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On Gardenism with William Rosenzweig

A conversation with gardener, social entrepreneur, and venture investor William Rosenzweig about the ethics of care in the private and public spheres. Songs in this episode: “Bourée” by Jethro Tull and “A Lotus On Irish Streams” by Mahavishnu Orchestra.

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In title opinions clad in the light of a pulsed star piercing the darkness.
Here at the still point of the turning world we bring you the old as well as new
conicals of love.
From world love to lamplight love to the love that moves and the love that
Your host has cherished you in numbered as forms, numbered as times as it was in the
beginning and ever shall be, world without end or world near its end.
You who hear the call of this show have threaded and re-threaded the necklace of
songs and together we have floated on the stream that brings from the source
old gods and new shapes and new wine from the ancient vines.
With every show that comes your way we plant the seeds of Amor Mundi in the
astral depths of our magic garden.
This garden of the enamored mind where we tend and attend to what
calls for thinking.
We're golden filaments gather around our lotus flower and where the
gods will speak softly of us in days here after.
A new episode of entitled opinions coming up.
Stay tuned.
Thank you to Gaur for some of the images in that opening salvo and thanks to the guests who
joins me in KZSU today for calling my attention to Gaur's poem "Unending Love".
After he listened to my monologue on Amor Mundi, which aired a few weeks ago,
he, my guest, declared, "Amor Mundi may be the greatest monologue in entitled
opinions history." His words not mine.
There's a reason why the topic of that show would have special resonance for
William Rosen's viegh. His own world, "Love" runs deep and takes many
different forms as if the world were a garden that would revert to
the wilderness without our constant vigilance and caretaking.
In addition to being an avid botanical gardener, William Rosen's viegh is an
internationally acclaimed entrepreneur, venture investor, and educator,
each of which vocations he conceives of as a subset of gardening.
We're going to be speaking with him today about gardenism.
A term I coined just a few days ago, looking for a title for this show.
If you Google it, all you'll find under gardenism is a landscape design company in Sydney, Australia.
Gardenism, as I intend it, is an ethos, a disposition toward the world,
based on the epicurean virtues of generosity, patience, hope, and gratitude.
It's the extension into social, political, and economic domains of the ethics of care that gardeners bring to their cultivated plots.
Yet before we talk to my guest about gardenism, a little more of his bio.
Will Rosen's viegh serves as the faculty director of the Sustainable Food Initiative at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
He was the founding CEO of the Republic of T.
His co-authored book, "The Republic of T, How an Idea becomes a Business, has been named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time."
Will was also the managing partner of Physics Ventures, the first venture capital fund focused on investing in keeping people healthy.
He has been on the faculty of Berkeley Haas since 1999, where he designed and taught the first courses in social entrepreneurship, revolution foods, indigo-go-go, good guide, and world of good all got their start in his courses.
He currently leads Edible Education 101 with Alice Waters of the Ship On East Fame and Food Innovation Studio across disciplinary graduate lab.
In 2010, Will received the Oslo Business for Peace Award, a kind of Nobel Prize for Business.
And I'm going to stop there not because I've exhausted his bio because I would like to hear directly from him about why he thinks of himself as a constant gardener. Will Rosen's viegh, welcome to entitled opinions.
Thank you, Robert. It's great to be here with you.
Back in 2008, I published a book well known to you called Gardens and SA on the Human Condition, which deals with literal gardens as well as with cultivation and caretaking in various non-botanical domains.
So I think I know what you mean when you call yourself a constant gardener who sees entrepreneurship, social innovation, and the development of leaders as forms of gardening.
But why don't you tell us and tell our listeners in your own words exactly what you mean when you say that at this stage in your life and career you are a literal gardenist as well as a gardener of purposeful enterprises.
Will Robert, you said it well in your book, you said a true gardener is a constant gardener.
And I've come to learn that gardening requires and depends on an internal animating energy that just keeps calling us to show up and be present in cultivating.
And when you're working in a garden, you are working with a living system that can be made to flourish and can be encouraged to bloom and bring delight and joy and nourishment, food, shade, shelter homes to many other living beings.
And so I think about when I work in the world of business and education that I'm working in a living system, I'm working with people, I'm working with principles and values, and I'm looking at the inherent potential that exists in everything and thinking about how to bring and support and encourage that potential to fruition.
That's great, I would call this a post-slap Syrian ethic in the sense that you know that I have a chapter on the Garden of Eden in the Bible where Adam and Eve were put in this garden without any demands on their caretaking potential without any obligation to cultivate the earth or to care for flourishing as you put it.
It was really only after the fall, the expulsion from the garden that they started a family, that they started tilling the earth becoming agriculturalists and cultivators of animals and so forth.
And so this in a certain sense, the blessing of the post-slap Syrian ethic of caretaking of the earth and of social relations and of course political governments and many other things besides.
It's funny that you bring that up because just yesterday I returned to my tool shed with a saw, actually an electric saw that I was using.
And I put the saw down on the floor of a barn, a little barn, and I heard this buzzing sound that I thought was a short circuit because also in this barn is my electrical equipment for my house.
And it sounded like a sizzling sound and then it sounded like it was coming from my pocket and I reached down like I thought my iPhone was doing some kind of weird thing and then I looked down at the ground and there was a rattlesnake right at my foot shaking its rattle at me.
So I was humbled again to remember that I share this garden in this space and I was fortunate that a few hours later a gentleman came out from Sonoma County reptile rescue and to take this snake away to a safe home.
And when he did that he discovered that there was both a male and a pregnant female snake hiding out there in the shed.
So they had found a nice home but had to be relocated.
Yeah, that's a great anecdote.
You know, your life really has a kind of garden journey.
You know what you've told me.
Maybe you'd like to share with our listeners how this all began.
Well, I was fortunate to grow up in Southern California at a time before it was fully developed into a lot of freeways and shopping malls and there was a lot of open space and my family lived in an area in the South Bay of Los Angeles County and was proximate to an area called Torrance where a lot of Japanese and Japanese Americans had settled after World War II and they're in terms of the same place.
And we as a family we had a landscape, if you will, around our house.
We lived in a set of tracked homes but at that time people really took some pride in the way their yards looked and of course they all had grass and landscape plants around them.
But we had a Japanese gardener and I recall his name was Mr. Nota and when I was about six he brought me to the garden.
He brought me for my birthday which is in February.
He brought me a bear root rose bush that was wrapped in a burlap cloth and he gave it to me as a birthday present and when he unwraped this it was just a like it didn't look like it was a live.
It was just bare twigs and I had no idea what it was and he carefully showed me how to plant it and I recall like digging the hole and building a man.
And then filling it back with dirt and making a bowl for the water and then filling that water with the hose.
And then each week when he would come back to our house kind of watching it and leaves appearing and then flowers appearing and then him showing me how to prune it.
So he introduced me to this magical process that has had a profound impact on my life.
It stopped me that first of all don't judge a rose by its twig if you will or its branch or anything for that matter in life.
You don't know just by looking at something what it might become this inherent potential in a rose branch.
And then also the power of a mentor, you know somebody to introduce one and patiently generously hopefully show another how to do something and connect with a non-human living thing.
So I mean since that age I've had a big bad case of chlorophyllia I guess Robert.
Well in fact you're drawing attention to crucial connection between gardening and education where you at that age were being garden by this mentor.
Your growth spiritual chlorophyllic growth was being guided by him and it led obviously to great prusions later in life and that's why I think that I consider my vocation as an educator also a form of gardening.
And you know it's not by chance that so many of the ancient schools of philosophy all the way up to our own campuses here in the United States and in England are in garden environments.
You know that we're going to talk I hope a little bit about Epicurus who founded one of the greatest schools of antiquity in what was known as the Little Garden.
It was a privately kind of kitchen garden that his disciples worked on cultivated and they would have the benefits of enjoying the fruits of their labor by eating.
and nourishing themselves.
And I think that Epicurus understood the practice of working in the soil gardening that that was an education in how to cultivate the supreme Epicurean virtues that he was teaching at the time which were we could call them social virtues and intellectual virtues that of friendship in form conversation, gratitude, hope I mentioned a few of those things.
He's virtues don't originate spontaneously they have to be curated and developed often by teachers and so forth.
So it sounds like your education in gardening started very early on.
I think what was imprinted on me to in reflection is this ethic or ethos of care and not just the care of the plant and bringing it to fruition but also the
care in the practice itself.
And it was only later in life when I had the opportunity as a young man to go to Japan that I really started to appreciate all the care that is inherent in the Japanese aesthetic of gardening.
And it comes out it's most visible when you visit a Japanese garden in the placement of rocks and the raking of rock gardens in the pruning and shaping of trees.
You know over many years but most profoundly for me I saw it in the way a gardener or gardenist prepares to collect the clippings that one makes when he or she is pruning a plant.
And I've never really mastered this because I'm always so protective of the bud and the bloom because I think that's the highlight.
But in Japan there's not really a big regard for that they will lop off a nascent bloom before it flowers.
But the key what I wanted to get to was that the putting down of a tarp to collect carefully collect and neatly collect and sweep up and gather and then take that refuse or take those cuttings and bring them back to the earth to compost them is a profound part of this circular practice.
And I think that that embrace is so informative about what we're talking about with education and as we teach as we share our passion and experience and wisdom and guidance in a way that it recirculates and hopefully infuses, encourages the growth of others that intention to make things better and to help others make things better comes full circle.
So there's two questions I'd like to pursue. I don't know which one to start with but I think maybe the Japanese garden because I studied up a lot on Japanese gardens when I was working on gardens but I can't say I fully understand the dynamic between the botanical and the, let's say the mineral, the rocks, the stones so much of Zen gardens or about sand, the placement of rocks.
You could almost do without plant life in a Zen garden I'm assuming or let's say the inner core of it but I guess that might be a wrong assumption because the context within which you find these little microcosms of the macrocosmic universe is definitely chlorophyllic full of chlorophyllia.
I think there's an appreciation that even a rock, although it's not a sentient being that it's vibrating at a frequency of aliveness, I had a professor at Cornell in one of my early psychology classes who went on for several lectures telling us about how he spoke to rocks and how rocks spoke to him.
Unfortunately he was expelled and asked to leave the university I think he was a little too far out there at the time.
But I think the Zen rock garden that you're talking about is just one part of an overall aesthetic.
I have the good fortune, I mean it reminds me that so much of our lives are these encounters with remarkable generous people and I had a friend in Mill Valley whose father designed the gardens at the,
San Francisco, Japanese garden and he had built a prototype of some of that garden in his backyard in Mill Valley and his daughter came to own that property and inhabited it and she I would go visit her there.
And her father Samuel Newsom was the first American to go to Japan post World War II and document the language, the lexicon of rock gardens and placement and speaking with some of the
lineage of garden designers about what's going on here, what is the vocabulary, why are these rocks placed in this way, what are the mountains and rivers that they're trying to convey or evoke.
And she gave me the copies of his original books and they became something very dear to me.
So I think we learn to recognize patterns and as I grew in my world of entrepreneurship, I realized and learned that recognizing patterns became very important as well to understanding where opportunities might be to make things better or improve things.
And these rocks are not just placed, they are also planted in the ground, they have to have an undergrowth, they have to be part of the stone that's in the ground itself, so they do get planted as it was.
That's right, I was just explaining this to somebody the other day because I toured a new property up in Northern Sonoma County that's called Enso Village, it's going to be a retirement community for active seniors.
That is inspired by the San Francisco Zen Center's kind of commitment to compassionate care and they have a rock garden that's in formation and I was walking around the site the other day with the building form and trying to explain to her, you know, I said, are these finished?
Somebody know what they were doing because they weren't planted, they were set down and they were lacking that connection to the earth that gives you that sense of full emergence.
I guess exactly. It's emerging from underneath. That's right.
And that's where Carl Chappec, that Czech author fantastic individual we should do a show on a more than a year.
Yeah, maybe in the future we could do a show just on that book. But anyway, he says that the gardener is not someone who looks at buds and he's actually always in the soil.
Working in the soil and hardly will even notice the flowers that come up at it because all the work is taking place in the cultivation, refinement and preparation of the very ground out of which the plants emerge.
Well, also in that book you have a great sort of analysis of Italo, Calvinos, Mr. Palomar where he spends a whole couple of days not, you know, sort of in the soil, but in the weeds in the grass really looking carefully.
I found now that I have been sort of released from some of the pace of my normal life for the last 30 years and during the pandemic I really sort of one of my all time dreams came true.
I used to say to my wife, gee, I wish I could just stay home for a year and grow all our own food and that became a gift during the pandemic to not have to fly to a board meeting.
But I find that pull to the soil really profound and it kind of just happens without effort.
And I feel like it's so easy for me to procrastinate doing something that I'm supposed to do for school or, you know, some other responsibility, some board that I serve on.
But going out to tend to the garden and the soil and actually lie down on the ground is a transformative kind of act.
I try it in my garden to create places that just invite that kind of lapse.
And that's the other question that I had in mind which I'll just, you know, mention where there's, I can invoke Plato or other people, but soil and soil both are amenable to cultivation.
And both can receive seeds that will then bloom later if done properly and in that sense the cultivation of the soil is something that takes place largely in educational context, not only educational institutions and also through mentorship and so forth.
So one should always keep in mind this fundamental correlation between soil and soil and remember that, you know, the human soul is amenable to this kind of growth.
I think this is why I was so drawn to being in the food business because it is in the food system that soil to soil takes on real meaning.
The idea of growing something or producing or feeding someone something is a very intimate and trusting act.
And as you have the experience of growing, you know, a carrot patiently watching it turn from seed to stock in 60 or 75 days, protecting it from all of the predators and things that can go wrong.
And then you eat it and it tastes like nothing you've ever had. You really get that connection from soil to soil and I feel like that's something that, you know, I really, why I love teaching edible education because it really puts people back in the mode of being an eater rather than a consumer.
The food industry wants to think of you as a consumer, but if we can kind of reset our imaginations to just remember that we're just part of that soil to soil cycle can be in liveening.
And this brings us to the question of love again going about not I'm more moon deep per se, but we're going to need another word for a particular kind of love that people have, for example, edible education 101 that you're collaborating with your friend Alice Waters, who ship a niece.
The love that people have or a restaurant like that and for Alice Waters or self comes from that connection that you're talking about because there's so much care that goes into all the preliminary work that is done before anything even reaches the kitchen, which is what kind of organic vegetables, what kind of fields are coming from all that selection that ship on these is known for that by the time, as you said, it reaches a palette.
It inspires a kind of love this more than just the love of satiation some connection there that is quite mysterious ultimate.
There are beautiful traditions of people praying meditating about love while preparing food.
And Alice comes to class every year quite frequently throughout the semester, but I always ask her at the beginning of the semester to do a talk to share her sense of values, what she values.
Because as we come to understand our own values and then can align our actions with them, we can set powerful intention and get a sense of our own responsibility and agency, but one value she speaks of that I, you know, that comes alive in the garden is beauty.
And it just seems like in our material culture beauty is something that has been very narrowly defined in a commercial sense, but is something that if we can appreciate, especially in the garden, the temporal that fleeting beauty, it, I think, grounds us, you know, in the present moment and in the kind of sacredness of the living system that we,
that we enjoy, we're mundane.
That's so that beauty is not just visual, it's a beauty of the whole organic process as such.
Well, it's multi-sensory.
And to be immersed, I mean, one of my dreams right now is to, well, I'm going to be teaching a course this fall with a dear colleague of mine from the School of Public Health.
We've envisioned a new course called Systems Change for a Small Planet, and my colleague, Dr. Chris Madson, has got a background as both a pediatrician and public health researcher and advocate.
She did a lot of the key research that led to the SODA tax policies that have come about, but we're focusing on helping students from diverse disciplines, figure out how to do that.
How the system works, how it's been configured now, and to identify leverage points and strategies and develop the skillful means as leaders, movement makers, if you will, to shift and guide these systems to hopefully healthier outcomes for both people and planet.
So, before we talk about the changing Earth and the way in which one can think of our planet and the biosphere itself as a garden, which it is, in not only metaphorical sense in a literal sense, I'm curious about the Republic of T.
I mentioned it in your bio, you created this Republic of T. Can you say something about that, and what it has to do with gardens?
Well, of course, the T-leaf comes from the Camellius andensis bush, and the way it's treated after the leaf is treated after it's plucked from the bush determines whether the T will be green or oolong or black.
That's just the finishing touches, but it all emanates from a plant.
And when I founded the company, it was the first, it was in the, around 1990, first scientific study came out that was testing the polyphenolic compounds in green tea, looking at it beyond the sort of apocryphal folklore that it was a healthy beverage, but actually showing the evidence that it had so much.
It has these sort of anti-cancer agents and that it could be actually very good for you.
So that intrigued me, again, like the fusion of beauty and science.
Also, T, of course, has this long lineage as a beverage of sort of calm, awakeness, calm alertness, something that Okakura called "teamind".
And this appealed to me, too.
It's like, so how do you, it's like Epicurus' Adiraxia, right?
It's this calm alert present energy to flow into the world and be present.
All of these things sort of conspired, and also I just didn't like coffee.
And this was about the time when Starbucks really broke through.
And I had attended a conference on socially responsible business that I'd met some very interesting people who had started some other note where the company's like Ben and Jerry and person who started seventh generation and Smith and Hawkins.
And then leaving the conference, I met another gentleman who'd been at the conference, and we got in an airplane heading back from New Jersey to San Francisco and somewhere over Pittsburgh, they offered us coffee.
And it was the new Starbucks coffee, and they were united airlines was making a really big deal that they were operating coffee.
Anyway, we both asked for tea, and that was kind of interesting. He was coming off some migraine headaches with caffeine and his doctor had told him, "Hey, maybe you should try tea."
And I had just always been a tea drinker.
Anyway, we launched into a six-hour conversation flying east to west about how you couldn't get a decent cup of tea in the United States that what was being represented as tea was nothing like what other people in other countries were consuming.
And so that was the moment of opportunity recognition, as you'd call it, an entrepreneurship class.
And of course, in Japan, China elsewhere, there are tea gardens, so it becomes a ritualistic form of consumption.
Right, and the tea garden and the tea house was apparently the place where the warring samurai lords would come, and they would put down their weapons and they would be able to get their
a place, and they would go through this beautiful ritual of the tea ceremony, which was to evoke a spirit for the potential for peace and reconciliation.
And so the spiritual dimensions of that, you know, carried deep in that culture, I had the good fortune of early in my career.
And so my first sort of corporate job was with a Japanese audio company that some people might recognize.
I know you would Robert because you're a musician, but a company called Nakamichi.
And I got to go to Tokyo a number of times, and I took some visits and got a sense of this tea ceremonies and tea houses and tea gardens, and just the holistic aesthetic of creating an environment that was rich in the
simplicity, beauty, stillness, just a place where one's heart could open.
And that really touched me. I also had the good fortune of going to a couple of Japanese department stores and just looking around and seeing that a tin of tea was sold for the equivalent of like $70 or $80, like a fine bottle of champagne.
And I thought, you know, that just struck me as like a young marketing guy. I thought, wow, that I've never heard of a tin of tea for that amount that would be given as a wedding gift.
And so that seed stayed with me all those years that there was an appreciation of something well beyond what our culture sort of saw.
Well, I'm just going to make a very quick plea for coffee. I'm a tea drinker in the morning, and then I do coffee later.
And I...
There's a whole history of coffee houses in the West, which are not exactly like the tea houses in the East that you're referring to, but had it not been for the introduction of coffee in Europe in the 18th century.
I don't know how much of an intellectual history would be different certainly in the 19th century, because now all of a sudden you had places that were open well into the night where they weren't taverns that induce drunkenness and stupor.
But these were coffee houses where the consumption of coffee induced lucidity and an exchange of ideas. And so many ideas were generated in that environment, so much so that I think one of the kings of England, the late 18th or early 19th century, closed down about 800 or 1000 of them in London, calling them seminaries of sedition, because there's something threatening about lucidity.
And it wasn't day cart supposedly addicted to coffee and called it the think drink or something like that, or maybe that's just a market.
I don't know. I don't know. I think we could have to look into that.
He's kind of early on for that. In any case, from tea gardens and this discussion we're having about soil, soil, education and all that, the entrepreneurship, the business world.
And so in the house business schools, how do you bring this gardenism from your personal and educational life into a domain where it would seem that gardens really don't have much of a place of belonging at all?
Well, I was always very interested in this notion of flourishing and that's why I was attracted to this kind of nascent field back in the late 80s that emerged called social entrepreneurship where entrepreneurs were looking to create not just financial value from their efforts, but also societal and environmental values.
And this idea of sort of taking responsibility for more than the needs of the owners of the business, the shareholders, to think about stakeholders and then thinking broadly about stakeholders, also including Amor Mundi, the world in which we inhabit the physical world and the cultural world.
I was very inspired and idealistic about the idea that business could become a vehicle for good. So one of the first things that I did when I was at the business school was I was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to explore new means of measuring non-financial value in an enterprise.
And I led a team and we created this catalog which is still cited quite frequently as kind of the source code for how you think about measuring value.
This is 30 years or 20 years ago, we haven't made a lot of progress and now there's been a lot of efforts to redefine what counts as success in the business world, but unfortunately it's become even more concentrated in wealth creation and capture for a relatively small group of people.
Well, you know wealth accumulation, that can be fine. It's when profits become the only consideration and you have this reductive essentialism that profits are what the whole world of business is all about where you're losing the entire context of stakeholders, the communities in which they're having what the purpose of corporations, companies, enterprises are all about in terms of the larger ecology in which these things take place.
It's almost like a blight on the garden.
And now it's become politicized or weaponized ESG as an environmental social and governance parameters for evaluating the successor impact of a business have been caught up in our culture wars.
But again, it's bringing it back to the garden. It's a lack of respect for the ecological or the ecology in which we live.
You were talking about Epicurus earlier, this idea of working with the soil and U-di-monia flourishing, having people thrive.
We only thrive when one another is thriving and we're only thriving as a community when the environment and habitat in which we nest is alive and vital.
And this takes us right back to the soil. There's a lot of newfound attention being paid to this quality of the soil where our food is grown.
One of my new favorite books is called What Your Food Eight. It's actually showing that the microbiomic structure of the soil in which your food grows has big impact on its nutrient density, its healthfulness.
We can see the world as a system that's not compartmentalized but that is all connected and interdependent.
These are the principles that I've tried to bring to the design and implementation of business and entrepreneurship.
It's difficult, it's harder to grow a business that cares about a double or a triple bottom line than a single bottom line because oftentimes you're competing with people that only care about that one outcome.
There's one sentence in chapics book, The Gardeners Year, that jumped out at me and which I think really summarizes and encapsulates the garden ethics, which is you must always give the soil more than you take from it.
And that principle applies not just to gardening literal sense but to any sort of human engagement in a larger social ecological context. It applies to institutions that a university like Stanford, I know that if it did not have at least some people who gave it more than they take away from it would not endure.
A relationship that if you take more than you put back into that that's also going to be a risk business corporations, these sort of things.
It seems to me that so much of human culture and let's not forget that the word culture has the same etymonus cultivation and their back to gardens again that so much of human culture relies on this principle if it's going to thrive.
Of giving the soil more than you take away from it.
Well this is a fundamental value or the power of generosity. I think that's a which is a supreme Epicurean version.
Absolutely and it's an animating force and I think for a gardener we come to experience that in a vivid way when we're generous with the soil.
When we're attentive to the soil and we know that a plant is well rooted or a tree it's going to be more resilient in extreme conditions.
And it's going to be more generous and what it gives you back.
Absolutely so this the generative quality of generosity is a beautiful and operational virtue.
Well before we draw to a close can I ask do you consider yourself a Zen Buddhist in some form or another?
I don't consider myself a Zen Buddhist but I do take refuge in the three jewels which is what people who believe in the Buddhist philosophy psychology do.
I really believe in the deep interconnectivity and I do believe in my limited role.
I have an impact but I have a limited ability to as we've discussed Robert change the world just little opportunity to make things a little better.
That's great. Well a lot more to follow up on on another occasion will I want to remind our listeners we've been speaking with William Rosen's Vig who comes and joins us here on entitled opinions to share some thoughts about gardening, gardenism and how it all relates to the secular world we live in in so many different dimensions.
So thanks again for coming on Will.
Thank you Robert.
Take care.
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