By: Todd Schulz

Consumers Energy employees are getting their hands dirty to grow stronger communities in Mid-Michigan.

In recent months, members of our “green teams” — groups of employees devoted to caring for the environment at and near their work locations — helped plant a community garden in Saginaw and used recycled natural gas pipe to build a greenhouse in Birch Run.

The volunteer projects are part of our commitment to helping people, caring for the planet and empowering Michigan’s prosperity.

Planting seeds of hope in Saginaw

Green team members from Saginaw and Birch Run worked with students and staff at the Saginaw Intermediate School District’s Transitions Center this spring to create a garden in the school’s courtyard.

Consumers Energy employees used recycled wood crates and pallets to build 10 garden boxes. Sponsors donated dirt, seeds and garden supplies. And on a sunny day in May, about 20 volunteers rolled up their sleeves, slipped on gloves and planted seeds for herbs and vegetables such as cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and squash.

“We had a ball,” said Jason Jordan, a Birch Run-based field leader who heads a green team comprised of natural gas employees from multiple locations.

The Transitions Center teaches students with disabilities the skills to live and work independently. A few students helped plant the garden and many continued to help water, weed and maintain the plants which were flourishing in late July.

The garden helped students to learn lessons such as responsibility and accountability, principal Brigette Uhrich said.

“This community project has allowed us to extend learning for our students further than expected,” Uhrich said. “Through the garden, we have been able to teach responsibility and job skills; students have also learned about the planting cycle and weather. This year’s yield has been great and is allowing us to use the produce for student cooking projects. To say we appreciate this partnership would be an understatement.”

The project made a lasting impact on all who participated.

“It was a ton of work but it’s something I don’t think the employees or students will ever forget,” said Cathy Csercse, an employee who helped lead the project. “It really shows how we care for our communities — especially the most vulnerable parts.”

Plastic pipe, bottles repurposed as greenhouse

Roughly 20 minutes to the south, employees at the Enhanced Infrastructure Replacement Program (EIRP) headquarters in Birch Run also have new possibilities blooming.

In 2017, then-intern Anna MacDonald was searching for a way to use the empty plastic water bottles that crews and field leaders were consuming on the job. She thought of using them to build a greenhouse.

“I kept seeing them either in the recycling bins or not being disposed of properly and being put in the trash,” said MacDonald, now an engineer with the company. “I was hoping to use those for something more sustainable and give people education on recycling and do a team building activity at the same time.”

This spring, the Birch Run green team made MacDonald’s vision a reality, using thousands of plastic bottles and about 250 feet of leftover plastic natural gas pipe to build a functioning greenhouse.

“We ran with it and turned out really good,” said green team co-leader Tim Lamb, who spearheaded construction. “It took about six of us 40 to 50 hours. We’re proud of it.”

Flowers, herbs and vegetables such as squash, peppers and cherry tomatoes are thriving in the new hot house. Employee Jeff Hulley waters and tends to the plants on his breaks and during the weekends.

“They really like it in here — there’s plenty of sun and heat,” said Hulley, who grew up on a farm and grows his own garden. “Coming out here is a good way to break up the day. I’ll come out and talk to the plants. It’s a relaxing place.”

With a successful first step complete, the green teams are exploring the idea of building and donating another greenhouse.