Earth Keepers

NMU EK student team laughing/chatting in front of NMU sign.

With trays of native plants in their protective arms and on the frigid wings of an Alberta Clipper, the dramatic arrival of three Ojibwa women caused heads to turn as a winter blast blew through the doors near the end of a Marquette press conference announcing an Interfaith Energy Conservation and Community Garden Initiative.

Even Bishop Baraga may have been impressed with the risky modern-day winter storm trek by Anishinaabe bearing gifts from the city that bears his name.

Roman Catholic and Lutheran Bishops greeted the trio to the EarthKeepers II news conference inside the warm pavilion at the the heart of one of Marquette’s best-known environmental wonders – Presque Isle that is all but surrounded by Lake Superior.

In 2004, the bishops were among 10 religious community leaders who signed the northern Michigan Earth Keeper Covenant pledging to actively participate in environment projects, build bridges with other faiths and reach out to Native American communities.

Community gardens will sprout with plants that are indigenous to the U.P. from seeds grown in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) solar-powered greenhouse built in cooperation with the USFS and CTI ñin 2010  and believed to be the first on tribal lands east of the Mississippi.

Native plants and vegetable gardens ñ with at least two in each U.P. county ñ will be grown at or near churches and temples.

ìWe brought some of our native plants and medicines, the sweet grass is for smudging, and sweet fern that isa medicine in our sweat lodges and the flowers are native and brings all the good animals, said Charlotte Loonsfoot, KBIC Natural Resources Committee chairwoman.

ìThe greenhouse is doing wonderfully ñ its smells like life in there ñ all green,î said Loonsfoot who drove for two hours on icy roads in the snowstorm to attend the news event.

The two-year interfaith environment project includes 30 community gardens and energy conservation audits at 40 Upper Peninsula houses of worship to help congregations identity ways to reduce pollution and save money on  utility bills, said Kyra Fillmore Ziomkowski, EarthKeepers II Project Coordinator

ìWhether it be a a vegetable garden, a healing garden, a meditation garden, a herb garden, or a native plants garden – we are hoping the gardens can bring people closer to God’s creation by working in the earth,î Ziomkowski said.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has long been concerned about the loss of about one-third of the U.S. Pollinators. Native plants that bees and butterflies depend on are being pushed out of the ecosystem by nonnative invasive species.

Jan Schultz presentation at Press Conference.

Some of the invasive species like popular honeysuckles are pretty and feed birds in rural churchyards and homes ñ but are a big problem as they spread uncontrolled in the woods forcing out the indigenous plants that pollinators need.

The native plant community gardens will be important to ìnative pollinators that require them and tend them,î said Jan Schultz, head botanist for the USFS Eastern office in Milwaukee.

ìIt looks like such a small thing but it really isn’t,î said Schultz, the leader of the USFS Region 9 non-native invasive species and special forest products programs.

ìThese small native gardens serve as the pollinator source for the vegetable garden ñ not just in that churchyard but in the neighborhood and that really is a delightful thing,î Schultz said.

Grants of up to $1,000 each will be given to make the energy conservation repairs in the houses of worship thanks to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Congregations will be given information on energy conservation kits and utility company rebates to lower household bills, said Doug Russell, EarthKeepers II technical partner and executive director of Delta Green, a nonprofit corporation.

ìOne of the unfortunate byproducts of energy production is pollution and by being able to increase their efficiencies, the churches will be contributing to less energy production and less pollution,î Russell said.

Hosting the press event were Northern Michigan University (NMU) EarthKeepers II Student Team members Katelin Bingner, Tom  Merkel and Adam Magnuson. The autonomous NMU students are planning their own environmental projects and will help with the community garden projects.

Key partners include the EPA, USFS, nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute (CTI) in Marquette and Delta Green, a Marquette nonprofit corporation.

EarthKeepers II is sponsored by 10 faith traditions: Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Bah·’Ì, Unitarian Universalist and Zen Buddhist.

Like many U.P. Anishinaabe, the Marquette Zen Buddhist community sees an urgency for mankind to fix the damage it has done to the planet.

ìMother Earth is increasingly imperiled by our willful ignorance and our heedless lack of careî because ìthe hour is late and this is vital work,î said Rev. Tesshin Paul Lehmberg, head priest at Lake Superior Zendo, a Zen Buddhist temple in Marquette.

ìWe are in denial, and we must re-set our course – the fate of humanity depends upon it,î Rev. Lehmberg said. ìThe Buddha taught the urgency of awakening, and part of our awakening is surely not to avert our gaze from what lies directly before us – our home planet.î

Lake Superior Zendo pledges ìto work hand in hand with our fellow signatories in re-setting our course,î Lehmberg said.

The Jewish community has holidays like  Tu Bishvat and Tikkun olam ñ which means “repairing the world” or “healing the world.”

ìWe have several holidays that celebrate that stewardship and command us really to  honor the earth and take care of the earth,î said Helen Grossman who was joined by her husband Dr. Michael Grossman at the news conference, both representing Jewish Temple Beth Sholom, a Synagogue in Ishpeming.

ìTu Bishvat starts in February and is a time for planting of trees in Israel and setting aside money for food for the poor,î she said.

ìIt seems very, very appropriate that this project EarthKeepers II will be planting community gardens – which will be contributing to food pantries ñ so it really seems to fit quite well with the tradition we have in Judaismî

ìIts wonderful to see the young people involved in this project,î Grossman said.

For ìall the faith communitiesî stewardship of the earth and fellow humans is ìwhat we are about,î said Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes, Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

ìStewardship is importantî for future generations like the ìwonderful nature and the wonderful opportunities that have been given to us,î Skrenes said.

Bishop Skrenes said the U.P. Lutheran community pledges ìtheir support and encouragementî to EarthKeepers II ìas we do stewardship on the banks of Lake Superiorî

ìClearly the youth of our communities have a great concern and a great love for the beauty of creation and all the rich natural resources that God has provided for us,î said Bishop Alexander K. Sample of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette.

Gesturing to the NMU students, Bishop Sample said he is impressed and touched by the involvement of youth in environmental projects.

ìI am very very happy and honored to be part again of the Earth Keepers Initiativeî as it is ìsort of resurrected and gets a new life,î Sample said.

The environment and faith movements are critical joint efforts because ìwe can actually touch and make a difference in the world,î said Michigan Tech Prof. Nancy Auer, representing Bishop Rayford Ray of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan who was attending a U.P. peace and justice conference.

EarthKeepers II is the next phase of the Earth Keeper Initiative that held three Earth Day Clean Sweeps involving 150 churches/temples plus planted 12,000 White Spruce and Red Pine trees during the summer of 2009 that saw several severe forest fires across the U.P., said Lutheran Rev. Jon Magnuson, CTI executive director.

The U.P. Earth Keeper Clean Sweep events (2005-2007) involved free Earth Day collection sites across a 400-mile area of northern Michigan.

Over 15,000 residents turned in nearly 400 tons of hazardous waste:

320 tons of e-waste (old computers/cell phones), 45 tons of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) including car batteries, oil-based paint, pesticides, liquid mercury, and other common poisons; and over one ton of pharmaceuticals including $500,000 in narcotics.

The hazardous waste was either recycled or properly disposed.

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