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Cultivating Diverse Communities

Weaving together the parallel challenges of cultivating diverse human communities and diverse plant communities in today’s urban spaces

Recorded on April 8th, 2021

Presented by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

In this session, we’ll look at some of the patterns that many of us are working from and how they relate to challenges and roadblocks we often encounter.

Much like starting a new garden by observing the existing conditions and the life of the space, then tending to the soil health with the help of plants, fungi and other life, then adding the core species and inviting more diverse life to join in as the system matures, nurturing a community is a process.

We’ll also look at what conditions are required for diverse community to thrive and some ideas for helping to seed those communities and support them through their early stages of growth.

This talk will draw on ideas explored by Maya Birdsong in her book How We Show Up and of Martín Prechtel in his book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic, both of which I highly recommend, among a few other teachers and authors.

-A recommended resources list will be included with this presentation.

This is the sixth session in the SOUL series on The Role of Horticulture in Cultivating Social and Land Equity.

The sessions build off of each other, so in addition to registering to attend this session and the related discussion, we highly recommend checking out the recordings of the previous five sessions, which can be found at the links below.

Books/ audio books that directly influenced the content of this session:

Mia Birdsong


After almost every presentation activist and writer Mia Birdsong gives to executives, think tanks, and policy makers, one of those leaders quietly confesses how much they long for the profound community she describes. They have family, friends, and colleagues, yet they still feel like they're standing alone. They're "winning" at the American Dream, but they're lonely, disconnected, and unsatisfied.

It seems counterintuitive that living the "good life"--the well-paying job, the nuclear family, the upward mobility--can make us feel isolated and unhappy. But in a divided America, where only a quarter of us know our neighbors and everyone is either a winner or a loser, we've forgotten the key element that helped us make progress in the first place: community. In this provocative, ground-breaking work, Mia Birdsong shows that what separates us isn't only the ever-present injustices built around race, class, gender, values, and beliefs, but also our denial of our interdependence and need for belonging. In response to the fear and discomfort we feel, we've built walls, and instead of leaning on each other, we find ourselves leaning on concrete.

Martín Prechtel

The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive

Martín Prechtel’s experiences growing up on a Pueblo Indian reservation, his years of apprenticing to a Guatemalan shaman, and his flight from Guatemala’s brutal civil war to life in the U.S. inform this lyrical blend of memoir, cultural commentary, and spiritual call to arms. The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic is both an epic story and a cry to the heart of humanity based on the author’s realization that human survival depends on keeping alive the seeds of our “original forgotten spiritual excellence.”

Tyson Yunkaporta

Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World

As an indigenous person, Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from a unique perspective, one tied to the natural and spiritual world. In considering how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation, he raises important questions. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?

In this thoughtful, culturally rich, mind-expanding book, he provides answers. Yunkaporta’s writing process begins with images. Honoring indigenous traditions, he makes carvings of what he wants to say, channeling his thoughts through symbols and diagrams rather than words. He yarns with people, looking for ways to connect images and stories with place and relationship to create a coherent world view, and he uses sand talk, the Aboriginal custom of drawing images on the ground to convey knowledge.

Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About Race

Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy — from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans— has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair — and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

Harold R. Johnson

Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

(This book goes far beyond the justice system and speaks to systemic issues and about what creates health and harm in communities)

Some of the teachings and teachers who have influenced the content and shape of this series:

Robin Wall Kimmerer


Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (the longest chapter of this book is about a landscaping project)

- Both are available in print, e-book and audiobook format

Mary Siisip Geniusz

Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings

adrienne maree brown

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (I highly recommend reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler before reading this book)

Tom Porter

And Grandma Said... Iroquois Teachings

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s many books and talks 

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies

This Accident of Being Lost

Dancing on Our Turtle's Back

The Gift is in the Making

Online Resources

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s CBC Ideas episode: The Brilliance of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World 

This CBC Doc Project episode How WIBCA's Helping White Folks 

Braiding Corn – Cultural Appropriation & Entitlement (On not taking what isn’t offered to us)

Rowen White Farmer, seedkeeper, garden mentor, published author, creative intuitive, mother, wife, orator and storyteller, facilitator and strategic leadership guide, and lifelong learner You can also find her teachings on Facebook

Joce Two Crows Tremblay, an Earth Worker with the Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle in Toronto.

They participated in this panel discussion 

And some of their current work is described here 

Siwook Hwang Dangers of Scarcity Axiom: Unpacking the ideological baggage of ecology and environmental sciences

Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL)
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