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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.
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.