Cherry Blossoms & the Social Innovation ‘Terroir’ of Canada

Have you ever wondered what cherry blossoms in Vancouver taste like?

I didn’t have the imagination to even conceive of such a question let alone answer it until I attended a dinner hosted by Elementa a collective of young culinary talents in Vancouver last spring. Not only did they serve a cup of frozen aerated cherry blossoms to cleanse our palette, they also offered their rationale for presenting authentic regional tastes. Elementa chefs believe in honest food that is both true to the place where it is grown or raised and true to the people who prepare it. “Our grapes, hops, produce and game should reflect who we are and where we come from,” said one chef. “We shouldn’t be trying to make our food taste like food from elsewhere.”

The integrity of these young chefs challenged my thinking. Was I importing social innovation concepts from elsewhere and ignoring Canada’s heritage of social change?  Was I trying to make Canada’s social change experiences ‘taste’ like those from other countries and ignoring fundamental differences of values, history and culture?

At the time I was finishing Impact, my new book on social change that lasts. These questions led me to realize that more than half of its content was either a wholesale importation or adaptation of social innovation concepts and methods from elsewhere.

After the Elementa dinner the course of my writing changed directions. I cut out 50,000 words to get to Canadian bedrock. Today, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is as close as I can make it to celebrating Canada’s social innovation ‘terroir.’ Commonly associated with wine, I loosely translate ‘terroir’ as “a sense of place,” or the interaction that geography, environment and heritage has on what we do. ‘Terroir’ doesn’t imply we ignore insights from elsewhere. It does suggest we pay attention to what variety of social change grows best here.

When we do, we’ll find that social change, like cherry blossoms, tastes like home.


Gardening is not a rational act. What matters is the immersion of the hands in the earth, that ancient ceremony of which the Pope kissing the tarmac is merely a pallid vestigial remnant. In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

     – Margaret Atwood

All these things that don’t change, Come what may.

     – Ian Tyson, “Four Strong Winds” – Here he is with Sylvia

Note: A longer version of this post was published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine


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