Joe Trumpey Profile


University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design professor Joseph Trumpey stokes the fire at his 40-acre plot of farmland just outside of Ann Arbor for his October weenie roast.  He directs guests to a self-guided tour booklet that leads them through the rooms of his home, Sandy Acres Farm, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

 “What we consider an American standard of living is going to have to change. We have to come up with a way to adapt to that and be happy about those changes,” said Trumpey.

Trumpey’s home epitomizes how he devotes his professional and personal life to sustainable design. The tour describes the purpose and process behind each room—from custom built shelves filled with hand-jarred vegetables to radiant heat flooring.  His adobe style house was built with his own hands from locally sourced straw, stone, wood and earthen plaster.  The house runs on electricity generated on site using solar panels and is completely off the grid.

Trumpey trained as a science illustrator with degrees in biology, art and illustration. The classes he teaches at the Stamps School of Art and Design are made to get his students to become better observers, to see human influence and connect to nature on a personal level. He has them view the world through a sustainable lens by asking “can we put a sustainable filter on that?”

“The first step in making a difference is being able to feel a connection to a situation. So, it’s about observing, paying attention and it’s about making it personal,” he said.

Trumpey urges his students to evaluate a design or system’s goodness or badness based on its level of sustainability.  If it’s bad, how can they make it sustainable? It’s not about rejecting the system but adapting it

 “It’s not gonna be a technology fix, it’s not gonna be a scientific discovery. I think the solutions aren’t going to come from the biologist or the engineer or the techno folks. The answer is really a cultural thing,” said Trumpey.

Although he acknowledges it isn’t possible for most people to live on fully sustainable properties at this point, he said, “localization is key.” Making connections to local farmers and changes as simple as eating one less meat meal per week or installing a few solar panels can create a difference.

According to the National Association of Home Builders 74 percent of buyers and renters are willing to pay more for green amenities like energy efficient lighting and low-E windows.  

Growing up, Trumpey’s family lived just outside the city in central Indiana during the 1970s where he romped through swamps and explored the forests. These areas were purchased and transformed into neighborhoods and strip malls. Changes in the watershed due to construction caused neighborhood basements to flood.

“Suburbia subsumed, which felt personal,” he said. 

 His experiences as a Boy Scout through middle and high school drove his connection to nature and his lifelong interest in studying the environment and sustainable practices.

            “My first intercultural experience was actually being a kid in the woods,” he said.

            Last summer, Trumpey led a class international experience to Tanzania to work with a tribe in creating an improved cook stove design.  The women and girls previously used open-pit style fires in enclosed houses powered by big logs. These conditions deplete their natural environment and cause respiratory damage due to heavy amounts of smoke they inhale. 

            Stephen Busscher, a student who went with Trumpey to Tanzania said, “I think he saw a great social cause, a great environmental cause and went with it.”

Trumpey emphasized the importance of working with the tribe to create change rather than for them. “I believe that Joe taught me how to respect people; Insisting his students deeply learn about the culture we were about to be apart of,” said Simone Jackson, another student on the Tanzania trip.

The rocket-stove design that Trumpey and his students implemented is efficient; it burns hotter and faster and uses smaller amounts of fuel while funneling excess smoke through a chimney in the roof.  Trumpey’s team sourced local materials and improved upon sustainablility through processes already existing within their culture.

Trumpey recognizes the importance of witnessing another culture in contrast to the student’s systems back home.  “Our designs must encompass their way of life to make it effective. People are what change the environment, if we can design with both in mind then things should fall into place,” said Jackson. 


About Marlene Lacasse

michigander born and raised living in florence, italy || pursuing a bachelor of fine arts at the university of michigan stamps school of art and design, specializing in photography and filmmaking. taking a gap year before my senior thesis to travel and experience life in italy after studying in (and falling in love with) florence summer of 2014. || observer, storyteller, adventurer || i’m not so good with words

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