On the QT | The Official Newsletter of GWA September - October 2017 | Page 12

DIVERSITY B Y C H A N TA L A I D A G O R D O N , L E S L I E B E N N E T T A N D D E B R A P R I N Z I N G Seeking and Celebrating Diversity in the Green Industry The diversity discussion uses many terms and some are clumsy. Others are so overused that their relevance or meaning has been diluted. When we discussed including a panel about diversity (or lack thereof ) in horticulture and floriculture at the Slow Flowers Summit held July 2 in Seattle, we knew that it might be uncomfortable or awkward, but we felt it was essential. For Debra Prinzing (creator and host of the Summit), a white woman whose spouse of 32 years is black, adding the subject to the one-day floral industry conference allowed her to delve into a highly personal topic in a pro- fessional forum. The panel continued an earlier roundtable discussion from last year at Detroit Flower Week about lack of representation in the floral industry. Chantal Aida Gordon, cofounder of thehor- ticult.com blog and coauthor of the forthcom- ing book How to Window Box, (Clarkson Potter, 2018), agreed to moderate. Leslie Bennett, owner of Oakland, California-based Pine House Edible Gardens and coauthor of The Beautiful Edible Garden (Ten Speed Press, 2013), joined the panel along with Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes, a Seattle horticulturist, educator and blogger as well as Nicole Cordier Wahlquist, a floral de- signer from Grace Flowers Hawaii, with whom Riz has collaborated. Rather than focusing on diversity as the word du jour, the panelists broadened the discussion with terms such as representation, equity and inclusivity. Chantal began the presentation with this challenge: “We’re all plant people, so we’re doers. We’re going to talk about concrete things that we can do . . . to make our work more vibrant and inclusive and more inviting to this world that we are all part of and to meet even more clients and more collaborators and elevate our own work to new heights.” 12 this is that some of the big opportunities for change rest in the hands of media deci- sion-makers and mainstream institutions to seek a more inclusive world rather than on the shoulders of underrepresented groups. From left: Chantal Aida Gordon, Leslie Bennett, Riz Reyes and Nicole Cordier Wahlquist participated in a panel on diversity at the SLOW Flowers summit in June in Seattle. D I V E R S E PA NEL, AUD IENCE Each of the four presenters shared their unsung horticulture heroes and garden legends with the mostly white audience at the Slow Flowers Summit. Chantal wanted the audience to see faces of famous and not-so- famous persons of color—horticulturists and designers who deserve greater recognition in the mainstream. While symbolic, the images prompted further discussion about gardening, design and floristry gatekeepers. Chantal singled out writer Jamaica Kincaid, author of My Garden (Book); Leslie highlighted novelist Alice Walker, author of In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and Los Angeles floral designer Maurice Harris (@bloomandplume on Instagram). Riz credited topiary genius Pearl Fryar and prizewinning dahlia grower Cora Slecther, his childhood mentor; Nicole singled out her first floral industry employer Jim Yoshi- hara and her friend and collaborator Riz Reyes. The big question, “How can the green indus- try be more representative of society?” sparked many in the audience to respond with ideas about expanding horticulture to be more inclusive. And the conclusion that many took from LES S O N S F RO M LO N G AGO We hope that solid, practical ideas for mak- ing change will inspire others to act in their own circles of influence. For example, James Baggett, who served as master of ceremonies at the Summit and is a longtime garden editor, now at Better Homes & Gardens, recalled his efforts in the mid-1980s. As a young science editor at Scholastic Inc., it bothered him that there were no editors of color at the publish- ing company. “At the time, the president of Scholastic was a former Time Inc., executive named Steve Sweat. I said to him one day, ‘Out of all of our very small staff for all 42 magazines we publish, there isn’t a single person of color, although half our readers are students of color, so what on earth are we doing?’ We didn’t even know what we could be doing to reach and be more effective with our classroom audiences.” James’ boss responded, “Let’s do something about it.” The desire to address inequality at Scholastic—and across the journalism profession—led to the company’s minority internship program. “It was tough getting it off the ground and at first we only had a couple of interns, but those who participated went on to jobs at much bigger companies,” James recalled. “And after about four or five years, we hired one of our first interns through the program to join the magazine staff. What was fascinating to me was, yes, talking the talk is one thing; but walking the walk is another and actually trying to implement and effect change became the harder part.”