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January 5, 2020, Sylvania, Ohio – Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was named Eco-Educator of 2020 by Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (SAVE), an environmental organization based at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Lourdes University is sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters.

Eco-Educator is one of five awards presented by SAVE to honor those who are involved in enhancing environmental sustainability.

“It’s nice to be honored, to be recognized for this work,” Sister Corinne said. “One of our hopes for the permaculture site [at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse] is that it’ll grow as an education site. It was nice to have that recognized and brought to attention.”

Permaculture is a system of land use that takes into account environmental sustainability, working with – and learning from – natural systems. Maintained by Sister Corinne and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, the permaculture site has already been used as a venue for educating others about the environment.

Jared Aslakson, left, and Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, right, with 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience participants at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Garden.

Beginning in 2017, students from Siena Heights University in Adrian and Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida – both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters – spent 10 days to two weeks each spring participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE). They learned about permaculture and other environmentally sustainable practices and gained first-hand experience from working at the permaculture site. The 2020 ELE program was canceled because of the pandemic. 

“It’s one of the most exciting times we have each year,” Sister Corinne said. The students “have to apply to be accepted, so they’re very motivated, and they go back to their college campuses to implement various environmental practices. It’s a wonderful adventure. It’s part of our hope for the permaculture garden being an educational site.”

In a typical Fall semester, Jared teaches a class of Siena Heights students for one hour per week, giving them opportunities to work in the permaculture site and learn from the experience. “I’m under no illusion that they’ll want to become small-scale farmers,” he said. Typically, they graduate and enter other fields. “But they have some kind of literacy about what our farming system is like,” he added. “Having a society with more literacy [in agricultural practices] seems worthwhile to me.”

Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, right, teaches 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience participants about the Gaia Gardens in the permaculture site.

In the spring of 2019, sixth-grade students from an elementary school in Lenawee County, Michigan, came to the Motherhouse to participate in the River Raisin Water Festival. Hosted by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and organized in collaboration with the River Raisin Institute, the River Raisin Watershed Council, and Lenawee Intermediate School District, the event focused on topics such as habitat restoration, marsh bird management, macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies and mayflies, and rain gardens. 

Canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, the River Raisin Water Festival is in the planning stages to be held virtually in May 2021. “The presenters have agreed to work virtually with the students,” Sister Corinne said. “Our hope is to distribute the recordings to other schools.”

Along with these formal educational opportunities, Sister Corinne said she and Jared are also open to offering tours for groups and to community education programs.

Sister Corinne said she became passionate about environmental sustainability through a process of awakening. “Our lifestyles have not been healthy for the planet, and I think once you realize that, everyone gets passionate about trying to reshape lifestyles and habits and getting into a right relationship with Earth,” she said. “I think it’s an awakening.” 

Both Sister Corinne and Jared have hope for the future – for a time when human beings will be more respectful to Earth and develop more sustainable lifestyles. “Humans have the capacity to be successful when they put their hearts and minds into it,” Sister Corinne said. Healing the planet “is going to require a continued and strong commitment to lifestyle changes, but if you can get people to do that, I think we can make an impact.”  

“We’ve got some rough sledding, for sure, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying it’s the end of the world,” Jared said. “In these periods of history where everything changes at once and all the certainties go up in the air, it’s a time to try new things, new ways for humans to live.” He gave the example of people who, after spending almost a year working from home, “might realize they don’t have to commute an hour to the office or want to spend more time with their kids.”

Sister Corinne hopes the permaculture site can be a place where people can come to learn more about the environment and about sustainable practices. “We’ve had a lot of different groups each year that have come for touring,” she said. “We’re open to community education programs. They have yet to be developed, but are part of the vision for the site.”

For information or to arrange for a tour, contact Sister Corinne at 517-266-3420.

Feature photo: Sister Carol Coston, OP, left, who was instrumental in the founding of the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus, poses with Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability.


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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:

  • Food: How is our food grown? Where is it raised? Are we eating high or low on the “greenhouse gas food chain?” 
     
  • Transportation: “The one thing we do look at [in this area] is, how are we traveling? And for many of us, we are not,” Sister Corinne said. She encouraged the audience to think of the transportation choices they will make once the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted. “Are we traveling with a look at the impact? Are we carpooling? Are we cutting down on air travel?”
     
  • Waste (materials management): What is going to the landfill? “We have to hold on to the principles of reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle so the landfill is not the end-all of much of the materials we use,” Sister Corinne said.
     
  • Purchasing: Do we think before we purchase something? Can we live with what we have instead of purchasing the next, best, brightest item that seems to be calling out to us? 
     
  • Energy: Are we using renewable energy or fossil fuel energy? What are we doing to reduce our use of energy? 
     
  • Land Relationships: How are we relating to and walking on the sacred ground on which we stand?

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.


 

 

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