ADRIAN — A serious erosion problem on the Howell Road-edge of the campus of the Adrian Dominican sisters is being addressed through a variety of earthworks that aim to retain rainwater rather than divert it into drainpipes.
Using permaculture practices, a six-acre field on the northeast corner of the sisters’ land is being shaped into three basins and a series of “berms” and “swales” in order to slow down the flow of rainwater and allow the soil to absorb the tens of thousands of gallons of annual rainwater that have been cutting into the banks of a small creek, where storm drains discharge, widening it and bringing down several trees. Runoff from the creek flows to the River Raisin.
A contraction of “permanent” and “agriculture/culture,” permaculture is an Earth ethic that originated 40 years ago in Australia. Its tenets are “Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share,” according to Sr. Carol Coston, O.P., who is the coordinator of the new Office of Permaculture recently established at the campus of the Adrian Dominican sisters.
“Applying the principles of permaculture to our land is consistent with our congregation’s commitment to live simply and sustainably for the sake of the whole Earth community,” said Sr. Coston.
The Adrian Dominican sisters contracted the services of permaculture expert Peter Bane to assist them in finding more Earth-friendly ways of addressing the erosion issue. Bane is the editor of the quarterly magazine, Permaculture Activist, and a partner with Keith Johnson in Patterns of Abundance, a regional permaculture consulting practice.
“The engineered solution to drainage, which works so very well to get rainwater quickly away from the road, drives and parking lots of the Adrian Dominican campus has externalized rather than solved the problem of runoff from impervious surfaces,” Bane said. “In doing so, it has damaged the natural waterway and adjacent lands. The only hope of mitigating this ongoing damage is to retain for some hours or days some or all of the pulse of runoff generated from this expansive area of pavement, allowing it to reach the creek at a slower rate and with less attendant damage.”
A four-man crew from Patterns of Abundance, augmented by several sisters and others who, with Sr. Coston, are part of the all-volunteer campus permaculture committee, began working Monday, April 23, to reshape the contours of the field so it will accomplish this goal. The work was finished in late April.
“Today and tomorrow morning we are seeding the disturbed areas with oats, buckwheats, clover, alfalfa and similar cover crops,” said Sr. Coston, former co-director of Santuario Sisterfarm, an ecology center in the Texas hill country, and author of “Permaculture: Finding Our Own Vines and Fig Trees” (Sor Juana Press, 2003). “We also are planting herbaceous and woody perennials, including native species such as wild iris, blue false indigo, black-eyed susan and several native fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, such as elderberry, hazelnut, pawpaw and persimmon.”
The Dominican Sisters of Adrian are a congregation of about 800 vowed women religious whose roots go back to St. Dominic in the 13th century. The sisters minister in 29 states; the District of Columbia; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; and in six nations — Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Kenya, Norway and Taiwan. The sisters and nearly 200 associates are organized into eight regional mission chapters, each under the leadership of a chapter prioress.†