TRAVERSE CITY — An innovative effort by two area nonprofits takes upcycling to a new level. The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network and Paperworks Studio are transforming a forest enemy into art and jobs ... and lunch.

ISN, a collaboration of more than 40 regional organizations, deploys an aggressive program to eliminate the non-native garlic mustard plant from Grand Traverse, Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau counties.

They host a number of work bees to remove garlic mustard, which came to America with early European settlers and migrated, swallowing forest floors and shutting out native plants and animals.

“You go into a natural area expecting to see trillium, but instead you have a carpet of garlic mustard,” said ISN Outreach Specialist Emily Cook.

ISN’s annual May work bees enlist about 20 volunteers in each of the four counties to remove garlic mustard plants from key targeted areas. Management teams typically dispose of the formidable woodland foe by burning, or bagging it for landfill disposal.

Then ISN had a better idea. They dried a batch and sent it to Paperworks, which is a division of The Utopia Foundation that employs 11 special needs and disadvantaged workers who produce and sell artistic handmade greeting cards from recycled materials.

Card stock is produced from a variety of materials, including blue jeans, old wool sweaters, flower petals, coffee grounds, ferns, and now, garlic mustard.

“They found it was one of the few plants staining green,” said ISN Coordinator Katie Grzesiak. “We got excited because we could support a nonprofit that employs people.”

ISN provided Paperworks 1,000 pounds of garlic mustard plants in 2015. It was dried outdoors on tarps, the leaves removed, then pulverized and added to paper pulp.

“Last year was our first year,” said Paperworks Executive Director Lynn Rodenroth. “There was a lot of trial and error, but we were happy with the results.”

The upcycling partnership offers ISN opportunity to spread their message in a creative manner.

“Folks all over the country are working on ways to integrate awareness of invasive species into art,” said Grzesiak. “If I show you art about it, it connects you on a different level, making a better impact than a picture.”

ISN hopes to collect another 1,000 pounds with volunteer help during upcoming work bees. All ages are invited to participate.

Workers will be treated to a lunch prepared with garlic mustard by Oryana.

“It’s been used for centuries as a spice,” said Grzesiak. “Every part of the versatile little plant is edible.”

The work bee menu includes minestrone soup and garlic mustard rolls, making for a true woodland-sourced meal. RSVP Emily Cook at 231-941-0960 or

Spring garlic mustard pulls with Invasive Species Network all events run from 9 a.m. to noon and include a garlic mustard lunch.

May 6, Manistee County Garlic Mustard Workbee at Magoon Creek. Meet at Manistee United Methodist Church at 387 First St.

May 7, Grand Traverse County Garlic Mustard Workbee at the Boardman River Nature Center at 1450 Cass Rd.

May 13, Benzie County Garlic Mustard Workbee at Tank Hill, Frankfort. Meet at First Congregational Church at 955 James St.

May 14, Leelanau County Garlic Mustard Workbee at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area. Meet at the Leland Township Public Library at 203 Cedar St.

Other area garlic mustard projects

May 10, Lighthouse West Natural Area of the Leelanau State Park from 1-3 p.m. with the Leelanau Conservancy

May 21, Palmer Woods at 10 a.m. with the Leelanau Conservancy.

May 25, Elisabeth Parr Preserve 10 a.m. to noon with Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

June 4, Clay Cliffs at 10 a.m. with the Leelanau Conservancy

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