Notes from the New England Women’s Herbal Conference 2016

WHC 2016Last year I wrote, “I’ve only been to three years of this 28-year-old conference, but each year I’ve attended has been more nourishing, more inspiring, and also more fun than the last.”  Now I’ve made it to my fourth year at the WHC, and the trend has continued.  What really moved me this year was the conference’s commitment to both courage and compassion in facing the awfulness that has boiled up in the US over the last year or so (which is not to say it wasn’t there already, but that it’s become more evident).

Emily Ruff, who founded the Orlando Grief Care Project in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, taught Herbalism in Action, in which she and Lupo Passero discussed their experiences running crisis-response herbal projects in Orlando and Sandy Hook, respectively.  This class was valuable both for its practical teachings – how we can respond to a crisis effectively and compassionately through herbalism – and as an opportunity to check in in person regarding these tragedies.  The news and social media can be overwhelming to the point of seeming abstract, but talking to real people who have been directly working with those affected by a tragedy is a reminder of how real these happenings are.

Sobande Moss Greer taught “Herbs, Slavery, and America.”  It’s easy, as herbalists, to think of ourselves as countercultural and so as not falling into the same mistakes that mainstream culture makes.  This class was an intriguing and important introduction to herbalism practiced by enslaved Africans in the US, and by their descendants – and to Western herbalism’s failure to engage with this school of healing.

Melissa Morrison taught on Medicine For the Warrior: Alternative Healing Therapies for Veterans, a detailed and practical class borne out of extensive personal experience (as was her Taking Care of the Caregiver class).  Both Melissa and Emily had valuable lessons about meeting people where they are: Flower essences or alcohol-based tinctures may not be up everyone’s alley, but there are a plethora of ways to deliver herbs that can make them more accessible, and it’s as important to respect the needs of the individual in delivery method as in choosing the herbs themselves.

In addition, there were donations being collected for Standing Rock; classes on compassionate herbalism based on Health Justice principles, on health freedom, on herbalists and the FDA, and on how to stock your apothecary via foraging and food stamps; an update on the Free Fire Cider campaign (as well as fire cider tastings and awards – congrats to the winners!); and, as part of ‘Saturday Night Live at the WHC,’ a piece on celebrating diversity.

There can sometimes be, in liberal circles, a lot of emphasis on what we say.  While I wholeheartedly agree that language is important, I appreciated the emphasis on practical, robust actions we can take to help support and to express respect for those whom our society has failed to properly respect or support.

I have to mention one last class, Tiffany Robbins’ Wild Food Cooking, which I took as a bit of indulgence among the other, more weighty, classes.  Tiffany – a persuasive advocate for including wild foods in your diet – was so generous with her samples that, after the class, I found I’d been so well nourished I wasn’t hungry for lunch!  There was wild rice salad with wonderfully weedy greens from the conference grounds, cocoa tulsi seed pudding, a beautiful and refreshing hibiscus seaweed drink, and lots more deliciousness.

The class was inspiring both in small ways (definitely making apple sugar this fall) and in big ones: This was a robust reminder of the abundance surrounding us.  Scarcity is so often of our own making, not necessarily as an individual, but as a culture.  If we can reroute our culture to value a basket of wild greens more than a bag of chips, gatherings with friends more than unlimited streaming, clean water flowing down a river more than oil flowing through a pipeline, exchange of ideas more than headlines that confirm our own biases, mindful changemaking more than politics as usual – and, importantly, make sure these things are accessible to everyone – we may still manage to live well in this world.


Weedier Than Ever: Hemp t-shirts, youth sizes, and better shipping

I’ve wanted to print the PLANT WEEDS: THE “S” MAKES IT LEGAL design on hemp from the beginning, so I’m psyched that I now have hemp shirts over at the shop.  Hemp is pretty amazing:  It breathes well, is antimicrobial, and is more durable than cotton.  It also grows like a weed, so doesn’t need all the babysitting (e.g. herbicides or pesticides used by conventional growers) that cotton needs.  It’s a pretty awesome textile, plus these shirts are soft and cozy.  I love that ONNO, the Colorado-based company that makes these, only sells shirts made from sustainable materials (hemp, bamboo, and organic cotton).  That shows a level of commitment to sustainability that most mainstream/designer brands don’t demonstrate.  ONNO has also taken important steps to ensure that the production of these shirts is fair and humane.

You’ll find charcoal and ice blue in the unisex cut and earth green and dusty purple in the women’s cut.  The women’s cut, by the way, is a really nice one:  the sleeve shape and tailoring is flattering, but rather than being skin-tight, the t-shirt shows off the fabric’s beautiful drape.  That gorgeous drape also makes the unisex shirts flattering on all sorts of shapes:  They don’t, for example, look boxy in the shoulders on me the way most unisex shirts do.  Click here for hemp t-shirts.

After multiple, enthusiastic requests for youth PLANT WEEDS t-shirts, I’ve had some printed up on USA-grown and made organic cotton shirts.  These have a satisfying, comfy feel that will get softer with wear and washing, just like your favorite pair of jeans.  Plus, the garment-dyed colors are gorgeous.  Click here for youth shirts.

I recently came across this info, in Pietra Rivoli’s The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy:

There are a handful of creative and contrary farmers growing organic cotton in west Texas, but they account for less than 1/3 of 1 percent of the cotton produced.  (“It rounds up to zero,” one conventional grower sniffed.)

While I’m not sure where the boundaries of west Texas are, I’m pleased to be sourcing from some of those “creative and contrary” farmers, SOS from Texas.  Here’s to using our buying power to create demand for organic practices and nudge that percentage higher.  Here’s a video by SOS, showing the journey a t-shirt takes from their farms onward.  I was interested to see that – unlike conventional cotton growers, who spray defoliants before harvesting – SOS waits for a frost, which, of course, defoliates naturally.

Last but not least, I’ve also started using EcoEnclose’s 100% recycled mailers, which are recyclable and even reusable, thanks to a nifty second sticky strip.  Lightweight and durable, and made in the USA, this is an awesome mailer.  Full disclosure:  Depending on the size of your order, it may be shipped in a reused box of good quality, a Priority Mail flat rate container (also recycled and recyclable), or a smaller, 88% recycled poly mailer (because I goofed and ordered one package that was 88% instead of 100%).  The customer service at this Colorado-based company has been great, and there was even a note with a little drawing of a plant on the packing list.  Ordering packing supplies might not sound exciting, but it kind of is when it’s obvious that you’re dealing with real, live people that care about the environment.

 


Fighting for Herbalism: Urban Moonshine, the FDA, and RAILYARD Apothecary

Last week, I shared some reflections from my time at the 2015 IHS, mostly around regulatory hurdles facing herbalists.  Speak of the devil:  This week, the local alternative paper Seven Days published a story on Urban Moonshine’s struggles with FDA regulations.  The piece details how:

[Urban Moonshine founder Jovial] King and her employees put in countless hours and spent tens of thousands of dollars to fix the issues. She hired lawyers and consultants to help her parse the legalese. Her herbs underwent a battery of chemical tests at professional labs. She signed a 10-year lease on a much larger, more suitable production space.

Yet, the latest inspection still failed to satisfy the FDA, and Jovial has made the difficult decision to outsource to a larger manufacturer.

I’ve been buying Urban Moonshine products for the last five years, and during that time I’ve gotten to know the company well, through picking up orders (in person, since they’re based about half an hour from my home) and through attending classes with Jovial and with Guido Masé, the company’s chief herbalist.  Through my herbal studies, I’ve also gotten to visit Zack Woods Herb Farm, where Urban Moonshine sources many of their ingredients.  It’s been such a joy to see this company grow so successfully while still staying local and constantly demonstrating their commitment to incredibly high quality products.  The company is staffed with smart, experienced, mindful and heartful herbalists, and I’ve always been completely confident of the quality of Urban Moonshine’s products.

Jovial and the other folks at the company have incredibly high standards, and I’m confident that Urban Moonshine will continue to put out products that meet those standards even as the actual manufacture is outsourced.  I’ll certainly continue keeping my shelves well-stocked.  But it’s also heartbreaking that the company has been forced into this situation:  Urban Moonshine was already making products of a superior quality, right here in Burlington, Vermont.  This is a company that was keeping it local, and it’s a crime that they’ve been forced to outsource because of arbitrary technicalities.

This outcome is also frightening because, as Jovial put it, Urban Moonshine is the “canary in the coal mine.”  There is no exemption from the FDA’s “Good Manufacturing Practices” for small herbal businesses, or even for micro-businesses.  While all the wonderful home-based herbal start-ups that can be found at farmer’s markets are less likely to be targeted by FDA inspections, they could be at any time.  If a company as well-run as Urban Moonshine can’t make it past the FDA regulations without outsourcing production, how can a one-person start-up have a hope of doing so?  There is a very real potential for the enforcement of these regulations to make it impossible to start an herbal business, unless you already have significant financial backing.  Herbal medicine is kitchen medicine, so this makes about as much sense as making it impossible to start a home bakery.  The way the FDA is enforcing GMPs is showing itself to be hostile to small and medium-sized businesses – and so also hostile to nurturing strong local economies.

What’s the good news?  The folks at Urban Moonshine are resilient and resourceful.  In the face of all of this, they’ve launched a new project, RAILYARD Apothecary – a crowd-funded project that will make herbal medicine more accessible to the local community and create a place for herbalists to organize on a national level.  Both of these are vitally important if we want to educate the community and the government about herbs and organize to keep the government from legislating herbal products in ways that favor mass-production and mediocrity.

I really, really want RAILYARD to happen.  I’ve already donated to the Kickstarter campaign, and I hope that – if you can, and you care about herbal medicine, education, health, and strong local economies – you will too.  Please watch the video below to learn more, and then click here to donate and to check out the brilliant rewards being offered to backers.


Notes from the 2015 International Herb Symposium

Wheaton College’s beautiful campus during the International Herb Symposium.

I arrived at the International Herb Symposium somewhat flustered and awkwardly carrying my luggage in my arms since the handle on my suitcase had broken.  Not for the first time in my life, I thought that I ought to have packed lighter.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t fail to notice how lovely the setting was:  Wheaton College, with its beautiful quad, reminded my of my own time at college and made me feel right at home, as did the folks who welcomed me in at registration.  I was pretty psyched to be there, as this was my first time attending the IHS, and the list of teachers and classes made me wish for Hermione Granger’s Time Turner:  Should I take “Stress Resiliency with Plants” with Mindy Green, “Medicinal Mushrooms” with Christopher Hobbs, or “Herbal Treasures of Morocco” with Chris Kilham?  “All of them” would have been my preferred answer! Having settled my gear into the sweet little dorm room that was my home base for the weekend, I set about taking all the classes I could.

One highlight was the panel on Good Manufacturing Practices and other FDA regulations around manufacturing herbal products.  Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs was the excellent moderator while Jovial King and Guido Mase of Urban Moonshine, Deb Soule and another herbalist from Avena Botanicals, and Cris Amarillas and Zoë Gardner of Traditional Medicinals discussed their experiences with the FDA.  All involved were generous in their discussions, and were doing their best to help and not dissuade herbal entrepreneurs.  Still, I was struck by how onerous the FDA’s requirements are for small- and medium-sized businesses and how nonsensical some of those requirements are.

This is one of multiple legal/regulatory issues in herbalism, since herbal supplements have become big business and are attracting more regulations.  One of the first things I did at the IHS was to enter into the raffle being held as a fundraiser for the Fire Cider Three, a trio of herbalists bravely facing up to a company that has trademarked the generic term “fire cider.”  Saturday evening at the IHS, Diane Miller of the National Health Freedom Coalition spoke persuasively on the importance of health freedom.  Among other things, she talked about one of her first cases as an attorney, when she defended a farmer who had been accused of practicing medicine without a license.  (There’s more about that in this interview with Diane, and here’s the website for the NHFC.)

One of my takeaways from this conference was that there are, as I see it, three or four main legal issues facing the herbal community.  (Disclaimer:  The following is my understanding of the issues.  I’m no legal expert, and you should talk to one – and do your own research – if you’re directly affected by any of these.)

  1. FDA Regulations
    Good Manufacturing Practices
    It goes without saying that quality control is essential, but the testing requirements on many herbal products are a heavy burden on small and medium-sized herbal companies.  The cost of these tests encourages large batches and mass production (and, it arguably follows, mediocrity).  It sounds like the FDA is essentially assuming everyone is guilty (of neglect or deceit) until tests prove the product is actually what they say it is – even if common sense could have proven that without expensive lab tests.  While lots of companies in this country care more about the bottom line than about quality and even safety, it’s shameful and counterproductive to hobble those manufacturers who are genuinely trying to make the best product possible.
    All herbal product companies – no matter how tiny – are subject to these requirements.  Compare this to food production companies which, in the state of Vermont, don’t need to get a health & safety inspection if they’re bringing in under $10,000 gross per year.  Herbal products are regulated comparably to pharmaceuticals, when they’re overwhelmingly closer to food than to drugs, and many herbs are food.  While companies do need to be held responsible for the quality of their products, regulations should be clear and reasonable.
    Structure/Function Claims
    Language on the labels, websites, etc. of a company producing herbal products may only describe the way in which a product supports normal health as defined by the FDA – and must not say that the product treats a given condition.  Companies are, in many cases, forced to talk around the actual effects of the herbs.  For an example, check out Traditional Medicinals’ description of Throat Coat tea.  It’s a great description, but nowhere do they say that this tea relieves a sore throat and – in my experience – it does, in a jiffy.  I haven’t talked to Traditional Medicinals about this, but I’m betting that the reason they dance around the phrase “relieves a sore throat” is that they’re not allowed to say that.  If so, this is a great example of this FDA regulation hindering clear language.  For more information on structure/function claims and how insidiously they effect clear communication, I recommend this talk by David Hoffmann.
  2. Trademarking and Patent Issues
    There’s a real danger of large companies trademarking the names of and even patenting the recipes for traditional herbal remedies.
    A while back, a company called Shire City Herbals trademarked the name “Fire Cider”.  What’s wrong with that?  Rosemary Gladstar has been sharing this remedy widely under the name fire cider since the 1970s, and the use of the name prior to Shire City’s trademark is well-documented.  Herbalists, therefore, regard “fire cider” as a generic/traditional term.  It’s as though someone tried to trademark the term “chicken noodle soup”.  You can find out more about the campaign to Free Fire Cider hereTrademarking generic terms limits other producers’ ability to communicate clearly with customers in an industry that is already severely limited in the language that’s allowed on labels.
    Recently, the New Yorker reported on the patenting of traditional recipes.  While a trademark reserves the use of marketing language, the patent-holder actually “owns” the recipe itself.  Accordingly, patents are only meant to be issued for genuinely unique recipes.  The fact that patents have been issued for traditional recipes is, frankly, pretty scary, since it costs a lot to fight those patents.
  3. Not Practicing Medicine without a License
    While it’s legal for herbalists to educate clients about the use of herbs, the language a clinical herbalist can use is limited due to restrictions on practicing medicine without a license.  Herbalists must strictly avoid diagnosing, treating, or preventing diseases or prescribing remedies.  This is, in many ways, just fine:  Conventional medicine has brilliant diagnostic tools available.  Generally herbalists don’t want to “treat” people so much as they want to empower people to care for themselves.  But sometimes this issue comes down to semantics and hinders clarity.  There are plenty of herbs that will, essentially, cure (read: give your body the tools it needs to heal from) plenty of conditions, and herbs can treat all kinds of symptoms.  We should be able to talk about that without worrying that a slip of the tongue will render us vulnerable to prosecution.
    While it’s imperative that each and every health practitioner be completely transparent about his or her training and experience, I think it’s important to question why conventional medicine is given such a privileged position.  Self care is a personal responsibility and individuals should be able to consult with whomever we think is best qualified to help us.  There are ongoing efforts to give individuals to choose their health practitioners.  You can find out more at the NHFC website.

During the last class period of the conference, David Hoffmann taught “Veriditas, the Green Man, and Herb Hugging.” This was a moving but not warm and fuzzy talk that I wish you all could have joined me at, because I don’t feel like I could do it justice with a quick explanation.  I’m just going to pull out a couple of quotes here.  I should say that these are, obviously, pulled from a larger context.

“I think product issues are the door through which capitalism is trying to take over herbalism.”

“Luckily they’re not burning us any more.  They’re just bankrupting us.  And in a capitalist culture that’s almost as bad.”

I’d like to just take a moment to emphasize that last one, in light of the above issues:

bankrupting ws

I am deeply grateful to the folks who are, despite the frustrations and challenges, fighting the good fight to keep high quality herbs accessible.  I especially admire herbal companies that provide opportunities for education:  You know that people aren’t just in it for profit when they sell bitters – and also teach people to make their own bitters.  It’s vitally important to keep teaching people to make their own herbal products, to make herbal products so ubiquitous that it’s as impossible to legislate them into inaccessibility as it is to legislate chicken soup.  Herbalists absolutely deserve fair compensation for the time, effort, and energy (as well as expenses) that go into crafting herbal products and making them available for purchase.  On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that, if we’re willing to put in our own time, effort, and energy, the plants will gift us with the rest.  Herbalism can exist outside of capitalism.

On an herb walk. You can see Edna Lou in the background.

That’s easy to say and nice to think about, but even better to experience:  A year or two ago, I came across a post about a bus named Edna Lou.  Edna Lou and Guisepi of the Free Tea Party travel around serving free tea to people at festivals, farmers’ markets, city streets, and so on.  I was, of course, intrigued – and I was pretty psyched when I saw that the tea bus would be at the IHS.  Despite this, my New England reserve reared its head, and I didn’t head straight to the tea bus:  My topsy turvy logic was that I didn’t want to bother the folks on the bus by asking for tea.  (A more sensical thought might have been that, if people have traveled so far to gift tea, they’re probably excited to share it.)  It wasn’t until Saturday night when – after a lovely time over at the Herbalist’s Ball and some excellent conversations – I was wandering back to my dorm room, perfectly satisfied to be heading to bed.  And yet, as I walked past the tea bus, I felt myself sort of leaning toward it, pulled in by the lovely thought of folks having tea.  “There’s free tea,” one of the people who was wise enough to be already hanging out at the tea bus said, and that was all I needed:  I spent the rest of the evening and some time between classes on Sunday sitting on cushions outside the tea bus, enjoying brilliant company and delicious tea courtesy of the wonderful people who had brought Edna Lou to the IHS.  Afterwards, I wished I had another week at the IHS – not necessarily to take more classes, because my brain was already bursting – but to drink tea at the tea bus, sitting on cushions and discussing classes and unpacking them with other attendees.  You can bet that – whenever, wherever – I next spot Edna Lou, I’ll make a beeline for that tea bus, because that little space of free tea and awesome people was a huge part of what I loved about attending the IHS.

Heading home both smarter and wiser, I made three trips to the car with my luggage:  One with the troublesome suitcase, one with most everything else, and one with my arms full of seedlings to plant in my garden.

Free tea! Hospitality at its best.

 

The view from the tea bus’s outdoor seating area.

 

Closing circle at the International Herb Symposium.


Notes from the 2015 New England Women’s Herbal Conference

The New England Women’s Herbal Conference is, in many ways, a demulcent* conference.  Rosemary Gladstar spoke this year about how, from the beginning, she wanted the conference to be nourishing and have a sweetness to it.  It’s a replenishing event, and a soothing one – not in the sense of tranquilizing, but of healing.  The WHC is an inspiring weekend full of engaging teachers and classes, but being an attendee somehow also feels like wrapping oneself up in a nice soft blanket that smells of linden and marshmallow.

Betzy Bancroft showing off the sliminess of marshmallow.

Betzy Bancroft showing off the sliminess of marshmallow.

You might not be surprised to learn that one of the classes I attended this year was on demulcents, “the slimaceous herbs.”  It was taught by Betzy Bancroft of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism and United Plant Savers.  I’ve gotten to take a few of Betzy’s botany classes in the past, and loved them.  This was even better.  Structuring the class around an herbal action was fascinating, and kept us focused on how these herbs work and the generous ways they can help us.  The big takeaways for me?  First, I should be taking demulcents.  Why haven’t I been taking demulcents lately?  Second, quoting from Betzy’s handout, “When we ingest [demulcents], the moistening and protective qualities…have a cooling and soothing effect on the surfaces of our GI tract, which is a huge area…  Considering also that there is an enormous amount of nervous and immune activity in the GI tract, these benefits can impact not only our gut but other systems as well.  I have particularly seen that soothing the gut will in turn soothe the nerves and hypersensitivities.”  This was an “ah ha!” moment for me.  Soothing the gut as a way to sooth the nerves.  Of course, considering all the nerves that give us “gut feelings” and “butterflies” in our stomachs.

Third, marshmallow apple sauce tastes really good.  I can’t speak highly enough of having samples to try in class.  I’ve always functioned well in lecture-style academia, but I take in more and find it easier to stay present in classes when there are herbs to taste, smell, touch.  From Betzy’s marshmallow apple sauce and chia pudding to Robin Rose Bennett’s rose-infused honey to Lupo Passero’s grounding spritzer and Jenn Allen’s chunk of pinon pine resin, there were so many good scents and tastes, even before entering the dining hall.

The view from my "home" at the WHC.

The view from my “home” at the WHC.

All that is not to mention getting to camp out in the New Hampshire woods in my sweet little two-person tent that goes up as easy as making your bed.  I camped right up against the trees, and in the mornings I woke up to acorns dropping down from above and rolling off the dome of my tent.

Even that’s not to mention the people:  Running into friends from previous “herb camps” and chatting with herbalists and students of herbalism from all over.  Learning from teachers’ experiences, insights, and stories.  Witnessing performances by folks like singer/songwriter Guadalupe Urbina (whose songs have been known to work their way into your dreams), drummer Mz. Imani (who will get you up out of your seat), and silk aerialist Amy Glasser (who has superpowers).

Gorgeous people and decor in the big tent at the WHC's closing circle.

Gorgeous people and decor in the big tent at the WHC’s closing circle.

And I’ve hardly touched on the variety of activities:  Walking the labyrinth at night.  Opportunities to learn about everything from insulin resistance to sacred beekeeping.  Hot cups of chai in the morning from Tulsi Tea and gorgeous artwork and herbwork in the emporium.  All this in a venue that is set up to protect you from the elements as necessary but is fundamentally outdoors.

I must mention the class that I was, perhaps, most excited about this year: Robin Rose Bennett’s talk on wild carrot.  As a woman who has made a conscious choice not to have children, birth control is near and dear to me.  At the same time, it can be a frustrating subject:  The options are limited and none of them are ideal…but that’s a whole other blog post.  I have sometimes thought that I’d love to hear more talk about birth control in herbal circles:  How could herbs be used to support one’s body when on hormonal birth control?  How can we look at birth control options from a wholistic perspective?  Are there any non-mainstream methods of birth control that are viable options?  And so on.  So, when I saw that Robin would be teaching a class on using wild carrot for birth control, I may have actually cheered, and it was the first class to go on my schedule.  I was impressed by Robin’s up front but generous manner in teaching this class, and in sharing the advantages as well as contraindications of this method, as well as by her obvious love for this plant.  (If this is something you’re interested in finding out more about, read Robin’s book The Gift of Healing Herbs.  There is a section specifically on wild carrot, but I’ll bet you end up reading the whole book.)

One of the most nourishing aspects of this conference is the teachers’ and participants’ willingness to speak so compassionately and passionately on such a range of issues, from prickly ones like contraception to the knock-you-down hard ones like grief, trauma, pain, to the things that mainstream society often dismisses as extracurricular, like fragrance, ritual, dance, drums, song.  Considering how safe and comforting this conference feels, it can be surprising to reflect on the ways in which it continues to gently but firmly push aside the status quo.  I’ve only been to three years of this 28-year-old conference, but each year I’ve attended has been more nourishing, more inspiring, and also more fun than the last.  Here’s to next year!

 

*“Demulcent” herbs are soothing, nourishing, and protecting, also mucilaginous, emollient, “slimy.”


On Raw Milk, and current regulations in Vermont

Vermont’s legislature is currently debating the regulations around the availability of raw milk, and earlier this spring I spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products as a raw milk consumer.  (This post is an adapted version of what I said there.) You can find all the House Ag Committee documents related to this bill (including testimony from myself and other witnesses) on their website, and you can follow the Farm Fresh Milk Campaign at Rural Vermont.  The current situation is that it is legal for farmers to sell raw milk in the state of Vermont, but there are some very strict (bordering on prohibitive) regulations that make it difficult for farmers to reach consumers.  An effort is being made to mitigate those regulations, giving consumers easier access to the extremely high quality (and safe) raw milk that is being produced in the state of Vermont.

I’ve been a customer of Huard Family Farm for the last year and a half or so. Frank Huard delivers raw goat’s milk to my home about once a week, and sometimes we’re also able to pick it up from him at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. The milk from Frank’s farm is absolutely delicious, with a flavor much more subtle than anything off the grocery store shelf. I would drink it just for the taste, but I also drink it because most milk really upsets my digestion if I drink much of it. The milk from Frank’s farm never bothers my digestion. I don’t know for sure if this is because it’s raw or because it’s goat’s milk, or a combination of the two, but I do know that I can drink it by the glass and feel good and nourished.  I can say positively that (to me, and many others) raw milk tastes better and more distinctive than pasteurized milk, and I would venture to say that raw milk lets those of us who drink by the glass enjoy the local terroir in a way that pasteurized milk just can’t.

Frank has always been gracious about delivering to our door, but I’ve often wondered how he could possibly meet expenses when he has to drive all over the place to deliver milk to customers: Gas is expensive, and it has to take him a lot of time to drive to each individual customer. If Frank could sell his milk via retail stores, it would be convenient for me, but what’s more important is that it would be sustainable for him. We used to get raw goat’s milk from Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg, but they stopped selling milk after the 2012 season because that part of their business had proven to be unsustainable. I wonder if this would have been different if there weren’t so many restrictions around the sale of raw milk. I find the present restrictions frustrating personally, but the biggest concern to me is that these restrictions make it so difficult for farmers to reach customers. It goes without saying that a business must be able to reach customers to survive.

I recognize and appreciate that the intent of the present labeling language is to protect the consumer, but I wish that our legislators would give more credit – and more responsibility – to consumers: In my experience, what pasteurization is and does is general knowledge. I think it’s enough to state that the milk is raw/unpasteurized. So long as I’m clearly told what the product is, it’s up to me to determine whether it’s healthy for me. Please show that you respect me and other consumers by trusting us to do that.

In addition to speaking as a consumer, I’d like to say a few words just as a resident of Vermont: I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize too much how important small farms like Frank’s are. They feed us, keeping us nourished and healthy and giving us a much-needed alternative to mass-produced, trucked-in food. They keep money in the local economy. They give Vermont the distinctive sense of place that makes this state a destination. They’re vital to our sense of community: A teacher of mine used to say, “we all exist in a web of interdependence,” and eating food grown or produced by someone in your community reinforces how much we all depend on one another.

The farmers I know are the hardest working people I know, and I think it’s safe to say that, as a group, farmers are the hardest working people in Vermont. While some regulation is reasonable, the present requirements place unnecessary obstacles between the farmer and the customer. H. 426 won’t change that farming is a difficult job, but it’ll do a lot to make this work economically feasible for the farmers affected.

Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I want to vote for a state full of thriving family farms, by buying this good, wholesome product from a local farmer. Please make it easier for me to do that, and give Frank and other farmers a real chance to thrive by supporting H. 426.


Boho on a Bike

By neznámý (scan, reklamní leták) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I bought a motorcycle helmet.  I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to spend $200 so quickly.  But I wanted full face protection from the wind, not to mention that I like my jaw just the way it is.  Really, a Vespa’s more my style than the big old bike we’ll-call-him-Logan recently acquired.  Don’t get me wrong, the bike’s super cool.  But I’ve never been a speed demon, so if I’m ever at the wheel of something with two wheels and a motor, it’ll be a scooter…

I would love to see more people (calling all bohos!) – including those who don’t fit the black leather image of motorcycles – utilize bikes (and scooters) for everyday transport.  With less cars on the road, bikes would be safer.  The demand for fuel would drop and with it pollution, not to mention money spent on transport.

The first time I rode on a motorcycle, Logan picked me up at the train station in Philly on his Yamaha 250.  The bike – for all I ended up loving it – was small, and my helmet was smaller.  We jumped on the highway within minutes and the wind tucked under the face plate and smacked me hard enough that I had trouble breathing.  Not to mention that we were flying down a highway populated by crazy city drivers, my knees scant feet from their fenders.  I chanted affirmations in my head, and we did make it through alive and well, except for the massive pressure headache I had from the ill-fitting helmet.  Thus my willingness to sacrifice income for one that felt just right.

There’s a store in Bar Harbor, Maine called Jekyl & Hyde: One side is full of bright colors, jingly hip scarves, and flowing skirts; the other is knives and black leather.  My sister has commented that this store is a metaphor for my relationship: me the crunchy boho, Logan the biker in black.  That being said, motorcycles are a pretty awesome boho mode of transport, since they’re easy on gas and get you out into your environment.

The latter was what really won me over: Once we got off the highway, I could feel the moisture rising off a nearby stream, smell the pine needles and the farm fields.  There’s no real separation between you on the bike and the family on the sidewalk or the horses in the field or the deer by the side of the road.  Cars put boundaries between us and the rest of the world.  On a bike, it’s impossible to pretend those exist.

I think we’ve gotten comfortable with our boundaries, and lots of us are a little scared to be out there without doors and windows.  That takes courage…  It turns out you do have to be pretty badass to ride a bike, after all.

(Just rediscovered this draft.  It’s a little out of date, but what the heck.)


Vaguely Bohemian Angels

My sister has a knack for getting me presents no one else would have thought of.  For my high school graduation, she filled a small wooden chest full of everything from smudge sticks to a fountain – in short, a complete kit to make a boring old dorm room into a home.  For my twenty-first birthday, she bought me a mini waffle maker.  Not a traditional choice, but I lived on whole grain waffles under various toppings for the next two years.  For my most recent birthday, she commissioned custom cookies.

‘Custom cookies?’ you might ask (though you know that custom-made creations are indeed near to my heart).  Yes, when you know Angelica Howland of Scrumptious Angel.  This woman is – as my sister put it – the Vienne Rocher of cookies.  (If that reference doesn’t ring a bell, read or watch Chocolat.)  I can easily see Angelica setting up shop in a stiff little puritanical town and bringing out everyone’s best and most joyous traits with her deliciously original cookies and brilliantly creative self.

My first taste of Scrumptious Angel cookies came when a box packed full of Elegant Angels, Drunken Angels, Sparrows, and Streaks of Lavender arrived for my birthday.  Holy deliciousness, Batman.  I’ve had a lot of good chocolate chip cookies, but Angelica’s have the richest and most indulgent texture I’ve come across yet.  Plus, they’re not chocolate chip cookies; they’re chocolate chunk cookies, and dang good chocolate too.  Plus, they’re not just chocolate chunk cookies, but cookies with the most creative and balanced of flavorings and wonderfulness.  Just try these, for example:

Streaks of Lavender:  Dark chocolate with toasted almonds and a touch of actual lavender.  These were my first favorites, both indulgent and subtle.
Elegant Angels:  Dark and milk chocolate in cookies sprinkled with a touch of sea salt.  Absolutely addictive, in a way that makes you savor every bite.
Drunken Angels:  Amaretto-soaked cherries, cinnamon-roasted almonds, and dark chocolate.  Did I say the other two were my favorites?  This was definitely a favorite.  Scrumptious is exactly the right word.
Sparrows:  Dark chocolate, dried blueberries, and roasted sunflower seeds.  Frickin’ beautiful.  In the end, these are the ones I was saddest to finish.

Luckily, that wasn’t the end.  Next came the development of the custom Vaguely Bohemian Angels.  Angelica and my sis had brainstormed some ideas, one of which was oats, Earl Gray, and dark chocolate.  ‘What about oats, dark chocolate, and chai?’ I asked.  Angelica took that, added crushed fennel, and came up with the most delicious…I’ll start at the beginning:

When the cookies arrived from the Scrumptious Angel test kitchen, I’d been drinking some spicy herbal tea.  Because of this, upon my first bite, I tasted mostly cookie gorgeousness and dark chocolate.  ‘I don’t really taste the spices,’ I though to myself, ‘but damn, I have never tasted a cookie that is so rich yet so packed with oats.  This is pretty amazing.’  As I went on, I started to taste, subtly, the fennel – almost like, I imagine, the sensation of breathing out after a sip of absinthe.  Then, the taste of chai spices began to grow in my mouth.  It was as though the cookie contained the progression of bohemian beverages, from the absinthe of early 20th century Paris to the chai of my favorite bohemian teahouse.  In the second cookie, I was able to taste all of these flavors together.  Alas – although I knew I’d only get another box of samples if there was something I wanted to change – the cookies were perfect!

If you’d like your own box of Vaguely Bohemian Angels, or to find out more about other scrumptious Scrumptious Angel creations, you can find them on Facebook right here.  (Just click on “about” to see the listing of flavors and ordering info.)  The business is relatively new, and so far without a fully developed website, but you can keep an eye out at scrumptiousangel.com.  Believe me, if you’re ever so lucky as to taste any of Angelica’s creations, you’ll be as devoted as I am!


Why I Love Valentine’s Day

Godward-An Offering to Venus-1912
“Offering to Venus,” by J. W. Godward

I’m not sure if I know anyone else who really loves Valentine’s Day.  Those without a significant other feel left out of all the hoopla, and those who are attached are either nonplussed or stressed about the holiday.  For me, it’s a stepping stone that helps me through the dourest part of the winter.

New England seems to be tailor-made for Christmas.  We have crisp, cold days and snowfalls that paint the branches of our bare trees white.  Our evergreens look as though they’ve been drizzled with icing.  Our landscapes sparkle in undulating drifts of white or blue or pink, depending on the hour.  Indoors, we deck the halls with garlands and swags, and we dress ourselves in our cheeriest berry red or forest green.  On New Year’s, we might even wear sparkles.

Then, we seem to remember that our states started out as Puritan colonies.  We revert to greys and browns, and occasionally navy blue.  The landscape is still beautiful, but the roadsides grow dull with dirty snow, and even a fresh snowfall might not be quite so cheerful without the contrast of vibrant greens and reds.

“Pink Rose,” by Jonathan E. Russell

We wouldn’t dream of wearing pastels before Easter, but Valentine’s Day, that dear Hallmark Holiday, gives us permission to break out the bold pinks and purples, and to give red another go.  All the gaudy advertising (with its pressures to make sure our partners receive the most expressive card, the sweetest chocolates, the biggest bouquet) is packed full of these colors.  And flowers!  Cut flowers may be the most frivolous indulgence on earth, but in mid-February, I can’t help but be happy for the sight of them.  So, while I’ve never been one for big, expensive gestures on Valentine’s, I revel in the brilliant hues that it throws my way.

I think Valentine’s Day should be a day of frivolity.  Pink hearts and Victorian cupids aren’t the symbols of fully realized love or devotion.  They’re the symbols of fresh affection, of new found delight in each other’s company.  So if you’ve someone to celebrate with, forget expensive celebrations and do something silly and fun.  If you’re on your own, celebrate your own company with an at-home spa treatment.  Either way, consider celebrating Valentine’s like the kids do:  Give a little platonic love to everyone you meet.  One year I signed and sealed a whole basketfull of cheesy kiddie Valentines and handed them out to everyone I saw that day.  People were delighted.  When I handed out the last few cards of the night at the local pub, I had one friend give me a big hug and break into tears.  I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what it taught me:  Even a seemingly insignificant gesture – so long as it’s made out of love and kindness – is worth making.

PS:  Next year, I’m hoping to have Glitter Dragons Valentine’s to hand out…


Perfect Health

“Mother Earth,” by Jonathan E. Russell

I feel in perfect health whenever the ocean breeze catches me by surprise – especially in Ireland, where that breeze has traveled over thousands of miles of ocean, and there’s something especially clear about it. I feel in perfect health whenever I’m really, honestly laughing. I feel in perfect health the first many times I smell dirt in the spring (after all that crisp, almost-scentless winter air). I feel in perfect health when I act spontaneously. I feel in perfect health when I first catch sight of a good friend. I feel in perfect health when I fall asleep easily after a long day of fresh air. I felt in perfect health every day I can remember waking up in my grandmother’s house by the ocean (where we spent summers during my childhood, where we spent long days outside, and where we didn’t worry about money or schoolwork or logistics).

I feel that perfect health has both a sense of connection and flow: Connection to the moment, to the environment I’m in, to the people around me. Flow, because in all these times I feel that I can respond fluently to the situation, whether that means physically (being fit and balanced enough to jump down to that rock that’s closer to the waves), mentally (to take part in the banter and make my friend laugh in turn), emotionally (to run with the conversation wherever it’s going), or logistically (to give up the day’s plans for something better).

In most of these situations, being outdoors in the environment figures strongly, too – I know that being near the ocean or at least in a beautiful setting helps me stay in the moment and feel physically stronger. I also feel more nourished (physically and mentally) by the patterns/sounds/smells/textures in nature (light through tree leaves, mountains on the horizon, running water) than by all of the square angles in contemporary architecture and the humming from appliances and gadgets.

(This was originally written in response to a question on Rosemary Gladstar‘s Science and Art of Herbalism course.)