First published here.

We live in a forested valley about 45 minutes southeast of Asheville, in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The three of us, Corinna Wood, Ema Carmona, Lee Warren are friends and neighbors sharing values of simple, low-impact living, and environmental and social activism.

As women in our 30’s and 40’s we’ve grown up with the notion that women can do anything. Thanks to our foremothers, we’ve experienced much liberation. Our life paths have taken us back even further to learn the old ways: herbal medicine, home-birth, tending animals, growing food, and sitting in circle with other women. We are changing culture from the inside out.

From our first annual Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference event in 2005, we quickly discovered that women in the Southeast were ready and eager for this community of teaching and connection that we were creating at the conference. We discovered that we were filling a deep need. Our first conference drew 250 women, a high number for a start up event. By 2010, our sixth year, over 800 women attended, during a rough economic time when event after event were collapsing. The conference now has a heart and soul of its own. For many it has become an annual event, a tradition in education, inspiration, and sisterhood.

At this point our conference has become not only the largest women’s herbal conference in the country but the largest in general. One of our regular teachers who had to miss last year due to a scheduling conflict said, “I really feel like Cinderella about to miss the best party of the year.”

It seems that part of the draw to the conference comes from the authenticity that we bring to it as organizers. We use the weekend to give women a taste of the way we actually live. We all live at or near Earthaven Ecovillage, an intentional, permaculture-based community on 325-acres and home to 50 members who are experimenting with living more lightly on the earth. For us, green business and sustainability aren’t just buzz words: they’re the way of life we’ve chosen. Our office and apothecary run entirely on solar and hydro electricity, our homes and offices are built and heated by wood from our land, we grow much of our own food on our adjacent farms and gardens, we raise our children in a community context and we practice herbal medicine, natural health, and women’s cooperation in our everyday lives.

While most of us recognize that much wisdom and knowledge has been lost as we move towards modern medicine and institutional living, it’s often hard to find the resources to incorporate these ideas and practices into our lives. Speeded up living, a fear-driven culture, and messages galore from the corporate media often leave us breathless and spun. Our weekend provides a deep cellular call towards the folkways that were passed on between generations since time out of mind: simple living, local plants and deep nourishment. As we remember, we are midwifeing each other back into wholeness.

And it’s happening. Women are going home to change their jobs, relationships and lives. They incorporate more natural approaches to healing or childbirth. Or change their level of inner confidence. The smallest changes—to a more green business or more respectful relating strengthens the web. Consciousness is like mycelium, we become an underground network, miles and miles wide, doing the sometimes small and sometimes large work of inner and outer healing. And as women grow in strength they become their own hubs, affecting countless others. The more we affect the whole, the more we can help others and the planet heal from war, environmental destruction, and huge emotional pain.

Additionally, maybe empowerment is a sort of pride in where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s only when women can see the light of liberation that they can actually embrace what has been. It seems like we’re getting there. Our conference is one small part of reweaving that visible and invisible web.

Bar-curls

Lee Walker Warren lives in a Cohousing Neighborhood at Earthaven Ecovillage in the Appalachian Mountains of Western NC (near the artsy, hip city of Asheville.) She is an herbalist, food & social activist, writer, and manager of a cooperative farm focused on pasture-based system of animal and crop rotation. She is also Program and Promotions Coordinator for the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, and annual event held near Asheville, NC and dedicated to the Wise Woman Tradition. This year’s conference takes place October 14-16, 2011 and features Brooke Medicine Eagle as the special guest speaker. Details can be found at sewisewomen.com.

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