Living Lightly on Earth
at Santuario Sisterfarm

- by Lori Golaszewski

Deep in the heart of Texas Hill Country is a sanctuary devoted to cultivating cultural diversity and biodiversity, and to living in right relationship with the Earth. Santuario Sisterfarm is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 and co-directed by Adrian Dominican Sister Carol Coston, OP, and novice Elise García. Together, they created a place in south central Texas where people of different cultures are welcomed and respected, and where all life forms are reverenced.

Sisterfarm is a place of hospitality, and all are welcome to take part in its programs and to learn how Sisterfarm is carrying out its mission of living lightly on Earth. Recycling, composting, conserving water and energy, and practicing permaculture, which creates sustainable ways to grow food, are a few of the ways Sisterfarm is achieving its goal. Tours are offered so that visitors can see firsthand what sustainable living entails.

Sister Carol Coston has been an avid gardener ever since she can remember. She is happy to share with others her vision of living a "green life."

"We recycle, so we have four compost bins and four worm bins going all the time," Sister Carol noted. "We have two buckets in the kitchen for fruits and vegetables for composting, so we don't throw anything away that can be part of recycling and contributing to soil fertility. We have a special container for coffee grounds, and we put egg shells on top of the toaster so that when we make toast, it dries the egg shells so that they can be ground into grist for the worms. We cover the gardens with a year-round mulch that not only conserves moisture, but as it breaks down, it adds more organic material to the soil. We also have composting toilets. We try to talk to guests about the spirituality of living in right relationships with Earth's gifts by conserving water, soil, and energy, and by being mindful of seasonal changes in Texas and the impact they have on growing."

Aside from tours, Sisterfarm also offers workshops and programs geared toward women that enable them to reconnect with the Earth, their spirituality and themselves. As part of the Latinas in the Borderlands Program, for instance, which is geared toward Latina women, past workshops focused on healing energy and medicinal herbs.

Santuario Sisterfarm focuses on cultivating cultural diversity and biodiversity, as Elise García demonstrates.

"Ever since we moved here, we've been very conscious that we are in the midst of a predominantly Mexican-American culture and that historically, what we call Texas is really Mexico," Sister Carol noted. "Elise's father is of Spanish descent and she grew up in Mexico and spoke Spanish, and I had the experience of living in Puerto Rico and studying in the Dominican Republic during the summers. So we've been very conscious and respectful of differences."

Through Sor Juana Press, Santuario Sisterfarm has published four books on Earth spirituality written by Dominican women, a collection of essays on engaging impasse in church and society, and a book sharing pathways to leadership by women of color. A seventh book is due out in September, chronicling the remarkable story and healing ways of a Nicaragua-born healer/curandera named Zelima Xochiquetzal, co-written by Elise and Zelima. Helen Prejean, CSJ, endorses the book, noting that it reads "like a riveting and magical work of fiction - an allegory for the suffering on Earth." (Visit www.sisterfarm.org for ordering information.)

Sisterfarm has a composting bin for recycling kitchen wastes such as fruit and vegetable peels/rinds, coffee grounds and egg shells.

Given that there's so much to see and learn at Sisterfarm, Sister Carol said the best way to share what Sisterfarm is doing is to have people visit. "If there's anything we've learned here that can be shared - this notion of how to live a 'green life,' if you will - we're willing to share it, and learn from others."

She added that "it's fulfilling to live out my lifelong interest in creating replicable models of organically grown food as an alternative to the wasteful practice of trucking vegetables all across the country that could be grown locally. The wonder of looking at a tiny seed and seeing it progress into a beautiful vegetable is such a direct experience of the mystery of the whole creative process that's around us. This is an environment that gives me life, and makes me feel at home. I'm so grateful for the support of the Ministry Trust and the encouragement of the Congregation."