The Meaning of Diversity

Diversity manifests and gets suppressed in a multitude of ways. As we enter June we celebrate Pride Month commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which took place June 28 1969; the queer community rose up against the oppression they faced for deviating from the norm. If we take a look at our present Anthropocene age we see that we are living through one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth, an unprecedented loss of genetic diversity as we sit on the cusp of beginning to understand it’s true value. 

As we look at our Canadian Prairies we can see a rich, critically important ecosystem that supports hundreds of specially-adapted plant, mammal, bird, and reptile species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world; the next field over you can see 100’s of acres of monoculture crops or intense grazing operations which have reduced the aforementioned ecosystems to 25% of their original size. Permaculture holds diversity sacred and so places “Use and Value Diversity” among the 12 principles of permaculture. It lends itself to the phrase “not putting all your eggs in one basket”. Whether the system we are designing is a food producing forest, the structure of our hardworking team, or the socio-economic system we all participate in, we at Spruce Permaculture do our best to include as many different skill sets, perspectives, ideas, and personalities in the conversation. 

Diverse Systems are Beautiful, Productive, and Resilient

Diversity comes in all forms, colours, shapes, and sizes but what it offers us is much more than what meets the eye. For example let us look at the coral reefs. Coral reefs are unquestionably stunning, filled with an array of species so broad it ranks highest for biodiversity of any ecosystem on the planet. Not only are these the ocean’s most diverse systems, they are also the most productive. Though they take up less than 1% of of the ocean floor reefs are home to more than 25% of ocean life! Why is this? The reason is density, and the reason for that density: diversity. When 2 unique elements in a system meet, say the picturesque pairing of an anemone and a clownfish, what you can have happen is the emergence of something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The two keep one another safe and much more, allowing their mutual success as a result of the higher order functions they are able to accomplish collectively. Furthermore the yields they produce increase, thus creating and bettering the environment for other beings to exist. This process also results in innovations, deviations from the norm if you will, which compound growth and amplify life exponentially despite its origins in a rather nutrient-impoverished place. More niches are created, more roles are filled, and new adjacent possibilities are generated. What emerges is a hyper-complex system of interactions between innumerable elements which all contribute to the health of the whole. 

This takes us to the second immense benefit with which diversity endows us: resilience. When the web of interactions overlaps and stacks redundancies, wherein multiple elements of a system can fill the niche roles required for the survival of others, those other elements are secure in knowing that if one provider disappears others will be able to step up to the plate.  Ironically in the case of our coral reefs, the system is build on the infrastructure services of corals alone which means that as the climate changes and the oceans warm not only will the corals die but the entire coral reef ecosystem will collapse in result. However we are finding that within corals there is also diversity and some heat tolerant species may provide reason for hope.

Diversity in Our Backyard

Our world may not be valuing its diversity to the degree it should but each of us has the capacity to embrace it in our lives and in our interactions with the spaces we occupy. We can celebrate the diversity of people, experiences, species, and perspectives. This weekend we spent a lovely weekend at the OFRE: Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton Orchard with the inaugural edition of Queers in the Orchard! We celebrated our social diversity while increasing the diversity of life in our additions of strawberries, asparagus, onions, and an assortment of perennial flowers. We also had a diverse range of people from our MLA Janis Irwin, the Edmonton Permaculture Guild, OFRE, Prarie North Cider, and multiple families and community members connecting, perhaps sowing the seeds for higher order function collaborations in the future.


We can observe and interact (another permaculture principle) and by doing so come to understand the depth of value diversity provides us. In our gardens we can plant a plethora of hardy, edible plants that will grow together as a forest helping one another attract pollinators and repel pests while providing nutrients and suitable microclimates for success. If you are looking to create spaces like this we can get you on the right track with a consultation, design, or project implementation.

Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance

- Toby Hemenway

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