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August 7, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters on the Motherhouse campus for weeks waited with great anticipation the arrival of 20 guest workers to the campus. On the morning of July 31, 2021, the workers arrived, strolling out of the trailer of Munchers on Hooves: a herd of 20 goats.
No kidding – goats at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse?
The goats are part of a long line of non-human Co-workers serving in the Congregation’s permaculture site. The area has also been the home of thousands of worms who, through the practice of vermiculture, have helped compost organic materials. More recently, two hives of bees have made their home at the Motherhouse, serving as pollinators. The goats, in turn, immediately went to work, grazing on the vegetation in a designated, fenced-in area of the permaculture site.
While their arrival has brought about great anticipation and excitement since Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, announced it to the campus community in a July 15, 2021, email, the goats have come on campus for a serious purpose: to keep invasive species of plants in check and to help manage the landscape.
Goats are a natural for the permaculture site. Permaculture is a system of land use that cooperates with natural systems rather than dominating them, with a focus on sustainability and ecological health.
In recent years, goats have become more popular for land restoration work, Jared explained. Garrett and Gina Fickle, owners of Munchers on Hooves, have rented their goats to people in residential areas, construction sites, and rural land for about six years.
The goats were set to work at the Motherhouse, grazing in three designated areas, each fenced off in turn by Garrett, Gina, and other employees of Munchers on Hooves. They were remained at the Motherhouse for five days to complete their tasks.
“When I started working here and seeing what the permaculture site is doing, it seemed obvious that one of the things the field could benefit from was having large grazers,” Jared said. He sees the goats as part of an overall strategy to rid the site of invasive plant species, particularly the Bradford Pear tree; teasel, a flowering plant; and Canadian thistles.
Invasive species – those that are natural to other areas but introduced into new areas – can exploit the ecosystem and hurt the native species. “An invasive species is placed outside of the ecological place in which it was evolved, so it doesn’t have anything that will naturally function to keep it in check,” Jared explained. By dominating the ecosystem and reducing the number of native plants, invasive plants also damage the pollinators and insects that depend on the native plants and reduce species diversity.
Goats are a more natural solution to invasive plants than chemical herbicides. “The idea is that with repeated disturbance – things like mowing and grazing by large animals – you’re preventing the invasive species from sending out seeds and taking over the area,” Jared explained. The goats are coming late enough in the season that it would be hard for the invasive plants to come back in the summer. The goats will slow their spread, he added.
“Using these grazers in combination with mowing and burning when appropriate is a super important way to get a handle on what’s going on and form higher quality plant communities,” Jared said. “The move toward using biological means rather than chemical or mechanical means is a good thing. It’s partnering with what goats want to do anyway. If we could get closer to our goals on the land, that’s a real win-win.”
The situation is certainly a “win” for the goats, who spend their time grazing on land that provides a variety of plants – and for the Sisters and Co-workers, who have enjoyed watching the goats from a distance. The hope is that the Munchers on Hooves goats will make several return visits in years to come, helping to create a diverse and healthy permaculture site on the Motherhouse property.
Feature photo: Goats exit the Munchers on Hooves trailer to begin work at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Permaculture Gardens.
March 18, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – While the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped many activities around the world, it has not put a stop to the efforts to move forward in sustainability and the permaculture practices at the Motherhouse Campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, and Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability, gave an update of their efforts during a March 10, 2021 presentation.
Permaculture is an “ethical design system for human habitations and land use that emphasizes sustainability, integration, and cooperation with – as opposed to domination of – natural systems.” Jared spoke of big and small changes in the Congregation’s permaculture site:
While the permaculture site’s system of composting through the use of worms has been successful, Jared will begin a system of orchard composting to benefit the trees and shrubs on the site. This system uses ground leaves, wood chips, hay, and similar organic matter. “I’m looking for composting by fungi – slower, steadier, and more stable,” he explained.
In April, Jared said, he will take on “60,000 busy interns” as the Permaculture site acquires two bee hives.
With the approval of the Fire Department and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Jared hopes to conduct small controlled burns in the rain gardens and pollinator gardens. “This is a very efficient way” to maintain the health of the gardens, he said.
In her update on sustainability, Sister Corinne noted the Congregation’s continued efforts to reduce the use of energy on the Motherhouse Campus. “During the COVID time we’ve had to take a step back from implementing a lot of our sustainable practices, but we’ve been able to keep on track in the LED light replacement program.” The project of replacing the more traditional lighting system with LED lights – which are more energy efficient – is about 80 percent complete, Sister Corinne said.
Sister Corinne also noted that global climate change is still a threat to the planet. “There’s really no time for complacency,” she said. “Each day, each decision counts as we find new ways to lighten our usage of fossil fuels.” Consumer choices make a difference including, among other ways, reducing the use of plastics. Corinne said she has found particular bar soaps that can be used as shampoo – to replace the shampoo that comes in plastic bottles.
On a larger scale, Sister Corinne spoke to the Sowing Hope for the Planet initiative of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) – an organization of the primary elected leaders of the congregations of Catholic women religious around the world – in collaboration with the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Through this initiative, Catholic Sisters around the world can upload information about their own sustainability efforts and initiatives. This allows congregations such as the Adrian Dominican Sisters to “partner with other like-minded organizations to find ways to meet the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” Corinne said.
See the complete presentation by watching the video below.
Feature photo (top): Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, uses a scythe to work on the permaculture land at the Adrian Dominican Sister Motherhouse.