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July 17, 2018, Providence, Rhode Island – About a month after leading select students from Barry University and Siena Heights University on an intensive, two-week Environmental Leadership Experience, two of the program’s directors shared that experience with yet another group. Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and Paula Dias, Program Manager of Mission Engagement and the Division of Student Affairs at Barry University, spoke about the program June 23 to faculty members and administrators from Dominican colleges and universities across the United States.
Now in its second year, the Environmental Leadership Experience draws interested students to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse Campus in May after the close of the school year. Through teamwork, hands-on experiences, talks, meditation, and tours of local sustainable programs, the students learn about eco-systems and the principles and practices of Permaculture, a system of learning from and working with the systems of nature in designing and implementing agriculture. The students are expected to use what they’ve learned to develop environmentally sustainable practices at their school in the Fall.
Elaine and Paula gave a special presentation, “Environmental Leadership Experience: Engaging Students in Caring for the Earth,” in a Saturday break-out session at the 2018 Dominican Higher Education Colloquium, at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.
During their presentation, Elaine and Paula spoke on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter Enactment to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation” and on the environmental sustainability efforts of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Siena Heights University, and Barry University.
Elaine and Paula also spoke of their vision for the future of the program, including possible credit options for participants and a reciprocal trip to the campus of Barry University in Miami to study the tropical ecosystems.
Read a fuller description of their talk. Please note that Karen Stalnaker, listed in the schedule as a panelist in the presentation, did not participate in that particular presentation but made a presentation during a different part of the Colloquium.
Feature photo: Elaine Johnson, right, discusses hugelmounds – raised beds that include organic matter that ultimately decomposes and fertilizes the crops – with the 2018 Environmental Leadership Experience participants.
July 11, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Co-workers are all abuzz about new neighbors who have moved into the northeast corner of the Permaculture site on the Motherhouse Campus. The new neighbors are also abuzz – about their new home and the work that they do, day in and day out, to make a difference in sustaining Earth.
The new neighbors are two swarms of nucleus honeybees, local Michigan bees that inhabit two hives and now pollinate the wildflowers in the Permaculture garden.
Each hive is ruled, in a sense, by its queen bee, which lays the eggs that become female worker bees and the male drones, whose “sole purpose is to provide genetic diversity,” explained Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist. “The female bees produce the wax from their bodies and they build the hive and maintain it and take care of the queen.”
Elaine brought in the local bees from Tecumseh, Michigan. Knowing the key role that bees and other pollinators play in sustaining the environment, Elaine started researching bees, took a bee class, and joined the local River Raisin Beekeepers Club. There, she met her mentor, Jessica Alcock, who provided her with a miniature hive and five frames, each filled with brood – their eggs and larvae – and honey. “I’m starting with miniature hives and queens that can handle the Michigan winter,” she said.
Bees swarm around the hive as Elaine Johnson pries out one of its honeycombs to examine.
As the beekeeper, Elaine spends about an hour every 10 days inspecting the frames for honey and watching for new queen cells, which indicate the worker bees are preparing for a new queen. Ideally, she said, beekeepers keep the current queens for two to four years, depending on how proficient the queen is in laying eggs.
She explained the distinction between honeybees and native bees, which are often solitary and die at the end of the season. The nucleus honeybees survive through the winter, remaining in their hive and forming a ball, or swarm. “[Some] bees will die and the swarm will shrink, but hopefully by the time it starts to heat up again, they’ll get working again,” she said.
“I have always been interested in beekeeping and finding ways we could offer reciprocity with different Earth beings,” Elaine said. “Working with bees is a great way to start a conversation that highlights the importance of habitat regeneration for the sake of all bees, and a great way to get people interested in and experienced with bees.”
Elaine has high hopes for her bees – and the influence they can have on local people and the environment. After this initial season with the bees, she hopes to invite people to learn about bees and experience them in a way that is safe. “I haven’t been stung yet,” she said. “I hear if you go slow and are gentle, and there’s a good source of nectar pollen … as long as they’re busy, they won’t have time to sting you.”
Feature photo at top: Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist, examines a honeycomb frame from one of two hives at the Adrian Dominican Sisters' Permaculture site.