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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.
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.
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.”
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.