by Kristina Beuning, Sunbow Farms
With the growth of the local food movement across the United States, you may have heard of the ‘term’ CSA in conversation with others, in the news or on a flyer. While many different farm-specific definitions exist, the essence of the term remains the same regardless of your location. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) consists of a community of individuals who by purchasing shares in a farm pledge their support to a local farm operation. As a result, the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. So, how does Community Supported Herbalism (CSH) fit into this framework? Herbal-focused CSHs aim to take the CSA experience beyond just food and a connection to the land, to ‘food as medicine’, using plants for healing, wellness, and education. Like a CSA, CSH members purchase shares in the farm and in return are provided a box of fresh herbs and herbal wellness products each month. Also like CSAs, variations on this theme are developing as this grassroots healing movement expands within the United States.
Herbalism has a long tradition of use outside of conventional medicine. In fact, plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history.
Herbalism has a long tradition of use outside of conventional medicine. In fact, plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants. Other indigenous cultures around the world have used herbs for healing rituals and therapies throughout their history. Interestingly, when these geographically disparate herbalist traditions were compared, researchers found that people from completely different parts of the world tended to use the same or similar plants for the same purposes. In the early 1800s, scientists began to extract and modify the active ingredients from plants, synthetically manufacturing their own version of plant compounds. Over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favor of drugs. Yet, over the last two decades in many Western Countries public dissatisfaction with the cost and side effects of prescription medications has sparked an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies for many ailments.
One way herbalists have reached out to their communities to share this traditional knowledge of plants is by the development of these Community Supported Herbalism cooperatives such as the one recently started at Sunbow Farm in Eau Claire, WI. Owner and farmer, Kristina Beuning, has teamed up with two herbalists, Lisa Yakesh and Judy Behrens (a member of the American Herbalist Guild (see www.americanherbalistsguild.com) to grow local and, in most cases, native plants that have documented healing properties. A Sunbow CSH share consists of a wide variety of herbal medicine preparations made from herbs organically-grown on the farm. In general, they contain formulas that address a variety of common conditions such as colds, flus, digestive issues, sleep, stress, and minor skin problems. Each month’s box includes at least two 1 oz salves, a 1 oz herbal extract, fresh herbs, 3 oz bar of hand-milled soap and a 2 oz bag of an herbal tea blend . As with a CSA, a bountiful season results in additional products being included in the box. The monthly herb packages include information on the specific herbs and usage instructions, and the new herbal remedies for that month focus on seasonally appropriate remedies. For example, during the start of cold and flu season, the November boxes might feature a calming tea, dried herbs for steaming, and a lung-centered extract. Each month, products from the previous months are still available so that members can choose what they receive based on their own and their families needs. Additional products are available for purchase if desired. One important component of Sunbow CSH is education. Each month, pick-ups coincide with monthly health education workshops taught by the herbalists . “Many people may not even be aware of the usefulness of commonplace everyday ‘weeds’ that can probably be found in their own backyard or flower gardens. For example, yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a common flowering perennial used in drought-tolerant plantings, can be used to staunch the bleeding of a nose or cut,” shared Lisa Yakesh. As Judy Behrens stated, “Our goal is to make herbs accessible and commonplace for community members to use in the care of their families. Through education, we hope to raise awareness about the usefulness and necessity of herbal medicine within a grassroots, everyday approach to taking care of ourselves.”
When considering the cost of joining a CSH, think about the last time you went to a doctor or drug store in search of a cure for a minor ailment. If you sum up the co-pays, the potential lab costs, the prescription costs (and potential side effects), your time, and most importantly whether what was offered really helped solve the problem, it starts to make sense. Why not try a relatively inexpensive natural alternative first? Joining a CSH gives you access not only to locally-produced alternative healing products, but also to herbalists who can help you understand and use nature’s gifts of health and wellness. For more information about Sunbow Farm CSH visit www.sunbowfarm.com or call 715-456-0184.