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“As we apprentice ourselves to the way of nature, we begin to understand that all of life is in a continuous cycle of giving and receiving. It is the honouring of this cycle that makes us feel at home in ourselves and in relation to the rest of nature. In order to experience true belonging, we must not only acknowledge the gifts we are receiving, but also give our beauty away, no matter how it may be received by others.” -Toko Pa Turner

In my experience, having a sense of belonging to self, community and nature is essential for optimal health and life experience. I want to share about how I came to be an herbalist and why I founded Healer's Harvest and The Herbalist’s Collaborative. In essence, it is the path of my heart and a space for all of that which is healing for me. In the simplest terms it is for the sake of serenity, purpose, connection, service and love, so that in my last moments of this life I can look back in peace, knowing that I contributed to the world and my community in a meaningful way.

I "came in hot" to the work force at 18 and was soon working four different jobs. I was under the impression that as I grew into adulthood I would naturally find happiness and success and I was more than willing to work for it. I had genuinely believed that making money would be the key. My energy and motivation was endless. I had a naive goal to own my own home in my twenties, it was my only goal, really.

I had also assumed the right relationship would come along and be the path to fulfillment but that wasn't working out either. I didn't have the interpersonal skills, self awareness or emotional intelligence to even choose a compatible partner never mind maintain a healthy long term relationship.

By the time I reached my mid-twenties I had become rather disillusioned with the life I was living. I burned myself out completely, had no where near enough money to buy a home and I found myself feeling dread at the thought of my own future. I was totally discouraged. Despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to create a life I loved. Over time it dawned on me that I had never been clear about what my values were. I wasn’t living with intention or purpose and I realized that many of the decisions I had made in my life were the result of doing what people told me to do, what I thought was expected of me or what I assumed I should do. My sense of self was totally entangled with the external world. This realization was the beginning of my unending path to self realization and belonging.

Eventually, I decided to quit my jobs to travel. I thought for sure travel would enlighten me and lead to a life I loved. I yearned for connection with nature and wanted to learn how to garden and grow food because as I explored what my values were I came to believe that knowing how to provide for myself was essential. I had often experienced moments of serenity when I was immersed in nature and I wanted more of that feeling. I decided to do some WOOFING (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and as fate would have it the very first farm I worked on was an herb farm. I was thoroughly intrigued. That year I attended the 2011 International Herb Symposium (IHS) and applied to The Herb Pharms Herbaculture Internship Program.

Shortly after attending IHS I moved to Hawaii, where by the grace of god I was hired without any qualifications to work with at risk youth at a wilderness therapy organization called Pacific Quest. There have been many moments in my life where I have felt supported and guided by

some kind of divine intervention, I like to call it a “god moment", and this was one of them. The job listing stated that applicants should have a degree in psychology or be working toward one, it felt futile to apply but I did anyways and ultimately was hired. It felt truly miraculous, like the universe was on my side and supporting my attempts to create a meaningful life for myself. I had the honor of counseling kids as they worked through a rigorous therapeutic program. We taught the kids basic life skills, interpersonal skills and how to live sustainably off the land. It was everything I wanted and needed to learn about life and for the first time it became evident to me that I myself had been at risk youth. Witnessing and helping to facilitate the physical, emotional and spiritual healing of these kids was a therapeutic program of my own and it was life changing.

I left Hawaii in the spring of 2012 when I was accepted into the Herb Pharms Internship Program in southern Oregon. I lived, worked and study with 12 incredible women for three months at Herb Pharm. It was my first time living communally, my first deep dive into the world of herbalism and the beginning of a lifelong apprenticeship with nature and plant medicine. I had the blessing of taking classes with Sajah Popham, Alexis Durham, Autumn Summers, Tyler Wauters, and many more teachers. It was here that I learned about The Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism (VCIH) and was told it was one of the best herb schools in the country. I was enrolled by January of 2013.

Moving to Hawaii and to southern Oregon to attend Herb Pharms internship were two of the best decisions I ever made. I experienced genuine awe, inspiration and transformation. I could feel my whole body resonating with "YES" from within and I knew I needed to allow myself to be guided by those feelings. It was as if for the first time in my life I was truly coming to know myself and my spiritual life had begun to develop. I found serenity in nature and came to believe that I was merely a tiny and relatively insignificant part of a cosmic and immeasurable whole that I could never truly conceive of. My perspective of life changed. I could see so clearly how precious life is and what a gift it is to be able to witness, sense and experience all that life has to offer. Nature gave me something to believe in, wholeheartedly. Herbalism deepens my connection with nature and therefore my spirituality and both are sources that I receive endless amounts of contentment and joy from today.

After completing The Family Herbalist Certification Program at VCIH I returned home to be present for the birth of my first nephew. I had made a new life plan to garden for a living so that I could continue to be close to nature and learn about plants. It also allowed me to travel in the winters. I enrolled in The Herbal Academy's Online Advanced Herbal Certification Program and took several years to complete the course. Throughout those years I traveled to Indonesia, New Zealand, Hawaii (again), Costa Rica, Portugal and Spain. I was humbled again and again by people, culture and natural beauty. I pushed myself beyond my limits in more ways than one from hiking the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast to scuba diving in the Gili Islands in Indonesia, I faced fears I never knew I had and it taught me to surrender and to have complete faith in life on life's terms. In many ways I flourished and continued to find passion and direction.

I had several “god moments” while traveling in New Zealand. Before I had left the US I reached out to Isla Burgess, an internationally renowned herbalist who I had learned of while at Herb Pharm. I asked her if she had any work trade or internship opportunities available. She replied to let me know that she wasn’t offering what I was looking for at the time. I arrived in New Zealand several months later with no real plan, I was still trying to find some kind of internship or work trade situation on a farm or with herbs. Within days of arriving in Auckland I walked in to a cute little Eco Store, on a whim I decided to ask the gal working if she knew of any farm work opportunities and she told me that she had recently bought a farm with another couple on Waiheke Island and just the night before they decided they needed help and were about to start looking for “WOOFers”! She told me she would run it by her business partners and that I should come back the next day. The next day I was on a ferry to Waiheke and I ended up spending 6 weeks at Waiheke Valley Permaculture Farm. It remains to be one of the best traveling experiences I have ever had.

I decided it was time to see more of NZ so I left the farm and road tripped around the country for a few weeks. My friends in Waiheke set me up with their friends down in Wanaka on the South Island and I stayed in a tiny house on their property for a week or so. One day while I was there I went for a walk and happened to bump

in to their neighbor who was sitting at a table in her yard working with fresh cuttings of a native plant. We chatted for a bit and I came to find out that the woman I was speaking to was Isla Burgess!!! The herbal teacher who I had reached out to months ago hoping to be able to work with her! It was wild. I had no idea where Isla Burgess lived and yet somehow of all the places I could have found myself in New Zealand, I ended up in her back yard. I told her this story and she was as stunned as I was at the coincidence. A few days later Isla invited me to stay with her and do a work trade because she felt it was clearly meant to be. It was an awe inspiring moment and opportunity. This is the kind of experience that leaves me with no doubt that there is some kind of higher consciousness flowing to me, through me, as me and when things like this happen I feel certain that I am on the right path in life.

After NZ I moved to northern NH where I was hired to work in an herbal apothecary, I sept about a year there before traveling to Spain for a yoga teacher training program. I backpacked around Spain and Portugal and returned home again. I was always happy to be home and to reunite with friends and family but sooner or later feelings of purposeless and loneliness would return despite having all of the incredible life experiences I was blessed with. It had been 7 years since I first set out to travel. Having spent almost a decade moving from one place to the next and traveling for extended periods of time I came into my thirties feeling totally uprooted. I wasn’t sure where home was anymore and I was missing a sense of belonging and community. It was time for me to settle somewhere and create a home for myself.

Shortly after returning home from Portugal, I was hired at Farmacy Herbs and took their level 1 & 2 Certificate Programs. I found a sense of community there. I lived above the herb shop for two and a half years until I found the home where I live now in a farming community on the south shore of Massachusetts. I adopted Emery, my rescue pup in 2018 and Theo in 2021. I love our little family. We live on 17 acres on the Westport River, surrounded by nature and wilderness and we couldn’t be happier here. It is a dream home and there is a lovely community of local herbalists and farmers. I used to think I would be happy once I owned my own home, but I have come to realize that what I was really yearning for was a sense of belonging to a family and community and a safe space to call my own. I still hope to own a home one day but for now I am happy to stay here for as long as we can.

In 2020 I was unable to work my day job from March-June due to covid. It was uncertain times for all of us but aside from that I was pretty content being home with Emery and I had enrolled in Thyme Herbals Advanced Apprenticeship. My best friend had also just had a baby and needed a babysitter so I had the pleasure of helping her and caring for him regularly in his first year. It was a total change of pace and I had the time and space to get creative and reimagine my future. After completing my apprenticeship I met with my teacher Brittany to inquire where I might find what I was looking for next in a herbal program. I explained that I was feeling a need for more support and community as well as a lot more practice with herbal energetics and consultations. I felt like I kept taking one program after another but wasn’t getting the “next step” that I was looking for. After hearing my story and what I was seeking she responded with encouragement that changed the course of my life. She said, “It sounds like it is time for you to stop studying and start doing, why don’t you create what you are looking for?”. She was so right and I knew it, I had been studying herbal medicine for just under a decade at this point and had five different herbal certificates under my belt. If I wasn't

ready to move forward with these skills, who was?! But with out Brittany's faith in me and her suggestion I am not sure I would have felt confident enough to move forward with an idea like that because I just never felt "ready". It was the push I needed and before the end of 2020 I officially founded Healer's Harvest and The Herbalist’s Collaborative with the mantra of “Perfectly Imperfect."

I infused everything that I know to be healing into Healer’s Harvest and it is the platform for my life's work and purpose. My mission is to facilitate healing of our planet, communities & selves by encouraging connection with nature & community through herbalism & education. I created what I was looking for in an herbal program and The Herbalist's Collaborative launched in 2022. It has been such a rewarding experience to take my place in the herbal community as a leader and to create a space for our community to grow while developing our herbal skills together. In June of 2023 I attended The 16th International Herb Symposium, this time I attended as a vendor and I felt proud to represent myself in this community that I have been a part of since 2011. I saw friends, classmates, teachers and members of The Herbalist’s Collaborative and I truly felt a sense of belonging.

Knowing and claiming myself, my place in my community and my connection with nature will forever be my path to healing and wellbeing. Belonging to myself provides me with healthy self esteem, self awareness and fulfilling relationships. Belonging to community provides me with purpose and the ability to be of service to others in a meaningful way. Belonging to nature provides me with my spirituality, serenity and a sense of responsibility for the earth, our home. The moral of this story is to follow your heart friends, surround yourself with who and what you care about, live for what matters to you and have the courage to take a leap of faith every now and again.

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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Such an inspiring story, Justine! You give me confidence to start living my own herbal path!

Justine Ring
Justine Ring
Jul 07, 2023
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Aw thank you, Bee!!

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