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  • Helms Jarrell

Companion Planting



There is a beloved garden relationship coveted by any green thumb. "The Three Sisters," made up of corns, beans, and squash, are three crops that complement each other in the garden as well as nutritionally. When grown in proximity to one another, these three plants provide nutrients as well as infrastructure to each other. A good gardener, who knows the plants well, implements a design strategy utilizing the assets of complementary crops. This is called "companion planting."

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes a delightful essay on "The Three Sisters" in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. In it, she writes,

"The organic symmetry of shapes speak their message. Respect one another, support one another, bring your gifts to the world and receive the gifts of others, and there will be enough for all.
Of all the wise teachers who have come into my life, none are more eloquent than these, who wordlessly in leaf and vine embody the knowledge of relationship. Alone, a bean is just a vine, squash an oversize leaf. Only when standing together with cord does a whole emerge which transcends the individual. The fits of each are more fully expressed when they are nurtured together than alone. In ripe ears ans swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going."

We can learn something from the gardener's practice of companion planting. A wise gardener knows how the sun, soil, waters, and plants relate to one another. Wise ones work to facilitate collective meaning that transcends individual perspective and experience.*


* Questions for reflection for Organizational leaders and Artists Change Agents:

  • In what ways does your work reflect purposeful relationship among stakeholders and participants?

  • How is the topic explored in your work relevant to the community?

  • When it comes to communal meaning, partnerships, and interdependence, what is the good news you need to share? Are there stories of inspiration you need to tell? Are there connections you need to uplift?

  • How does your work afford participants access to collective expression, engagement, and/or reflection?

  • How does your work enhance people's ability to see intersections and make connections?

  • How has complexity been embraced?

  • How might your choices inadvertently undermine engagement or dialogue?

  • Does the work elicit the stories, images, and perspectives of multiple individuals or stakeholders and provide them with opportunities to discuss and make sense of them collectively?

*Questions for reflection for individuals

  • Who are your "Three Sisters?" Have you told them?

  • Which roles do you play in the relationship? (ex: shade, structure, nurture, beauty)

  • How can you celebrate with ritual or prayer your three sisterhood?


*helpful resource: Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change



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