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September 27, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – In light of the recent United Nations Summit on Global Climate Change and a symposium sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters on sustainability and resilient communities, Adrian Dominican Sisters listened to an update on the Congregation’s sustainability efforts. At the same time, they were encouraged to examine their own daily practices and discern what they could change to benefit Earth.

The presentation was delivered by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability; Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds; and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist.

Corinne Sanders, OP    Jared Aslakson, permaculture specialist

Left to right: Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Sustainability Office, offers a presentation on waste management; Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds, talks about campus energy usage; Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, provides an update on the campus permaculture program.


Addressing the issue of waste and materials management, Sister Corinne emphasized the importance of reducing consumption of the world’s goods, of making conscious decisions about what to buy in light of its effect on the environment. The next step, she said, would be finding the best way to handle the waste: reusing or recycling the materials.

Much of Sister Corinne’s presentation focused on the new recycling regulations in Adrian, Michigan. “The biggest change is that in plastic we can only recycle what’s labeled 1 and 2,” she said. “It’s a big challenge to see what I can buy. I now have to look at something and ask myself, ‘Am I still going to purchase that with the plastic that goes to the waste, or is there another way to satisfy that need?’”

Sister Corinne warned against trying to recycle something that is not permitted and that would contaminate the recycling collection, forcing all of the items in a particular bin to be taken to the landfill rather than to various recycling facilities.

Sister Corinne had advice on how to decrease consumption: bring containers for left-overs to restaurants; bring your own mesh bags to the grocery store to hold loose vegetables rather than using plastic bags; avoid excessive packaging and challenge companies who use too much packaging; as much as possible, buy items made from recycled material; and create your own personal “waste audit” to see what you discard and how you could avoid sending items to the landfill.

In his part of the presentation, Joel noted that the Motherhouse Campus has made a significant decrease in energy usage – a 24% decrease since 2013, when the installation of more efficient LED lighting at the Motherhouse began. Other actions to decrease energy usage included the installation of a chiller, which during off-peak hours produces ice that is sent through pipes to cool the buildings. Through the Consumers Energy’s Smart Building Incentive Program, Consumers Energy pays an engineering firm to audit the energy usage at the Motherhouse and to determine other ways that energy usage can be decreased.

The possibility of producing renewable energy through sources such as solar panels is being explored, Joel said. “But the very fundamental beginning is to reduce how much [energy] you use to begin with,” he added. Small actions such as turning out lights when you leave a room or turning off the computer at the end of the day make a difference in reducing energy use, he said.

In the Permaculture area, Jared noted some successful efforts. A contraction of permanent and agriculture, permaculture involves the design of land in a way that imitates the ways of nature to make the practice of agriculture more sustainable.

Jared reported on the success of the Congregation’s vegetable garden, which, in spite of the challenges of a cold and rainy spring, finally produced crops that needed very little irrigation.

He also spoke of the use of vermiculture – composting through the use, in this case, of 100,000 worms – to break down food scraps and other compostable materials use the resulting compost to enrich the soil on campus. Jared noted that, between the campuses of the Motherhouse and Siena Heights University, nearly 52,000 pounds of food scraps was collected and composted during the six months that he has served as Permaculture Specialist.

Other areas of focus for permaculture this year were:

  • The creation of a pollinator garden, which has attracted monarch butterflies.
  • The improvement of a rain garden created last year. “We’re very happy with the results,” Jared said. “The garden holds more water for longer, and drains the driveway much more quickly,” and has attracted diverse wildlife through the plants that grew in the rain garden.
  • Educational outreach through weekly sessions with honors students of Siena Heights University and through the annual Environmental Leadership Experience for Siena Heights University and Barry University students.

While the sustainability efforts at the Motherhouse have been a success, Sister Corinne, Joel, and Jared still encouraged people to continue to find their ways in their personal lives to make a difference for Earth and to help restore the health of the planet and its ecosystems and creatures.

Sisters listen attentively to the update on sustainability and permaculture.

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June 5, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Political science, English, social work, and psychology majors – along with students studying biology and environmental sciences – spent the early days of their summer vacation to learn something new: to study the environment and learn sustainable practices in gardening.

The students – eight from Barry University in Miami, Florida, and seven from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan – were participating in the third Environmental Leadership Experience, held May 14-23, 2019, at the Motherhouse Campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Also attending were two faculty members from Barry University: Dr. Anita Zavodska of the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Flona Redway of the Department of Biology. Both universities were founded and are sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

Jared Aslakson, right, Permaculture Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, gives a presentation at the Gaia Garden in the permaculture area of the Motherhouse.

Led by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, and Jarod Aslakson, the Congregation’s Permaculture Specialist, the Environmental Leadership Experience focuses on the environment, permaculture, and sustainability. Participants are encouraged to apply what they learned when they return to their universities in the fall. 

Participants spent much of their time in the permaculture area of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus. Permaculture is a system of agriculture that seeks to learn from and replicate the natural systems of Earth. Students learned about and worked in various areas of permaculture, from harvesting worm castings for compost to planting rain gardens and pollinator gardens. 

In addition, participants studied soil samples in the Siena Heights biology lab, learned about sustainability and ways to reduce their carbon footprint, studied and learned to identify various local plants, and took field trips to sites such as the botanical gardens at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They gave a presentation on their experience to Sisters on campus on May 22, 2019, the day before Barry students returned home to Miami.

The Environmental Leadership Experience was an eye-opener for many of the students. Paige Pokryfke, a sports psychology major at Barry University, said she learned about sustainability, and particularly about composting – and the role that worms play. “They’re such a small creature, but they make such a big difference for us,” she said. She hopes to begin composting at Barry University and to transform some of the university’s unused land into a rain garden or pollinator garden. 

Environmental Leadership Experience participants visit the greenhouse at the University of Michigan’s Botanical Gardens.

Alexia Ferguson, a Siena Heights student majoring in social work and minoring in political science, said she learned about the concept of the carbon footprint – the measure of carbon emissions that one’s lifestyle produces – and about different ways to garden. 

“I worked here during the first semester with the Honors Program, so I learned a little bit about everything that goes on [in permaculture],” Alexia said. “This program has really allowed me to get an in-depth knowledge about how [permaculture] really works.”

Jerry Patrick, an Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering student at Siena Heights University, said the Environmental Leadership Experience said he gained a new perspective. “This has gotten me interested in storm water management,” he said, explaining that rain gardens protect water at the source by filtering rain water through plants before it gets to larger bodies of water.

Along with the physical labor involved in the program and the opportunity to learn about the environment, many students said the highlight was the bond that they shared with each other and the opportunity to meet and get to know the Adrian Dominican Sisters. 

“The highlights have been talking with the Sisters and learning their life stories and creating bonds with the Barry students,” said Emily Yensch, a psychology major at Siena Heights University. 

Students work on installing a new rain garden near the Dominican Life Center parking lot.

Ashley Lycke, a biology student from Barry University, said the experience helped the Barry students – who previously didn’t know each other – to create a bond. She also appreciated having lunch with Sisters and developing friendships with all of the participants.

Many of the students finished the program with greater determination to make a difference in the environment – no matter their major. Michidael Ceard, a student at Barry, decided to participate “because I wanted to see what my major could do or what my field could do for sustainability and moving that forward. This trip opened my eyes to different avenues that as an English major I could take part in.” She hopes to use her focus on advocacy to speak out on behalf of the environment. 

Holly Kachler, a political science major at Barry University, wants to use her field to make a difference. “My passion is activism, and obviously a huge part of that is the environment.” She hopes to bring back what she learned in the program and work on legislation to combat threats to the environment. “I feel like that’s where we need to go to fix a lot of our problems.”

Sisters on campus listen to a closing presentation by students participating in the 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience.



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