Did you know that certain plants grown close together become helpmates? It’s true. In healthy plant communities, good companions with diverse needs and abilities support each other for maximum health. But it isn’t just plants that thrive best when grown together, people do too!
The Wisdom in Companion Planting
Planting a garden that utilizes the strengths of each plant to form a healthy plant community is called Companion Planting, and it is an effective and sustainable way to grow a thriving garden. Within these plant communities, each plant plays a special role in improving the overall well-being of the neighborhood. For example, one plant might add nutrients into the soil, another might draw helpful insects into the area, and another might ward off pests.
Native Americans applied this knowledge in the planting of their three main crops called the “Three Sisters”— corn, beans, and squash. The beans find support as they grow up the corn stalks. In return, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, feeding the corn. The broad leaves of the fast-growing squash shade out weeds that would otherwise compete for limited nutrients. The three support each other.
At Madison Fields, we are applying nature’s lesson in Companion Planting to the building of a community of people wherein all members are fed, supported, and valued so that each can achieve their optimum potential.
The Three Sisters
(source: Popular Mechanics)
Companion Planting shows strength in diversity
The first principle to understand in the building of a healthy community is the importance of diversity. Monoculture is the practice of planting only one kind of plant. Although this practice maximizes efficiency in the near term, it ultimately renders the whole crop susceptible to disease, pests, irregular weather events, and quickly depletes soil nutrients.
As we grow in understanding of ourselves and others, we recognize that our particular needs and skills vary from person to person. In a society that idealizes efficiency, however, this human reality is lost in a barrage of one-size-fits-all systems of organization that tend to value certain skills over others and leave some needs unattended to. Not only does this degrade the overall quality of life within our society, but it also marginalizes those whose needs or skills fall too far outside the established efficiency model. Efficiency is only worthwhile inasmuch as it yields a greater quality of life.
The current outcomes for adults with autism indicate that they are representative of a marginalized segment of our community. They are casualties of our efficiency model. 87% of these adults continue to live with their aging parents. Only 14% will hold a paid job in their community. Fewer than half will be invited to a social activity by a friend in the year after they age out of the school system. The lack of integration with society amounts to an annual $300 billion national economic burden. These outcomes are certainly not healthy for those with different needs and abilities, nor is it healthy for our community.
In order for a community to fully integrate individuals with highly diverse needs and skills to attain maximum well-being, it is necessary to embrace an interdependent model of community made up of diverse members who are committed to cultivating an environment of full participation, without exception.
The second principle of Growing Together is to foster full participation. Despite the different challenges we each face, we all have potential that can be unlocked given the right support. At Madison fields, we feel it is vital to make space for each person to become their best self, whatever that might be.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.” The tragedy of the failure of integrating our friends with different needs and skillsets into society is that we may be denying them a “why.” Providing opportunities for everyone to explore and discover their particular interests and learn new skills is critical for full participation in society. Not only does it help people recognize the value they have to offer, but it reveals that value to the rest of the community. Communities that are committed to cultivating purpose will identify how best to apply each person’s special interest and skill for the mutual benefit of the individual and the group.
When we invite others to fully participate, we are all lifted up. Just as recognizing and fully utilizing the special attributes of corn, squash, and beans allow us to cultivate our garden in ways that return better yields, we as a community will be rewarded with an abundant harvest when we identify and honor the roles we are each made to play in our shared life.
We know that it takes adequate levels of sunlight, water, and nutrient-rich soil for plants to thrive. We cannot simply provide more water to make up for the lack of sunlight- all these needs must be attended to. Similarly, people require a healthy balance in various areas of their life to achieve the greatest well-being. Connection with self, the community, and the environment is essential to healing and health.
By providing opportunities to learn new skills and contribute, Madison Fields hopes to foster increased confidence, self-esteem, and independence. In addition, our on-site therapeutic and educational programs aim to help each person become their best self.
An interdependent community of people who are working toward a shared vision fosters an environment of trust and belonging. It is within this environment that meaningful relationships can be forged and where a sense of belonging can deepen.
Finally, safe and easy access to beautiful natural spaces and farm animals provide opportunities for people to connect with the natural world in ways that may be difficult for some to do with other people. The relationships built with the land and animals can nurture curiosity, reduce anxiety, and provide a greater sense of independence.
We Grow Together
At Madison Fields, we believe in the power of Growing Together. As we move forward in the coming months and years toward the realization of our vision of community, we hope to share the lessons and knowledge we gain with others who are wanting to grow with us. With nature as our guide and love in our hearts, we are excited to realize our potential. We invite you to join us as we build a better future.
Jonathan is a resident filmmaker, artist, and storyteller who uses his talents to help people reimagine what the world could be. He loves being a part of the Madison Fields community and is looking forward growing with it.