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Sustainability and Permaculture Update Focuses on Relationship to Earth

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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