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  • Jennifer Jewell


FOODSCAPING - with Brie Arthur. Photo courtesy of Brie Arthur, all rights reserved.


April 17 through 24, 2021 is California Native Plant Week, designated by the California State Legislature in 2010 as an annual celebration of the fantastic diversity of plants on whom this large expanse of unique and uniquely beautiful land and history rests in so many ways. The California Floristic Province is one of the Biodiversity Hot Spots on Earth and as the most populous state in the US, California also has an incredible diversity of humans making their lives here. In honor of these plants and their communities, Cultivating Place speaks this week with members of the California Native Plant Society community to chat about what CNPS is, and what it is striving to grow into more fully.

In looking back over the course of this last and many years and decades prior, there is renewed clarity and urgency around the environmental world generally having quite a bit of acknowledging and resetting to do for itself and for the greater benefit of the human and greater than human world around us. It is in that spirit that I am joined today by staff member Liv O’Keeffe senior director of public affairs for CNPS; by Cris Sarabia, Conservation Director of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and the chair of the board of the CNPS, a volunteer position; and finally, by John L. Sanders, founder and director of the Delphinus School of Natural History, who is a CNPS community member and volunteer consultant for the society in a variety of areas.

I speak the three of them this week about the ways in which CNPS is meeting this moment in time - environmentally and culturally - growing up into the future and working to face the past, present and future of who and what CNPS is and who and what they hope to be.

"Grow CARE (Cultivate, Act, Restore, Enjoy) everywhere"

- CNPS California Native Plant Week April 17 - 24, 2021

In our conversation, we discuss how each of these individual plant lovers came to this passion and care for conservancy, and a great deal about the specific actions CNPS is taking to meet this moment: the renaming of their scholarly journal formerly known as Fremontia, the ongoing Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion work at CNPS, and the BIPOC HORT group within CNPS.

Even with such a long conversation, we did not have the opportunity to address a few questions that I believe are high on the minds of CNPS members across the state.

In follow-up emails I asked Liv O'Keefe for her thoughts on two additional questions:

CP: How do the Board and Staff communicate some of this thinking, decision making down to the chapters and then individual members?

Liv O: We're a big, complex community of 35 chapters and thousands of volunteers, so communication matters. With matters of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI), we're focusing right now on internal education and sharing to build our collective understanding and alignment around these issues. That requires extra care, and we're still exploring what we need to do in addition to our standard communications practices. With every major communication initiative we develop a communications plan by audience based on the needs of each audience type and those of our organization. Right now, we're testing new approaches from interpersonal communication to large reach. This might look like small affinity groups, surveys, distributed talking points, staff and volunteer special training, and even things like changing the rules and messaging for our Facebook Group. By nature of the work, sometimes we nail it, sometimes we don't, but we always aim for a thoughtful, honest, and open process. We're talking about these issues a lot in social media and our publications. I encourage folks to subscribe to our monthly email updates, follow our social media channels (@californianativeplantsociety and @cnps), check in on our blog, and consider membership to receive our publications.

CP: There have been assertions that big funding money coming into CNPS over the years obligates them to groups whose affiliations are not in line with the core values of CNPS on these issues the JEDI group is grappling with. How is CNPS assessing and addressing such concerns going forward?

LIV O: Native plants belong to every single person in California, and everyone has a right to enjoy them and feel safe being part of our native plant community. I appreciate the people who took the time to reach out to us -- and to me personally -- with their concerns. Their input mattered and helped influence the creation of our JEDI working group and our engagement with the Avarna Group to assess JEDI issues across all aspects of our operation and organization. Specific to donations, CNPS has a gift policy in place to help prevent obligations that would conflict with our values and mission. The policy is available for those interested in reading it, and we are updating and strengthening it now. It does very specifically include stipulations that CNPS will not accept donations from "donors that operate in ways or advocate policies that are inconsistent with CNPS objectives." That said, we are also increasingly mindful of the growing ways fringe groups seek to gain legitimacy by aligning themselves with credible organizations. We have to be careful. We're focused on how to protect CNPS and the people of California's diverse native plant community from those attempts. Some of the things we'll be working on include updated values statements, codes of conduct and other potential operational practices like conference sponsorships / tabling applications to best help the organization avoid affiliation -- or even the perception of affiliation -- with racist (or otherwise unethical) causes, influential people, and organizations.

Follow along with the work of CNPS on line at:, and on and on Instagram: , Twitter, and Facebook

For a full tool kit of CNPS work around California Native Plant Week - check this out:

Please take a few minutes to watch our 1 minute inspiring kick-off video, check out our Grow CARE Everywhere landing page and events here. We've created this social media toolkit for all to use. Videos, graphics, messaging and content included! News release here.


Join us again next week when we return to the spring and closing in on Summer fever of the vegetable gardens with Scott Daigre of TOMATOMANIA! You will not want to miss his energy, expertise and love – true love of all things Solanum lycopersicum. Listen is as we heat up for summer.




This was not an easy conversation. It was and should remain, in fact, a hard one. And it is not a final statement, rather yet another opening for many more conversations of this kind in the garden and land stewardship and care communities.

For me the endurance of these three individuals humans in their spaces and with a belief that the world of environmental care and keeping can be much much bigger and better than it has been, is what I take home.

To hear the final portion of the conversation in which Chris and John and Liv summarize why they personally believe it is worthwhile to stick with improving CNPS – and many other environmental groups sticking it out through similar growing pains - despite painful and sometimes shameful faultlines – says a great deal to me.

If there are any issues here you would like to chat more about with CNPS – I urge you to reach out, and to be civil and patient and determined in continuing to reach out as you need.

If you would like to speak more with me about my own take or my positions – I can honestly say please do: I have grown more in the last five years around my understanding and vocabulary for these kinds of conversations than I would have ever dreamed – beginning with my earliest work in these arenas here on CP, leading up to The Earth in Her Hands, and to now.

I am thankful beyond measure to several bighearted Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, and Asian gardeners who have called on me, pushed me, reached out to me, shared with me, and helped me to grow greatly.

I have a lot more listening and learning and evolving to do – slowly, imperfectly – but with my whole garden heart.

FINALLY - Just a little under 1 month from now my second book Under Western Skies emerges into the world. And I'm really proud of this collaboration with photographer Caitlin Atkinson.

I hope it is clear here especially that everything I write, record, think about it is aimed at elevating the way as gardeners think about, talk about, and embody this gardening impulse and the many ways that radiates out into the world.

And I want you to hold all of those ideas in your hands with one of my two books.

Become a sustaining member of the Cultivating Place podcast community at the $10 or more recurring monthly contribution level between now and May 31st, 2021 and I will send you your very own signed copy of Under Western Skies as a thank you. If you would prefer to receive a copy of The Earth in Her Hands, please make a note of that when you set up your contribution, and I will send you that inspirational compilation instead!

Yes, no matter which book you want, you are right in calculating that your donation totals more than you’ll pay at a bookstore for either of these books, but you’ll also be investing in and voting for the ongoing production of this show and these conversations you love and value.

(If you are already a sustaining member of Cultivating Place, thank you! Look out for a separate email from us about how you can get a copy of the book.)

You listen to these conversations, you know that something deeply generative occurs when you intentionally talk and think about these plants and plant spaces and plant people that grow us:

You feel less alone.

You feel bigger and deeper.

More powerful and more hopeful.

PLEASE DONATE NOW: at the $10 or more level between now and May 31st, 2021 - keep our Cultivating Place community green and growing, AND gift yourself a beautiful book that will inspire you, engage you, and keep you company -

we all grow better together.




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