In our tenth and final episode of Season Two of the BSuite, we headed up to Saco, Maine to visit The Ecology School at River Bend Farm. We toured the majestic 105-acre property and learned about their commitment to experiential learning, sustainable farming, and how they’ve worked to meet the standards of The Living Building Challenge. After the tour, we sat down with Drew Dumsch, President and CEO of The Ecology School to hear from him about the non-profit’s origins and its plans for the future.
Drew studied English at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Following graduation, he worked as a naturalist in California and Chicago. In 1991 he moved East to Maine and became an ecologist, naturalist, and educator. He founded The Ecology School in 1998.
For the past 23 years, Drew has been teaching students from all across the country about the importance of ecology. Through a unique hands-on curriculum, students build connections between the environment and all types of organisms. He is a firm believer that living and learning should happen simultaneously. With that goal in mind, Drew designed The Ecology School’s curriculum to be fully immersive.
He found that designing fun interactive ways to teach students provided them with more context and made a lasting impression. Students learn through skits, games, and outdoor exploration. Education is carried into the students’ dining and dormitory experiences where they get to eat food produced at the farm and reside in green buildings on site. His goal is to create a learning environment that goes beyond the classroom showing students how they are a part of the ecosystem around them while studying the science of ecology, regeneration, and sustainability.
The Ecology School
The Ecology School’s original home was located at the Ferry Beach Conference Center at the mouth of the Saco River. After several successful years there, Drew and his team started to look for options to expand. In 2017, they purchased River Bend Farm, a colonial-era horse farm on the Saco River.
In 2019, they broke ground on two important facilities: the Living Building Challenge dormitory and the Poland Springs Dining Commons. The Living Building Challenge is the most rigorous green building certification in the world, even more, stringent than LEED certification. Earning these credentials requires architects and builders to design spaces that give more to the environment around them than they take from it. The dormitory and dining hall projects will be the first Living Building Challenge in the state of Maine once full certification is earned.
River Bend Farm is powered by 712 solar panels that will produce 330,000 kilowatts of power, the equivalent energy consumption of about 60 homes. This will provide 105% of the power used by the entire facility, meaning they will be net positive and able to put power back onto the grid! The Ecology School is currently working on plans for their onsite sustainable farm which will provide 90% of the food they serve on campus and will be fully irrigated from their rainwater collection systems. The land has 3.5 miles of trails for endless exploration and they are currently building 4 yurts that will function as indoor classrooms and meeting spaces.
The facility is not only beautiful but feels very inviting to guests. We enjoyed walking around the property and were amazed at the design and engineering that went into creating the buildings to make them seem as if they blended into the natural habitat. Drew and his team have made an extraordinary vision come true. They are educating future generations on the impact humans have on the environment and the important role we play in making necessary changes for the future.