural environment, and [functions] as an outdoor classroom for school and public programs,” (16). They have three core educational programs: an exploratory preschool, adventure camp, and field trips. In these programs, they teach about things like maple sugaring, animal homes and habitats, springtime birds, and the life cycle of “stuff”. They also offer spaces for adult engagement, with an Ecology Farm with free community garden space and apiary space for those who need land for beehives, as well as morning nature walks for adults. With their spaces for public use, families without gardening spaces of their own can start producing food and connect with the land. This space individual project, which engages the community, doesn’t require large programming costs and gives the public a sense of ownership. For the whole community, they have annual festivals with plant sales, nature crafts, food, nature walks, and more. The Dahlem Nature Center is also focused on giving access to many, so they offer “camperships” for students that can’t afford the tuition of camp.

When fundraising, the Dahlem center employs the Benevon Model for sustainable funding. This model is a four step cyclical model for connecting with donors and continuing to raise money after the initial donation. It begins with a point of entry with facts and an emotional hook, then a follow up that involves future donors, then they ask for money with pledges, and finally they offer free cultivation events to introduce others, (17). This is a copyrighted method, but they do offer free materials online, so when creating a business model Amrita Farms could also try to integrate some of their principles. Overall, Amrita Farms could learn from the Dahlem center by offering scholarships to low-income students. Amrita Farms could also devote a section of land to community use and offer gardening classes for the beginners. During our farm stand, we can also start selling local crafts and offer walks to make Amrita Farms a destination point.


It is important to understand not only the organizations promoting Green STEAM, but also the movement towards STEAM in the classroom. In this section, I will be exploring schools in Ann Arbor, their funding sources, and their curriculum.

In response to community demands for holistic project based learning, the city of Ann Arbor is jumping aboard the STEAM ship. Recently the city has invested a significant amount of money into their schools and STEAM education. The AAPS invested $1.16 million for construction and $45.8 million for infrastructure, while the Education Foundation donated $350,000 for Project Lead the Way curriculum. By the fall of 2015, AAPS will have purchased STEAM curriculum and training for all 7 AAPS middle schools. Currently, there are different levels of intensity to which STEAM is being integrated into the schools. On the low to mid-range, some schools are individually promoting STEAM philosophies or offer STEAM afterschool programs, while in the intense STEAM approach, schools like Northside or Skyline High School have fully implemented Project Lead the Way’s STEAM curriculum.

Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a non-profit which is the largest provider of STEM education programs in the US. Schools can adopt this curriculum by paying a participation fee and training their teachers in the curriculum. The program is composed of Launch for K-5th, Gateway for 6-8th, and specialized STEM high schools. For Launch, each year is broken down into 4 modules, each with a different project and science focus. For example, the modules for 2nd grade include Material Science: Properties of Matter, Material Science: Form and Function, The Changing Earth, and Grids and Games. During the Form and Function unit, the students learn about seeds and pollination, and then apply their knowledge to build a device that mimics how animals pollinate plants, (18). When thinking about partnerships with Ann Arbor STEAM schools, we could easily tailor lessons that fit into PLTW curricula, like creating research projects on the types of energy captured by the Kratergarten for 4th Grade module on Energy Conversion. (In the Resource Section, there is a link to the Launch Curriculum for future use).

One way that we could form a partnership with Ann Arbor schools and receive funding is through the Great Idea Grant (GIG).  Last year, the AAPS Educational Foundation offered $80,000 in funding to support teacher initiatives. The GIG Committee supports grants that are replicable for other schools, outside the traditional curriculum, and enhance the greater school committee. These $1,000 to $5,000 grants can go towards traditional in-school projects, like towards materials for a greenhouse in Scarlett Middle School. However, they can also go towards collaborating with non-profit partners, like the Leslie Science and Nature Center or the University Musical Society, to offer field trips and on-site projects. The Leslie Center program enabled multiple classes to visit the center for a weeklong program for projects such as Worm Decomposers and pH water testing, (19). By connecting with local teachers, we could apply for joint funding and become integrated into the Ann Arbor classroom.


I foresee that with the support of the community, the Amrita Farms Education Center will be a place of learning for all ages, where people can come together to engage with the land, experiment, and discover. The land has great potential for giving back, not only through serving the educational needs of students, but by offering green space to those without. With the abundance that is sure to accompany the development of the land, we could even consider donating a portion of our harvests to local food banks. I believe that with Green STEAM Education and the strength of the Amrita Farms community, there will be great changes the education of all ages.


Programming Recommendations

These programming suggestions align with the goals of STEM education, will increase the probability of getting a grant, and will create a sustainable, holistic education program.

Emphasize project based learning

Align programming with National Science Standards, the Common Core and Project Lead the Way

Target underserved communities and offer scholarships

Provide professional development courses for teachers

Emphasize career building skills with an afterschool internship program

Networking Recommendations:

The goal of these networking suggestions are to spread Amrita Farms name within the Michigan STEM community, to connect to local schools, and to widen the donor base.

Start programs with Ann Arbor STEAM schools

Establish family programs to increase adult donor participation

Learn more about the Benovan Model of Fundraising

Hold private fundraising events at Amrita Farms

Publicize through Michigan STEM partnership and Wayne RESA site

Local Funding Opportunities:

These grants are from local non-profits that match Amrita Farms’ goals.

Michigan STEM Partnership

Grants from $1,000 to $30,000 for STEM education programs

Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation

Large grants for Ann Arbor organizations and schools (Recycle Center, Hands-on Museum, etc)

Great Idea Grant

Grant for Ann Arbor public school teachers, which can also fund partnership programs

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

This link gives an overview of the categories of grants that MDNR offers.

Cultivate Michigan: Farm to Institution Network

Connects farms to large institutions to promote locally sourced food.

Non-Michigan Funding Opportunities

These grants are from larger organizations that Amrita Farms could qualify for.

EPA Environmental Education Grant Program

The EPA supports enifornmental projects that promote stewardship and awareness

Melinda Gray Ardia Environmental Foundation

The grants are for environmental problem solving programs

Captain Planet Foundation:

Grants for youth project based, environmental programs.

Seed Grant

The Seeds for Education Grants offers money for establishing gardens


Food Forest

The food forest contains tree guilds to introduce children to the layers of a forest, companion planting, and organic fertilizing techniques. An example composition would be contain a top layer with large fruit and nut trees, a shrub layer with raspberry bushes, and a bottom layer of garlic, dandelions and comfrey.

Big Mama Hugel Beds

This is large scale Hugel bed installation to introduce children to 3D landscape engineering, energy capture and ecosystems. This model demonstrates permaculture design methods and efficient land use.

Lil’ Kiddie Hugel Beds

This is a small scale “fun sized” version of the larger Hugel beds that are easier for kids to use

Nature Trail

This path is lined with sunflowers and is beautiful walk across through the property. As the children walk from the food forest to the petting zoo or native tree library, they can hone their observational skills.

Outdoor Kitchen & Earth Oven

An essential part of growing wholesome foods is knowing what to do with them. The center will cook meals with the kid to demonstrate nutrition and healthy eating. Cooking with the Earth Oven also acts as a lesson in energy storage and insulation.


The ashram and the deck will function as the classroom and science lab. Equipped with microscopes, 3D printers, and other instruments, the children will be able to analyze the data and specimens collected on the farm. They will be able to tackle real farming problems and create tools to solve them.

Rain Catchers

Rain barrels attached to the barn roof will collect water to use during periods of drought to water the beds. These rain catchers are an easy introduction into the conservation of natural resources and can be used for data collection.

Weather Watchers

Analyzing real data and using it to solve problems is a key part of Green STEAM education, so a data collection center is vital for the programing. This station will measure rainfall, atmospheric pressure, sunlight, wind and temperature.

Pizza Garden

Right next to the cooking center is a small garden with vegetables. The kids get to harvest the food for lunch, then cook it in the Earth Oven.

Vermiculture & Compost Station

At the Vermiculture and compost station, kids are introduced to waste management and the cycles of nature. Lessons on recycling and reducing ecological impact can also be integrated into this station.

Play “ground”

This is a grassy space for outdoor recreational activities.

Petting Zoo – Goats

A great way to get kids engaged is with animals! Goats perform many functions on the farm, like trimming the grass, diary, and manure.

Native Tree Library

The Native Tree Library will be a reforestation project with native Michigan trees. This will be a sanctuary for animals, will be a genetic archive, and will introduce a different ecosystem to the property.

Sensory Garden & Herb Spirals

The sensory garden will include many different species of exotic and wild flowers. This is a great place for observation of pollination and insect behavior. In the herb spirals, kids can harvest some for their lunch and later can be introduced to curative herbs.

Vine & Shrub Windbreaker

This block between the large field and the Education Center will be helpful for creating a microclimate. It also provides another source of food with berries and grapes.

Petting Zoo – Pigs

The other animals in the petting zoo are pigs. Because there is a natural decline in the land, water collects at the base of the hill and will provide a muddy playpen for the pigs. Pigs provide manure and are excellent for uprooting weeds.

Great Wall of Shrubs

The great wall of shrubs will act as fencing as well as food for the goats. Goats love raspberries and roses, as well as many other fruitful and beautiful bushes.

Duck Pond

At the lowest point where water naturally collects is a perfect place for a small pond for ducks. Not only are ducks useful for weeding, but a source of eggs and feathers.

Meditation Grove

The meditation grove within the Native Tree library is a quiet space away from the sounds of the city. The children will practice meditation techniques developed for children to strengthen their minds and their attention.


Funding Information:

Michigan Grant Opportunities:

Education Week Grants

Grant Wrangler Newsletter

Benevon Model for Fundraising

Curriculum Standards:

Next Generation Science Standards:

Common Core Standards,4615,7-140-28753_64839_65510---,00.html

Project Lead the Way

Green STEAM Information:

Presentation on STEAM by steamedu

Environmental Education Benefits

US Government’s stance on STEM

Wayne RESA information on STEM


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Berliner, David and Education and the Public Interest Center Education Policy Research Unit. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-school factors and school success.

Lieberman, G. A. & Hoody, L.L. (1998). Closing the achievement gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. SEER: Poway, CA, 1998.

Dyment, J. E., & Bell, A. C. (2008). Grounds for movement: Green school grounds as sites for promoting physical activity. Health Education Research, 23(6), 952-962.

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