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Centering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Summit Planning

Planning the Growing School Gardens Summit  has provided an exciting opportunity to develop a conference culture that’s intentional around the intersection of equity, diversity and inclusion and school gardens. The conference planning committee has been on a journey during this process, striving to incorporate this intention through each step along the way. The planning team aspires to create a space to gather people in a way that ensures they feel recognized, heard and supported. As reflected in this study, we know that equity, inclusion, or diversity are not consistently and meaningfully reflected in Environmental Education (including garden-based education) organizational structures. The planning committee is also exploring opportunities at the conference to examine the role of school gardens in building a more liberated system. There is much to learn and grow toward in collective school garden work, and the summit hopes to address equity, diversity and inclusion directly and meaningfully. 

Wanda Stewart, Executive Director of Common Vision has been helping to lead this work on the planning committee. Stewart shared “Every effort has been made to be very intentional about all of the ways to incorporate and ensure a well-rounded (conference) culture through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion – from planners, presenters and participants to well-curated programming and perks! It’s going to be fun…and transformative.” An example of this is prioritizing 100 scholarships to Black, Indigenous, Latinx and people of color and young professionals as well as consideration of other identities and life experiences that are often underrepresented in the field of garden education. Stewart is hopeful planning efforts will pay off by allowing for “lots of deeply diverse gardeners of all sorts (to) converge and consider growing, and all of us will come to know and hold one another. It is a blessing to be a part of such crafting magic!”

Intention is being set to hold space at the summit to ensure participants can explore their own journey around understanding or experiencing racial inequities, and connect with one another. The summit registration prompts, ““We want the summit to feel authentically inclusive and engaging for everyone. What would you most like to see included as part of the summit programming?” Answers to this question will inform planning in an ongoing way. Whitney Cohen, Education Director at Life Lab who is working with Stewart on the planning committee, shared the goal to “develop shared agreements that can be built upon at the summit” to help ensure participants are heard and respected throughout the summit experience. Efforts have been made to highlight perspectives of school garden advocates in Denver through a local summit planning committee. This committee will share valuable perspectives by offering summit participants opportunities to learn about local traditions through school gardens, and hear from local racial justice leaders. 

At the summit, 30%+ of the workshops will address “Centering our Work in Justice, Access, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion”. This theme focuses on how school garden practitioners can best serve all of their students and colleagues and learn about how to disrupt systems of oppression within their workplaces and teaching. Topics include culturally responsive garden curriculum, affinity groups, hiring practices to reflect the populations being served, and supporting diverse learners. Summit participants can attend sessions like  “Fostering Equitable and Inclusive School Gardening Programs” focusing on ensuring programming is culturally relevant to students from diverse backgrounds and that students can share their unique experiences to learn from each other. The “Teaching the Social Justice Standards through the School Garden” session will explore the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice: Social Justice Standards and how they can be reinforced through lessons in the school garden. Additional session topics cover restorative justice and tracing roots from ancestral land stewardship to examine how food is a through line of knowledge and sustainment from generation to generation.

Holding space to slow down during the planning process has been key, as has been learning to acknowledge when to try a new approach that is more inclusive of differing perspectives. Though this work can be messy and can make for uncomfortable learning opportunities, the planning committee is excited to see the results of their efforts. Wanda Stewart, a self described “conference junkie” shares she is most excited to “meet all of the people…who like to geek out over plants and kids and saving the world in school gardens, too! I believe that my hopes for humans will be re-generated just like the healthy soil we know that we must build.”