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November 10, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – The 7-acre permaculture (permanent agriculture) site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus benefits the eco-system and the climate while bringing special treats to dining room tables at the Motherhouse. Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist, explained the principles of permaculture and gave a virtual tour of the many aspects of the Congregation’s permaculture grounds in a recent presentation.

Permaculture is a “land-based design” for agriculture, in which practitioners learn from the rhythms and ways of nature and follow the principles of  “Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share,” Elaine explained. Unlike traditional agriculture, which focuses on cash crops, permaculture aims to “revitalize the eco-system” so that the system is “not only productive for us, receiving the food, but it’s also productive for the Earth system,” to bring about land restoration.

Elaine Johnson

In her presentation, Elaine explained various beneficial aspects of the Congregation’s permaculture site, from a rain catchment system that allows the Motherhouse to rely on recaptured rainwater for irrigation, to berms and swales – depressions and raised land to help in water retention. 

Elaine also spoke of ways that permaculture can offset some of the damage of greenhouse gasses and climate change caused by the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon farming uses the soil as a “sink” to store the carbon and keep it out of the atmosphere. “The carbon sink in the soil is a partnership between plants and the sun and the soil,” Elaine explained. Plants take in the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their roots and exchange the carbon with soil organisms. “The organisms have that carbon in their bodies, and then they decompose and become part of the soil life cycle … so that it doesn’t come up into the atmosphere.”

On a more practical note, Elaine spoke of the community garden, kitchen garden, and edible food forest that help put food on the tables of people in the Adrian area, including those in the Motherhouse. This year, she said, the permaculture site produced 650 pounds of large tomatoes and 70 pints of bite-sized tomatoes, which were used in the Motherhouse salad bar, along with a variety of vegetables and assorted herbs used in preparing meals.

“One of the benefits is that it gave our diners more of a variety of vegetables, such as chard and root vegetables,” said Susan Kremski, Director of Food Services. She added that the blueberries and blackberries were plentiful and a “real treat” for the Sisters, Co-workers, and guests. 

“This is the first big year for permaculture,” Susan said. The kitchen staff will work with the Co-workers from the permaculture site to evaluate this year and determine how to improve on the partnership for next year.

For more information on the permaculture site and how the many areas have been designed after studying nature, watch the video of Elaine’s presentation below.


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June 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – While many of their peers were focusing on summer jobs and taking a break from classes, 14 students from Barry University and Siena Heights University were immersed in an environmental experience that could help shape stewardship at their respective universities. 

The students were participating in the first-ever environmental stewardship leadership program, sponsored by Barry and Siena Heights and hosted at the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, which founded and sponsors the two universities. The aim of the program was to teach the students about sustainable ecosystems and to encourage them to apply what they learned by taking the lessons to their college campuses in the fall.

The collaborative program involved the students in hands-on work, such as building berms and swales to control water flow, planting mushrooms, and designing and planting guilds – communities of diverse plants that benefit one another. 

The students also heard presentations on permaculture, climatology, and Earth Jurisprudence – the movement to reframe the justice system to protect the rights of nature and human beings. Rounding out the two-week experience were visits to sites that taught the students about ecological sustainability, including the zero-waste campus of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit. 

The environmental stewardship program was a collaborative effort among Barry University, Siena Heights University, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist for Adrian Dominican Sisters, organized the experience, along with Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer. Also participating were faculty advisors Associate Gerry Starratt and Ruth Tallman from Barry University, and Matthew Draud and Heather Moody from Siena Heights University. Among those who gave presentations and administrative support were Sisters Corinne Sanders, OP; Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Carol Coston, OP, Director of the Permaculture Office; and Sharon Weber, OP, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Siena Heights.

During a closing presentation to the Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Motherhouse and in private interviews, the students spoke about what the two-week experience meant to them and how they hope to apply those lessons.

Rahbar Kahn, a Siena Heights student from Bangladesh, said the program was a “great opportunity,” making him more aware of sustainability practices in farming. “I hope to take this experience back to my country and make an impact,” he said, adding that he recommends that other students participate in the program the next time it’s offered. 

“I’ve always been an advocate for saving our planet, so the more I can learn the more I can help save the world,” said Kassandra Guerrero, a criminology major from Barry. “This program has allowed me to learn things I wouldn’t have even imagined were real.”

Liza Avila, a social work major from Barry, said she learned the importance of teamwork and cooperation as well as the need for sustainability. She hopes that what she learned in the program and in her social work studies will help her to make a difference. “Hopefully I’ll be able to work mostly on the policy side,” she said. “I feel that’s one of the big ways I can make an impact."

Gerard Brown, a communications major from Siena Heights, said the experience taught him a great deal about sustainability, zero-waste systems, and the need to protect our watersheds. “I have a better understanding of the environment and the effects we have on the environment,” he said. He hopes in the future to live in a fuel efficient, Earth-smart home and to educate those around him. “We need to care because it’s going to be our future,” he said.

Feature photo (top): Barry University and Siena Heights University students study the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse.

Students pause in their work at the Motherhouse permaculture site during their two-week experience.



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