When I was 19 years old, I lived in a community house and one of my housemates proposed the question:
"If you could do anything right now, to prepare your entire life in just the next five years, what would you be doing?"
At the time I was going to college studying a major that I was very passionately interested in: Environmental Science and Global Studies. I had three jobs and was working really hard just to get by. The thought came to my head, "What should I do?" And every time I thought about that question, it came back to learning how to grow my own food, learning how to make medicine, learning how to take care of myself, and all the basic self-sufficiency skills that I wasn't taught growing up.
If you've had an awakening over the pandemic, like many of us have, you know that it's been a huge shock to see what happens when our food systems don't work the way they're supposed to. When our shipping trucks can't get places and when workers are shut down from being able to get to the farms, all of a sudden we're left with empty shelves.
How do we live without food being provided for us from these really convenient grocery stores?
I know that when I was growing up, I didn't really have the connection to land that I do now. I grew up thinking that food came from grocery stores rather than from farms. I didn't see that there were people that had to grow and pick things or what type of an effort that would ever be.
When I finally started to come into my awakening, I was in that college-aged time. I was learning the farm to table pipeline; where food comes from, the people that grow it, and the effort involved. It's not just watering a plant, you have to also feed it and make sure it has the right amount of sunlight, and tender loving care. Making sure to plant the seeds at the right time of year and then harvesting at just the right time.
All these different intricacies that I didn't know existed, and I was flabbergasted that I didn't know how to do any of these things. I didn't know how to grow my own food. I didn't know how to take care of myself if our modern-day systems weren't working exactly perfectly.
This led me down a path of dreaming of what I would do to prepare myself. As I did this, my life started changing. In my Five-Year Plan I developed, I needed to learn how to become a farmer, and I needed to learn everything about how to take care of our own medicine. This is before I even knew that herbal medicine existed, but I just instinctively knew that food and medicine were the two basic things that we had to take care of.
After that, I began to think about my water systems. Where does my water come from? And also my trash systems? Where does my trash go?
And so I really started thinking about all the basic systems that build up my life and how I would take care of myself in this really, you know, bizarro Mad Max sort of scenario. If the world ended. What would I do?
But luckily, the world hasn't ended and we have a really robust environmental, or I should say industrial system. But at the same time we're still facing real challenges that are driving these questions for all of us, and especially for young people who have such a long future ahead of them.
So on my journey to become an herbalist, I started out by learning farming techniques. I detoured from my college career path to learn how to work on organic farms through an organization called WWOOF, Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms.
I got to do a homestay on different farms. I went to Hawaii. That was my first adventure and I went and stayed in several different farms. Worked on fruit farms, organic vegetable gardens and got to see how amazing and beautiful Hawaii is.
They have food growing all around you to have a food forest where food is the main thing that's growing around you, instead of landscape plants. I learned how to make my own compost and how to dig up earthworms from different piles and move them into your garden.
I also learned how to do what we call vegetable lasagna gardening. Where we’re making piles of manure and hay, layering that with veggie scraps and different things to build this perfect compost pile that breaks down into loamy, amazingly nutrient-rich soil.
Out of all of these different skills, the most valuable was the transformation from a city girl living in shopping malls and only caring about clothes and earrings to wanting to get really dirty, play in the dirt, and pick my own homegrown salad at the end of the day. To have my perfect little basket of veggies that I grew myself was absolutely amazing transition for me, and that was just the beginning.
During the road trip I had in Hawaii, I was traveling around with my friend's mom, who was a Chinese herbalist. Everywhere we went she would be say "Oh this fruit over here can be fermented and made into a health tonic. And this wood over here is really good for immune system and this herb over here…" She could go on and on everywhere we went across the island.
I learned that we're not just looking at plants anymore, every plant has its own function and purpose within our ecosystem. Some of them were used for fiber, some for food, and some were really potent medicines that grew all around us in absolute abundance, and I never even knew.
This propelled my fascination with the world of herbs and took me down a new journey called herbal medicine. Becoming a herb nerd and geeking out all the time. As I started learning more about herbalism. I also started learning about what it meant to live a holistic life.
This idea of a dream life is something that I think I talked about a few times, but it's something that I've revisited a few times in my life. What is my idea of a dream life? A simpler time where life slows down, I get to be on a piece of property, look at the sun. Look at the sunrise, look at the sunset, look at the stars in the evening, and really just enjoy being in fresh air.
Getting my workout from working hard on a farm on the land and moving my muscles, not because I have to be in a gym, but because I'm actually doing the work that produces my life. I'm breathing fresh air. I'm moving. I'm eating healthy food and the cycle just beautifully goes on. So I started dreaming towards this idea of homesteading.
And a few years later, I went to Herb School and then after school, I went and tried to homestead and live on a beautiful piece of property in Oregon. Along the way, I've gotten to do several different farming stays. That's how I got so into homesteading.
It’s just seeing different people’s examples, but I got to live on a 40-acre property up in Southwest Oregon. There, we had endless amounts of blackberries and we made blackberry wine and blackberry jam. We made all our own salads and nuts and fruits, you name it.
I also got to work on the Herb Pharm, where people are growing the medicine to make tinctures and herbal remedies. I got to see all these different examples of people living really holistic, simple lives. They worked really hard all day and they knew how to do hunting skills. They raised their own bees. They grew mushrooms. They just kind of nerded out, whatever field they wanted.
But at the end of the day, they went home, they stopped by a fire and they enjoyed being with their family. Instead of turning on the TV, they sat around a radio or they sat around a campfire or they read books and read stories to each other. And it was this really beautiful, sweet, loving, simple life.
So on my journey of what I want to do for the rest of my life, I started trying to figure out how to simplify my life and live that homesteading dream.
Since then, I've been lucky enough that I've landed back in my hometown of Santa Barbara. I've landed back on a ranch where I could help out with some goats, every now and then we milk our own goats. We make our own cheese. We get to eat our own eggs, and we have a little veggie garden that grows year by year. And we're still learning.
We’re still growing. But it's been such an amazing journey. It's so satisfying to be here, years later, and look back at the very beginning. I get to wake up with the sunrise, feed the chickens, feed the birds, walk around, water my garden, and then go off to work and come home and see the sunset. On a really good day, I get to have a campfire in the backyard. This is California, so I always have my fire safety tools nearby. I love to just enjoy slowing down, breathing and being out in the mountain air.
If you got to dream up this life, what would dream your holistic life look like?
What would your Five-Year Plan look like for getting ready for the rest of your life? For me, I think I’ve finally gotten myself set up and now my new Five-Year Plan and I get to build a whole new future.
How do I harvest water the best that I can? How do I build my rainwater harvesting system? How do I know how to grow some basic veggies?
Now, I want to learn how to grow mushrooms. I'm trying to learn how to do beekeeping for the first time and make my own honey. Fun things like that.
So, your Five-Year Plan might change over time. But I really want you to enjoy this little dreaming process of what it would look like if you could get ready. What would it look like if you could really build that sustainable life that you’ve dreamed of?
If you're interested in learning more, Artemisia Academy has a Holistic Gardener course.
In this class you get to plan out, design and research in order to create your dream garden or homestead without wasting all of your time, energy, effort, and money.
In the meantime, just enjoy dreaming up your future. And let's see what beautiful magic we can make together.