“The medicine of plants is also the medicine of place,” Lizzie Matteson told me as she and her husband, Jeff Bodony, showed us around Viriditas Wild Gardens, their forest garden farm on the west coast of Oregon just north of Williams and the Applegate Valley. Earlier that day we had visited the farm at Pacific Botanicals and Oshala Herb Farm. We were heading north for a tour at Mountain Rose and Jeff and LIzzie, supporters of my Kickstarter, invited us to stay for the night.
Viriditas Wild Gardens is named after Hildegard von Bingen’s concept of the “greening power of nature.” Von Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess of the twelfth century, and viriditas reflects her idea that the healing power of God resides in everything green. Healing is achieved by tending that aliveness, an aliveness that is most directly experienced in the natural world.
Jeff chimed in. “In what ways is the echinacea grown in the middle of a ten-acre field different from echinacea growing in the prairie of Kansas or Oklahoma? The species is the same, but what does that really mean?” Jeff asked. In nature plants connect with one another through their root systems and the mycorrhizal networks in soil, in intricate relationships confirmed by recent scientific findings.[i] But those kinds of relationships can’t be maintained in a monoculture.
What is Diversity?
“A ten-acre plot of echinacea is no different than a one-thousand-acre field of corn,” he said. In both cases, there is only one species present. But diversity is important, because each species of plant feeds a different part of the soil biology. “Where you grow a diversity of species, you have all these organisms being fed,” he said, “and this amazing dance of life forms underground.” That dance provides vitality and energy and power to the plants. “So you’re raising a different quality of plant material.” I understood Jeff to mean these plants were healthier, more vibrant, more filled with viriditas. Their approach to growing herbs is about feeding and tending that aliveness, which calls, first of all, for recognizing the value of that aliveness and being able to sense its presence.
Aliveness in Growing Botanicals
Regenerative farming practices are increasingly a tool to attend that aliveness, beginning with nourishing the aliveness of the soil. But there are many different approaches to what exactly this means on the ground. And so, continuing our series exploring what regenerative practices actually mean in the botanical industry, we hosted a webinar with four family-owned farms growing botanicals. Four was more guests than we usually have but it was hard to choose so I invited them all! Below are some video clips highlighting key points from this conversation.
[i] See Christine Jones, “Creating New Soil,” March 24, 2006, for an overview of this literature. http://scseed.org/wb/media/Creating_New_Soil_Dr._Christine_Jones_3-24-2006.pdf.