Creating a Pattern Language of Wellness and Sustainability


What do forest gardens and peer run recovery centers have in common?
• Both are innovative ideas
• Both are phrases that help us envision new patterns and possibilities

On forest gardens [1. Forest gardens are also called food forests or edible forests. The word forest garden was first used by Robert A deJ. Hart in his 1996 book Forest Gardening. Another resource on forest gardens is the two volume set Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. This set is detailed but expensive. You may want to try your public library.]
Recently, while in Helena, Montana I visited the future home of the city’s Forest Garden.[2. A number of cities are planning Forest Gardens. Here is a link to an article on Helena’s Forest Garden: ] This will be a public park planted with food producing trees and shrubs that can be foraged by the citizens of Helena. Pears, plums, raspberries, and currants are all on the menu. This is such a good idea that it is hard to understand why it took so long to think of it. Until now, the cultural norm for public parks and gardens has dictated planting non-edibles. As we look at the increasing lack of real food for many of our citizens it is time for a change. The phrase “a forest garden” creates the idea that a forest or park can be a place of sustenance and feed hungry community members.

On peer run recovery centers for individuals with mental health issues [3. See the National Empowerment Center’s website for more information on peer run centers ]
Peer run recovery centers highlight two ideas that would have been unthinkable not long ago: the idea that people with a mental health diagnosis could ever be well or recover; and the idea that those same individuals could be employed to help others. Peers helping peers has been an accepted practice in many other fields from cancer survivors to domestic violence to individuals with disabilities; but it took a little longer for the mental health field to catch up. There has been a dramatic shift in thinking and we now know that peers provide a powerful message of hope and a model of recovery for others.

Language alone did not create these innovative ideas, but naming them appropriately helps others understand them quickly and rally behind them.

A pattern language [4. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is a detailed description of architectural ideas and solutions to creating livable cities and communities. My ideas about a pattern language are loosely drawn from his concept.]is an idea first described by Christopher Alexander about the field of architecture, but it can be applied in many situations. A pattern language creates the words and phrases that help us see the larger picture and possible solutions to problems.

A pattern language includes:
-Having a sense of the positive outcomes we want to achieve: a healthy planet,
wellness, recovery, sustainability, availability of healthy food for all
-Paying attention to how all the parts of a system are connected.
For example: people are hungry and parks have lots of space to grow food or people who are living well with a mental health diagnosis probably have insights they can share with others
-Creating words and phrases that identify or suggest the solutions within them. This
is important. Language that creates a clear idea of solutions helps us stretch
toward that point.

Here is a mindfulness language game to try as we create a pattern language of sustainability and wellness:
-Identify some words and concepts that contribute to solutions of personal and
planetary healing and are meaningful for you
-It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with one word or phrase.
-Commit to talking with people about the idea and using it more in conversation.

Here is my short list of personal and planetary words:
-workplace mindfulness
-interspecies connectedness
-urban agriculture
-rooftop gardens
-unplugged day
-home cooked meals
-a 10+ vegetable day
-dinner and conversation with friends
-homes and gardens for all
-judgment free day

Please share your ideas for words and phrases that should be part of our pattern language.



  1. shari
    January 30, 2014

    Forest garden. Cool. Love the idea!

  2. Jeanne
    January 30, 2014

    It is amazing to think that “public gardens” have not fed anyone before! When we design our home gardens often there is a lovely composite of both decorative and edible gardens. Forest gardens sound like they are just the tip of the iceberg for creating sustainability and feeding those in need. Brilliant!
    Can’t wait to read next months article!


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