Are you familiar with the term terroir?
Terroir is a term the French use to describe the effect that soil, climate and geography has on the taste of food products such as wine, coffee, chocolate or tea. It is loosely defined as the “sense of place” embodied by certain characteristics of the local environment.
I love this term because I believe that communities also have a distinct terroir that gives them this same sense of place. And it is completely different for every community. For example, in present-day Kalamazoo, we have a culture or terroir of craft beer and locally-owned restaurants. It encompasses our vibrant downtown with festivals and art fairs every weekend. It even considers new elements to the community’s fabric such as “rowing the boat” as established by Western Michigan University’s football coach, P.J. Fleck. As a community, we embrace these elements to create our terroir.
The terroir of a community is something you can’t just understand intellectually, but need to experience to fully appreciate. It’s like the line from a Jimmy Buffet song: “Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it.” Or in the case of the French, you can’t fairly critique a wine if you don’t know where it comes from. When you visit a new community, make an intentional effort to experience its unique terroir, to discover what gives that community a sense of place.
Question: What elements make up the terroir in your community? How about your organization?