Category Archives: Community Building

2020 Goals

I know. I know.  It’s another one of those posts.

It’s not really though, because I am not going to ramble on. This year I am setting goals in three areas.  I don’t honestly care if anyone reads it or not, I am finalizing my brainstorming in a way that helps me hold myself accountable.

Building Systems of Mutual Aid

I am not going to go into an explanation of mutual aid in this post except to say I looked into volunteering with a couple of local organizations this fall, only to find that they are a lot the same-old, same-old. I haven’t been into the liberal interpretation of charity since I went to Goddard.  #solidaritynotcharity will be the guiding theme of my year.

This blog post that explains the differences between “mutual aid projects that provide direct aid as part of radical movements trying to get to the root causes of problems and charity or social services organizations that provide direct aid in ways that often supplement, stabilize, or sustain violent and coercive hierarchies.”  I’d really love to run through the syllabus and class discussion questions in some sort of asynchronous format with local people who are interested in this topic.  I have friends who took the class in Chicago and they said it was amazing.

You can definitely expect to see the Iowa City chapter of Herbalists without Borders working pretty closely with Millennials for Climate Action as there can be no health justice without environmental justice.  An overlapping focus of  both groups is food security and building local food systems, so I expect that our joint projects might focus on that.


One thing I have figured out is that I have to structure my day differently.  I get so much more done in a day when I do.  If I hop on the computer in the morning, even if it is just to check a list,  I will invariably get sidetracked. I am better off waiting until my hands on work is done for the day.  So instead of returning correspondence first thing in the morning, it will be later in the day before I sit down to to my computer.  Hopefully it will break me other my other bad habit which is swiping  away a message because I am hyperfocusing on another task and forgetting to come back to it.

Moving back to a paper organizing binder is going to help with that, too.

Remember back in the Xanga days when we were all making our pretty household  organizing binders? I remember that Kristine Brown’s was particularly lovely. The other day I found myself wondering why I stopped that?

I think it was because I thought using the online organizers like OneNote and Cozi would be more efficient, but didn’t end up being due to online distractions.  I  still like Cozi for menu planning and communicating to the family,  but honestly it is not the best system for me personally, because if I have to come back to the computer to check a list, chances are I am going to get sidetracked by something that could wait.

The one thing that I am really good at is keeping up with the cleaning schedule in my stillroom, because I have a paper checklist hanging on a clipboard in there.  So I went out to the garage and dug out an old binder I kept because I needle felted the cover.  I am redesigning my household notebook.  I had all of this stuff on Cozi lists already so it didn’t take me long.  I don’t love wasting paper, so I laminated the weekly chore lists. 

Self Sufficiency

Finally we will continue to learn how to break the cycle of consumer dependency, by learning new skills. There are some things I haven’t been doing much of lately because finances get in the way.  For example, my sewing machines need serviced, so I haven’t been sewing as much as I used to, so I bought some new tools and am going to learn how to  service my sewing machines.

Giving Thanks

Sample imageI rarely have time on Thanksgiving to spend time putting together a meaningful post.   It is a busy day in our home.   We will wake having a breakfast of sausage rolls and breakfast strata, while watching the parade Then we set out snacks-clam dip and lots of pickles and olives-and play board games.  We end the day with a big turkey dinner.   We’ve spent the last couple of days baking and cooking to get ready, so that we can all relax and enjoy the day.

So I thought I would take a moment, tonight,  to reflect   I have a lot to be  thankful about this year.   I have a wonderful, healthy family.   I’ve spent time with dear friends in beautiful places and taught at some truly inspiring conferences.  I’ve had new opportunities arise and made new friends.  I graduated from college-something I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get around to.

Of course nothing is perfect.   Life is  messy. There are tears, struggles and blow-ups, but sometimes this is the only path to healing.  They can be a blessing too, even though that can be hard to see when you are in the thick of it.  I am most thankful that life is progressing down that path for my family, right now.

I’d like to think that recent events in the country represent those types of struggles.  Only by committing ourselves to unified goal and having compassionate discussions with people whom we disagree with, can we move towards a better society. Despite the narrative the media feeds us,  I believe that most people are inherently decent.  That doesn’t always mean they do the right thing, but I believe that very few people truly set out to harm other people.

If you listen to a person’s words, but only focus on trying to understand the  feelings that are creating their  narrative, you begin to see them in a whole different light.   You feel more compassion toward them.   Similarly, when  you stop and think about the emotions that motivate you,  you can be more patient with yourself.  It is a  useful exercise.  If you’ve never tried it, have a go at it.

I guess I will leave this  hoping that all of you experience today in a way that is meaningful to you.   I am thankful to have this chance to connect with you.

Building Local Connections

(Editors Note: I wrote this when a friend posted a call for submissions for an agricultural zine, but after reading Ann Armbrecht’s most excellent post on a vision for building local medicine systems, I thought I would share this here on the blog even though I don’t think my audience is quite the same audience I wrote this for…)

Trillium Plant from Echollective CSASpring is upon us and thoughts of sowing the seeds of sustenance span the nation. The cultivation and propagation of medicinal plants is viewed by some as a measure of historical preservation and not afforded the urgency which is often directed to the development of local food systems. This frequently confuses me as our current dependence on corporate healthcare is as much an aspect of neocolonialism is our dependence on corporate food distribution.

The fact that you don’t know how to care for illnesses and injuries with plant-based remedies is a direct result of a corporate driven witch-hunt that began in the Middle Ages and continues today. From the perspective of an activist, the practice of growing medicinal plants and teaching people how to use them properly is an act of resistance to the corporate control of wellness. Only in recreating subsistence will we create communities which fully support our ability to engage in this work. Of course food systems are a huge part of that, but the importance of creating healthy communities cannot be overlooked as a means of supporting social change.

Self-care is a vital and often overlooked component of preventing burnout, as well. Many people involved in social change neglect their own wellness. I have often found that this is because they have an aversion to the unequal power relationships inherent in modern healthcare. Additionally, the alternative healthcare industry often brings to mind the problem “green washing” of consumerism and is distasteful to those whose philosophies lean towards being opposed to conspicuous consumption.

It needn’t be this way. As a practicing herbal clinician, I  know that many of my colleagues working in underserved communities and approaching the practice of herbalism as their own unique form of activism. Even amongst those community herbalists who don’t view themselves as activists, there is a growing recognition that our work with clients is only palliative until societal change addresses issues of social and environmental justice.

One group which supports this work across the country is United Plant Savers. Their mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come.” While far from being a radical group, United Plant Savers mission includes the establishment of a network of botanical sanctuaries across the country. Requirements for membership include growing a variety of at-risk medicinal herbs and freely opening up your sanctuary to the public for educational purposes. Gaia’s Peace Garden, here in Iowa City was the first sanctuary to be established in southeast Iowa. This is particularly exciting because it is not as common for an urban garden to be granted sanctuary status. UPS has internships available in the cultivation of medicinal plants and offers grants for community replanting projects and should be utilized as a resource by farmers wanting to get into this field.

In writing this, I hope to bridge the gap between the herbalism and the farming communities because I see a growing need to create discourse between these two groups. Community herbalists often educate their individual clients with the express purpose of putting health back into the hands of the people and people back into nature. This practice creates a need for healthy food systems, locally sourced herbs and even starts for our own teaching gardens. Farmers looking for new and unique markets would do well to seek out your local healers and see how you can work together.

I see great promise in building connections between the these two groups.