Reaping the Benefits of Diversity
"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace." — May Sarton
I am in the midst of what will be my best year in the garden ever. Even if everything got wiped out by a storm or a swarm tomorrow, this still will be a more productive year than any I've ever had. A more beautiful year. A more fruitful year. The abundance of flowers and vegetables at this moment makes every bit of sweaty work worth it.
But there's a lot more to harvest from a garden than the physical fruits of your labor. If you pay attention, the garden has an abundance of lessons, hundreds of ways of reflecting simple truths.
Today, while I was taking a break from pulling weeds, sitting back and admiring the view, I was stricken in a new way by something that I noticed when I first started gardening more than a decade ago: Diversity feeds life.
In the garden, that means diversity of species—plant and animal alike. Diverse plants placed in smart proximity help each other grow better. Diverse populations of bees, wasps and other pollinators provide the necessary cross-pollination to help plants reproduce, to help fruits and vegetables make… fruits and vegetables. Spiders and earthworms in the dirt; bees, butterflies, birds and bats above.
As goes the garden, so goes the world.
Most simply, we know that biological diversity is one key to survival. Anything that gets too niche, too specialized, is just one small disaster away from extinction. Think, potato famine. In the 1840s, potato blight wiped out potato crops across Europe, and its impact in Ireland was particularly dire, as such a large percentage of the population was dependent on the potato. Millions died or emigrated away from Ireland in that time period.
Culturally, too, diversity is one key to success. On a very small scale, for example, companies that embrace diversity tend to be more successful. McKinsey research analyzed 366 public companies and found that those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians.
As individuals, we are more successful when we embrace diversity. In our businesses, we are more successful when we embrace diversity. As communities, we are more successful when we embrace diversity. As a country, we will always be more successful when we recognize that we are not all the same, and that is a good thing.
Parks and recreation professionals have long been devoted to ensuring that everyone has access to the services they provide, the places they fill with activity and the communities they create. Social equity is one of the central pillars of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The work has been challenging, and it is ongoing. And now is the time to continue that push. Like gardens, parks can be a microcosm—reflecting our successes and failures back at us.
So, tell me: What do you do in your community to help reach out to the underserved and the marginalized? How do you think the industry should continue to push forward to ensure that people of all backgrounds and beliefs feel like they have a place to play, to grow, to be active and to engage?