Sugar Bush Projects

Current Projects 

Sugar Bush currently prioritizes projects in the following categories: renewable energy, zero waste, environmental protection and restoration, food security, and sustainable development.

Habitat Social Enterprises

Areas of Focus: Zero Waste and Economic Development

A woman holding a power tool is working underneath a house.

University and Community Collaborators

  • Habitat for Humanity Southeast Ohio
  • Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service


The Habitat-Voinovich School collaboration diverts construction and demolition materials for reuse, to the benefit of the community and the environment. Partners are making great strides with on-campus waste diversion. For example, in the summer of 2021, the team salvaged three semi-trucks and 10 box trucks of office furniture and building materials before a university building was demolished. These materials, which otherwise would have gone to the landfill, are now being sold at two Habitat ReStore locations at a fraction of the retail price, where profits go toward building affordable homes. 

The Habitat-Voinovich partners tested many social enterprise business models to identify a model that maximized revenue for Habitat. As a result, they are also launching a construction worker training program and a construction company. Despite COVID delays and steep increases in the price of building materials, Habitat continues work on their new construction training facility in Millfield, OH. By partially pre-fabricating Habitat houses in Millfield, they will be able to train construction workers and reduce building costs.


  • Funding period: 2015- 2023
  • Funding to date: $334,000

Appalachian Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI)

Areas of Focus: Zero Waste and Economic Development

Two people recycling

University and Community Collaborators

  • Rural Action
  • Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service


The Appalachia Ohio Zero Waste Initiative (AOZWI) is an active collaboration in Southeast Ohio between Rural Action and the Voinovich School that is turning waste into resources and changing the way the region thinks about waste as resource or materials management. 

Since the Sugar Bush Foundation’s incubation of AOZWI in 2010, recycling rates in Athens and Hocking Counties have quadrupled to as high as 37%. The feasibility study that AOZWI conducted added to the building and implementing of the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center, which now has 45 employees and is a union shop.

Rural communities, which had no access to recycling, now have 22 drop-off sites for recyclables and residential collection of recyclables along with trash with dual packer trucks. AOZWI started the social enterprise, Zero Waste Event Productions, that is now an independent business that supports waste diversion at events across the nation, diverting over 90 percent to recycling and composting and re-use. The City of Athens and many local businesses have taken the Zero Waste Action Pledge to improve waste management within their buildings.

As a result of taking the Zero Waste Action Pledge, O'Bleness Hospital has implemented a five-year sustainability plan and is a model of sustainability for the entire OHIO Health system. OHIO Athletics supports zero waste home football games and now has composting available at the Convocation Center. AOZWI initiated “Green Events” to help planners to reduce event waste and make campus gatherings more sustainable. The City of Athens has also added a drop off and collection service for food compost for residents and businesses.

The current phase of AOZWI focuses on three areas: 1) facilitating regional cooperation and collaboration around waste, such as staging mobile CHaRM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) collection days and growing a tri-state network of organics recycling professionals; 2) supporting the sustainability goals of Ohio University and the City of Athens through providing interns and students to assist with sustainability initiatives like capturing reusable materials from Move OUt; and 3) engaging in waste research and education to improve STEM learning in K-12 and at Ohio University.


  • Funding period: 2010- 2023
  • Funding to date: $1,561,164

Learn More

Acid Mine Drainage Paint Pigment

Areas of Focus: Environmental Restoration, Economic Development

Acid Mine Drainage Paint Pigment painting

University and Community Collaborators

  • Department of Civil Engineering, Russ College of Engineering
  • School of Art + Design, College of Fine Arts
  • Rural Action - True Pigments, LLC


In Appalachian Ohio, many streams are polluted with acid mine drainage running out of abandoned coal mines. True Pigments and OHIO partners worked for a decade on solutions for large seeps, successfully restoring seven miles of stream, but at the largest of these seeps, a new solution was needed.

OHIO civil engineering professor Dr. Guy Reifler and art professor John Sabraw, in partnership with True Pigments, Director of Project Development, Michelle Shively, are using the process of precipitating iron oxide from contaminated water to create pigment for paint.

In phase one of the project, partners built a pilot plant in the Village of Corning, where rust-colored water flows out into the park stream. Professor Sabraw baked the precipitated iron ore to different temperatures and achieved a stunning array of yellows, crimson, and violet, which he and other artists turn into amazing art. Sabraw contracted with Gamblin Artist's Oil Colors of Portland Oregon to create a popular limited edition of tube paints in "Reclaimed Earth Colors".

In the second phase, Rural Action purchased the property where the Truetown Discharge is located. This site is the largest acid mine drainage seep in Ohio discharging 6,000 lbs of dissolved iron per day.

The partners are preparing to build a full-scale water treatment plant, which when fully operational, will remove 2 million lbs of iron from the stream each year. The Truetown plant will have the capacity to produce 0.5% of the nation’s demand for iron oxide pigments from that one seep.


  • Funding period: 2016- 2023
  • Funding to date: $206, 000

Learn More

Appalachian Food and Culture Initiative

Farm to OHIO Working Group

Areas of Focus: Environmental Restoration, Economic Development, Food Security

Fresh strawberries

University and Community Collaborators

  • Food Studies Theme
  • Department of Sociology and Anthropology
  • Rural Action
  • Community Food Initiatives


The Farm to Ohio Working Group strengthens our regional food system through institutional procurement of locally grown food and develops our regional food network. Close collaboration between OHIO, Rural Action, and Community Food Initiatives has reduced many infrastructure barriers to institutional buying of locally grown produce and has increased equitable access to local food on campus. Rural Action facilitated certification for area farmers at the Chesterhill Produce Auction and at the OHIO Student Farm, qualifying them to sell their produce to OHIO Culinary Services. Meanwhile, Culinary Services adapted infrastructure and procedures to accommodate local, seasonal produce. Additionally, Culinary Services committed a percentage of their annual budget to local food purchases, with a plan to increase the percentage through fiscal year 2026.

Community Food Initiatives has been improving equitable access to local food on campus, educating about our local food system, and sharing recipes for using fresh, seasonal produce. In 2020, despite Culinary Services’ sudden and unexpected closure, the FOWG shared resources on an unprecedented level. The collaboration between Rural Action and CFI, enabled the distribution of 132,747 lbs of regionally grown food, an increase of 76% above 2019 distribution, and enabled distribution of 1,460 lbs of OHIO Student Farm produce, directing 1,921 lbs of food to the university’s food pantry.

In 2021, the FOWG hosted a virtual Farm to Institution Summit, will expand acreage under production with participating farmers, and expand student engagement in the work.


  • Funding period: 2016- 2023
  • Funding to date: $319, 058

Ohio's Winding Road (OWR)

Areas of Focus: Economic Development

Four people, one man and 3 women standing outside in a green, wooded area looking through binoculars at something in the distance.

University and Community Collaborators

  • Center for Community Engagement
  • Ohio Hills Country Heritage Area
  • Social Enterprise Ecosystem


Ohio’s Winding Road is a collaborative network seeking to grow the regional “experience economy” by protecting, developing, and marketing the environmental, historical, and cultural assets in southeast Ohio’s Hocking and Muskingum River Valleys. OWR is using a ‘network weaving’ approach to organize and align a diverse experience tourism under a single brand, supported by shared resources and talents. OWR’s shared marketing creates economic benefits to local businesses, entrepreneurs, guides and interpretive program leaders engaged in the authentic experience economy.

OWR is a network of communities helping each other market creative experiences based in cultural history, outdoor adventure & environmental learning; the arts, local foods, education, and authentic amenities such as shopping, dining, and lodging.


  • Funding period: 2018- 2023
  • Funding to date: $245,655

Learn More

Creative Abundance Model

Areas of Focus: Economic Development and Zero Waste

A photograph of of people sitting around a table at Passion Works, talking and working or arts and crafts

University and Community Collaborators

  • Barbara Geralds Storytelling Institute
  • Passion Works Studio


Passion Works is a joy-filled, colorful, inter-abled art studio in Athens, Ohio. Passion Works has successfully transitioned from a sheltered workshop to an independently-run art studio, with artists-in-residence. Building on an 18-year partnership with the Storytelling Institute at Ohio University, Passion Works Studio is 1) expanding its creation, production, and distribution of upcycled art products; 2) extending the geographical reach of Passion Works activities through their Mobile Art Project, and 3) sharing their Creative Abundance Model through a multimodal experiential training center. Passion Works has a 24-year legacy of disrupting deficit-based narratives of disability and employing individuals with developmental differences through collaborative art and an asset-based orientation. The Storytelling Institute explores and enhances strengths and potential through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry. Together, they collaborate to disseminate the Creative Abundance Model.


  • Funding period:  2020- 2023
  • Funding to date: $54, 853 

Past Projects

Septage: Reclaiming Rural Waste

 Area of Focus: Zero Waste

A woman holding a bucket, smiling and cleaning up septage waste in a river

University and Community Collaborators

  • Voinovich School of Leadership & Public Service
  • Rural Action Watershed Group


This partnership between Voinovich School researchers and the Rural Action Watershed Program has been field-testing an OHIO-developed technology that turns septic sludge into high-quality fertilizer. While Drs. Sarah Davis and Kimberley Miller test the fertility of soils amended by this hydrothermally treated fertilizer, Rural Action’s Watershed Group has been working with septic haulers and state regulators to test business ideas for making and selling the fertilizer. The team has measured soil and plant responses to the fertilizer and are seeking Ohio EPA approval to install a pilot treatment facility


  • Funding period: 2019- 2022
  • Funding to date: $151,932

Chillicothe Recycling

A smiling boy holding a hand written sign saying "Chillicothe Recycling Program Coming Soon"

University and Community Collaborators

  • City of Chillicothe
  • OHIO Chillicothe Campus


Ohio University Chillicothe partnered with the City of Chillicothe to promote their new curbside recycling program. The Sugar Bush gift provided funds for two interns to work with the city in implementing an education and marketing campaign. The interns developed media promotions and scheduled events on campus and in schools for the public to learn more about the recycling path to Zero Waste.

Learn More

ReUse Thrift Store and Maker Space

University and Community Collaborators

  • ReUse Industries
  • Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service


The partnership between ReUse Industries and Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service has transformed a community thrift store and launched new programs including an annual ReUse Competition, community Fix-It Workshops, a FixerSpace, a community Tool Library and upcycled product research and development. These activities engaged hundreds of regional residents and organizations, and dramatically improved ReUse’s retail and waste diversion performance — with increases in sales revenue (+63%), customer transactions (+47%), items sold (+71%) and items sold per retail square foot (+108%) — while ReUse’s overall budget and workforce more than tripled.

This progress led to the pending opening of Athens MakerSpace in 2018, a 7,000 square-foot facility offering tools, workspaces and classes in multiple creative disciplines (including woodworking, metalworking, fabric-fiber arts, upcycling, 3D printing, laser cutting and electronics) as well as a new RU store called ReUse on Union (fabric, art and books), an upcycled product-making studio and an online Etsy store called Athens FabMaker (high-end and vintage fabric).


  • Funding period:  2012/2013 - 2017/2018.
  • Funding to date:  $252,306

Learn More

Environmental Transparency Around Injection Wells

University and Community Collaborators

  • Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service
  • The School of Communication Studies
  • The Buckeye Environmental Network
  • The Athens County Fracking Action Network
  • Torch Can Do


In 2017 alone, Athens County was the disposal site for 5,188,513 barrels of mostly out-of-state waste from oil and gas extraction, containing potentially large quantities of undisclosed, highly toxic chemicals.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) does not monitor for water contamination around these injection wells. Local citizens living near the injection wells became worried about the lack of data and sought to learn the impacts of these injection wells on their water quality.

The Sugar Bush Foundation funded comprehensive groundwater testing to be done by Ohio University, upstream and downstream from the injection wells near the community of Torch, Ohio.

The results of this water quality testing can be used to help make informed decisions and as a baseline comparison in the event of future contamination.

OHIO and community partners conducted local trainings on where to look for information; how to read scientific data; how to navigate ODNR's non-user friendly website; how to submit an open records request; how to develop persuasive messages; how to speak publicly; how to speak to a state representative and how to respond in a crisis.


  • Funding period: 2016/2017, 2017/18
  • Funding to date: $75,000
  • 2017/2018: $25,000
  • 2016/2017: $50,000

Learn More

Live Healthy Appalachia and Live Healthy Kids: Meal Masters

Partnership between Live Healthy Appalachia, Center for Community Engagement, and College of Health Sciences & Professions.

Implemented healthy eating programs in the community and local schools.

2011/2012, 2013/2014, 2015/2016

Renewable Energy Coop and Pilot Small-Scale Micro-grid

Partnership between the Center for the Creation of Cooperation and Ohio University Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Technical and policy planning for a neighborhood-size solar micro-grid.

2013/2014, 2015/2016

High Tunnel Project

Partnership between Environmental and Plant Biology at OHIO and Community Food Initiatives.

Built the High Tunnel on West State Street to extend the growing season for the student garden, and to provide produce and seedlings for CFI to give away.


Shale Gas Water Testing

Partnership between Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and the Southeast Ohio Watershed Council and the Ohio EPA.

Provided for baseline water quality testing throughout the county in advance of hydraulic fracturing activity.


Service Living Initiative

Partnership between Good Works and Residence Life at OHIO.

Enabled students to sign up for community service activities through the residence halls for a full year, overcoming the time constraints of quarters.


Community-Appropriate Technology for Staple Seeds Project

Partnership between Mechanical Engineering at Russ College of Engineering and Technology, Community Food Initiatives, and Shagbark Seed & Mill.

Engineering students built a prototype thresher and winnower sized for family farms.


Seed for Change, ohiotoday Spring 2014

Appalachian Ohio Environmental Literacy Project


The Sunflower Project

Partnership between the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment, Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Educational Service Center, and the Athens Alternative Education Program.

Provided funds for engineering students to design and fabricate a mobile oilseed processing facility and for students in the Alternative Education Program to grow, tend and press a 20-acre test plot of sunflowers for seed oil.


Regional Non-profit Alliance

Partnership between the Athens Foundation and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service.

Funded a resource library for improving non-profit organizational capacity.


The Green House Project

Partnership between OHIO Office of Sustainability and Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD).

Provided an incentive to landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of student rentals; provided education to students to help them press for energy-efficient rentals.