STORY of Our Medicinal Herb Garden
The Gill Tract Medicine Garden was initially inspired by Richard Koenig who founded Healing Spirit Plants in 1995. It had become evident that plants are our natural healers, and that in the inner San Francisco Bay area, we can successfully grow plants from everywhere around the world. Over the years, it became clear that a Community Center-Piece (Centered Peace) Medicinal Herb Garden would be important to provide for and promote our diverse local ethnic traditions. In the advent the Gill Tract Farm occupation of 2012, a significant opportunity opened up for such a grounding community center-piece. Richard offered, and has been invited to donate, a sample “Appetizer” Medicinal Herb Garden as a center-piece to augment Our UC Gill Tract Farm Community Security and Sovereignty Project.
Healing Spirit Plants
Healing Spirit Plants Medicinal Herb Nursery was initially founded in 1995 in the back yard spaces of a home in lower Kensington Ca.
In 1997, being asked to move, and due to an inability to relocate, half of it went as donation to Spiral Gardens: an Oakland-Berkeley cooperative project to benefit the homeless; additional portions went to MomsHead Gardens in Ronhert Park Ca..
In 2007, Healing Spirit Plants Nursery became re-incarnated on a hillside property in upper Kensington Ca.
In 2009, sufficient stock of 150 varieties had been generated to enable entry in the East Bay Farmers Markets at Lake Merritt and Newark; and subsequently in Stonestown Farmers Market in San Francisco, and Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael, Ca.
In 2010, a larger and more easily accessible space became its home in Emeryville Ca. Its mission expanded to provide a medicinal plant source for locally resident ethnic populations, to provide an alternative to harsh pharmaceuticals and Big Pharma, to facilitate medicinal sovereignty, and to cultivate compassionate consciousness through grounding ourselves among the plants in our gardens.
A Community-Centered Peace
Over the next years it became evident that a Community Center-Piece would be important to provide for and promote our local ethnic traditions. It would be important that such a Garden would be centrally located in the East San Francisco Bay area, as the mild climate of non-freezing winters, and cool summers enable the cultivation of plants from everywhere around the world. Centrally locating in an urban setting, would facilitate ease of accessibility by our local ethnic peoples who know their traditional medicinal plants.
Originally a small version was envisioned, and a proposal was written up, awaiting an appropriate centralized location. 3 locations presented themselves: 1) conjunct with the Lake Merit Horticultural Garden in downtown Oakland, 2) the UC Gill Tract on San Pablo Ave in Albany, and 3) the area conjunct with the West County Medical Center on San Pablo Ave in San Pablo/ North Richmond.
Occupy the Garden!
On a Saturday in October 2011, “Occupy Oakland” marched up Grand Ave and stopped out in front of the Grand Lake Farmers Market drumming and chanting. Soon the crowd overflowed in front of Healing Spirit Plants Market Booth, and It was wondered why anyone in their right mind would want to occupy Wall Street? It became suggested that: “We should abandon Wall Street completely, and Occupy the Garden!” So, a banner was made: Abandon Wall Street, Reclaim Our Economy, Create Compassionate Energy: Occupy The Garden!
Occupy the Farm
Six months later, an “Earth Day” march had been designed by some of these same folks to proceed with wheel barrows, shovels, hoes, rakes, 15,000 vegetable starts, and a pair of bolt cutters. It inadvertently ended up at the UC Berkeley Gill Tract: farm land belonging as a Public Trust of the Peoples of the State of California, which had been fenced off for over 30 years, and padlocked with signs declaring: “NO TRESPASSING, Property of the Regents of the University of California.”
Apparently, Governor Ronald Reagan, in his position as head of the Regents, had convened the Board of Regents, and they re-wrote their contract unto themselves as a corporation. In other words, they wrote the Peoples of the State of California out of the contract, thus removing from themselves all accountability, except unto themselves and the “bottom line.” As a result, UC properties became seen as financial assets, urban agriculture was deemed unnecessary, and the UC Gill Tract property was turned over to UC Capital Projects for prospective development. The local community was repeatedly rebuffed by the UC regarding its various petitions for Gill Tract integration for over 30 years!
The Earth Day march in April 2012, comprised of a coalition of over 300 community members, “inadvertently” entered the property and planted a farm: They “Occupied The Farm”! There is a well documenting film titled “Occupy the Farm” available on U-Tube. Resulting from a series of confrontations, perseverance, and finally negotiations with the UC Administration, the North side acreage, including Codornices Creek, woodlands and research fields, was returned from UC Capital Projects back to the UC College of Natural Resources for the next 10 years (until 2022), with a 1.6 acre area of farming space designated for community justice and sovereignty concerns. This is Our Community opportunity to galvanize the wider and local communities to demonstrate the positive qualities of this Vision, such that this land will be preserved for Agricultural Education, Research and Service (as stated in the UC Charter mission) in perpetuity.
Medicinal Herb Garden Donation
At a community meeting in Albany, a written proposal was offered for a Community Center Piece (Centered Peace) Medicinal Herb Garden to be contributed as a potential central aspect for the UC Gill Tract Community Farm at 1050 San Pablo ave in Albany Ca. It was suggested that it should actually drawn up, as “a picture is worth a thousand words,” (It had been expected that this would be a community participatory designing project).
In the drawing process, the proposed Medicinal Herb Garden expanded to its necessary ideal (see design below): a 2 acre lot, containing 15 ethnic traditional Medicinal Herb Garden rings of 100 plants each, surrounding a central Sacred Plants garden ring, and with supportive greenhouses, classroom buildings, a boutique, a medicinal herb plant nursery, and public venue patios (outlined in the Community-Centered Peace Medicinal Herb Garden design and brochure: see brochure).
A month later, Healing Spirit Plants Nursery was approached with an invitation to install a 50’ diameter center piece to help insure the community engagement of the 1.6 acre farming space on the UC Gill Tract. As a single 50’ Medicinal Herb Garden ring, it would be a rather limited, sample garden or “Appetizer” which could inspire the community support, international recognition and UC appreciation, of the beauty, necessity and potential of the full 2 acre Community-Centered Peace Medicinal Herb Garden. As such, Healing Spirit Plants Nursery (no longer in existence) and stock plants became donated, thus re-incarnating itself again, to manifest this UCGCTF Medicinal Herb Garden (MHG). Although limited, our MHG now displays over 250 varieties; about a dozen, from each of various world traditions (see plant lists).
Considerable infrastructural materials (Wine barrels and extended turkey netting) were graciously contributed by the Bija foundation, and installed by our volunteer community. Considerable honoring encouragement and financial support has also been received from the Shivani Maheshwari family of Freemont Ca. and Bangalore India. This project continues to be highly regarded, and very much appreciated by many in the herbal medicine community, both locally and across the country.