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September 24, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – People of faith often explore their relationships to God, to others, and to themselves. A recent program updating Sisters and Associates on the Adrian Dominican Sustainability and Permaculture programs gave them the opportunity to explore another key relationship: their personal relationship with Earth and the land.
Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability, and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, presented an end-of-summer update September 21, 2020, via broadcast and live stream.
Sister Corinne referred to the Congregation’s Sustainability Enactment, approved during the 2016 General Chapter: to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.” She helped viewers to explore the “many little things” they can do to live out that Enactment and to improve the environment in six areas:
Sister Corinne noted that the closure of the Motherhouse to visitors and the restrictions of the Sisters on the Motherhouse grounds have affected some practices. For example, because of the pandemic, the Food Services Department has begun serving the Sisters’ meals on paper products rather than reusable plates, and Sisters who go grocery shopping have not been allowed to use reusable bags. “Some of that is beyond our control and I think we’ll go back into balance,” she said.
The environment has also benefited from the Congregation’s moratorium on commercial travel – especially air travel – and the closure of some of Motherhouse buildings during the pandemic. Both of these actions have reduced the amount of energy used, Sister Corinne said.
In his Permaculture update, Jared took his audience on “a little stroll through our land,” describing his own activities and the natural activities of the land in the past few months.
At the beginning of the mitigation protocols in March, Jared was not working on the Motherhouse grounds. “When I was able to come back in April or May, I was struck by the fact that the things we set into motion were moving forward – it didn’t need any care,” he said. Crops planted earlier, such as asparagus and berry bushes, were coming up on their own. The rain gardens and pollinator gardens also flourished.
Jared has spent much of the spring and summer pruning and caring for fruit trees in the permaculture site’s edible orchard and experimenting with leaf litter to hold the moisture in the soil during the hot, dry summer.
Plans moving forward are to create a digital map of the shrubs in the edible food forest; to design a new layout for the Charlotte’s Web garden to make it more accessible and easier to maintain; and to engage in succession planning to ensure that something is always growing in the Permaculture garden.
February 26, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Even during this year’s mild winter in Michigan, work in the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ permaculture area and in other areas of sustainability continue to grow and blossom. Sisters and Associates heard about these efforts – and were encouraged to do their part – during the Winter Sustainability Update recently offered by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Sustainability Office; Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist; and Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds.
Sister Corinne set the tone by reminding the Sisters and Associates of the Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter Enactment on Sustainability, to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”
“We look at that [Enactment] through certain lenses, certain areas,” including energy, food, purchasing, transportation, waste, and land care, Sister Corinne explained. “We’re trying to continue to find ways to change our behavior for the positive.” She cited a Sister who spoke of the “million little things” that can be done to preserve the environment, such as using cloth rather than paper napkins. In that vein, Sister Corinne encouraged the Sisters and Associates to ask themselves, “What are the little things that matter, that we can do?” and to take those little actions.
Jared focused his presentation on answering a common question: What does he do during the winter? He pointed to the many projects taking place in the Congregation’s permaculture area, including:
Looking ahead, Jared noted that Barry University and Siena Heights University students participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience in May will build a rain garden of native plants near the Weber Retreat and Conference Center parking lot to address an erosion problem. Also in the works, he said, are workable test kitchens to discover ways to prepare the novel fruits and vegetables grown in the permaculture area.
Joel reviewed some of the ways that the Adrian Dominican Congregation is reducing its energy consumption on the Motherhouse Campus.
Efforts have included replacing conventional lighting with LED lighting; upgrading the chiller so that ice is manufactured during the night – during off-peak usage hours – and sent by day through the pipes to cool campus buildings in the summer; and the use of a stack economizer to divert boiler exhaust and use it to heat water.
Joel also recommended a few ways that people can reduce their energy consumption: relying on natural lighting rather than electricity on sunny days and lowering the heat by one or two degrees during the winter. Cumulatively, he said, if many Sisters lower their thermostats, “you’re talking about a very significant impact” on reducing energy usage.
Sister Corinne reiterated her focus on the “million little things” that can be done to reduce the damage to our environment.
“We have to disengage ourselves from the use of plastic,” since few plastic items can be recycled locally, she said. She also encouraged the Sisters and Associates to speak to managers of the grocery stores where they shop, asking them to reduce their use of plastic packaging.
Sister Corinne also spoke of two returning programs in May: the River Raisin Festival on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, to teach local elementary school students about the local environment, and the Environmental Leadership Experience for Barry University and Siena Heights University students, May 11-21, 2020.
Feature photo: Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, prunes one of the fruit trees in the permaculture site’s edible forest.