Herbal Conferences Guide and Directory
Guide & Directory
Excerpts from The Free Plant Healer EBook of Events for Herbalists
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Below is a lengthy excerpt from the Plant Healer Conferences Guide, featuring helpful tips for selecting the events that will serve you best. Download the free EBook guide with its extensive Directory of dozens of popular herbal conferences, plus the entire set of articles including The Herbal Conference Experience which features contributions from Rosemary Gladstar, Corinna Wood and many other event organizers from around the country.
You can read here on the blog or download you own PDF copy:
From the Conferences Guide:
As the publishers of Plant Healer Magazine and the organizers of the annual Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, we get asked all kinds of things… including this one question in particular: “What makes your conference the right one for me to go to?” Our inevitable reply is that “Actually, ours may not be the ideal herbal gathering for you.”
It would be great if everyone had the time and funds to attend every event, but given folks’ tight schedules and the cost of travel, it can be wise to carefully consider what it is we each need and desire out of gatherings before making any plans. Developing criteria for deciding – and an understanding of the different kinds of gatherings – can be helpful… as can the anecdotal stories from other conference organizers that follow below. Also included here to help you, are a handful of event listings to give you just an idea of the variety of both the new and long established conferences being held annually here in the U.S., with the many other events easy to find by doing an internet searches for “herbal conference”.
Whether billed as a “conference,” “symposium,” or simply a “gathering,” most events for herbalists and the lovers of medicinal plants are wonderful, periodic opportunities for us to:
1. Gather together with other like-minded and like-hearted folks, visit with old friends and allies that you might otherwise only talk to on the computer, make new acquaintances, share stories, and plan out projects to work together on, building real and lasting community in the process.
2. Learn directly from a wide range of herbal teachers, speaking about the topics you are most interested in.
3. Reward ourselves for all our commitment and work, with a healthy dose of energizing and sometimes purely ecstatic celebration!
From Oregon’s intimate Breitenbush gathering to the East’s mighty International Herbal Symposium (IHS), dozens of large, medium and small gatherings provide a magical confluence of purpose and delight. There are few parts of the country where there is not a conference or weekend workshops within a day’s driving distance, and it can be well worth it to drive or fly across the continent to attend a particularly awesome event. And from their opening ceremonies to the final bittersweet parting, the experience is one of affirmation, stimulation, and celebration. The information learned can benefit one’s herbal practice for a lifetime, and the relationships developed there can continue to grow long after. It can take weeks or months for the excitement – the tingles, the charge, the “high” – to even begin to subside.
CHOOSING TYPES OF HERBAL EVENTS
There are essentially four different kinds of herbal conferences, each with its own approach, focus and audience. These can further be broken down into “international” and “regional” (or “bioregional”). Regional gatherings draw together folks from a given geographical area, building local community and focusing partly on the medicinal plants of the area. “International” can be defined as something “carried on between two or more nations,” but in this case generally means “appealing to and involving herbalists from all around the globe.” Even when international events draw only a few folks from distant lands, they tend to attract participants from a larger swath of the continent. Regional gatherings are just as important and enjoyable, if not more so, the difference being that they tend to appeal to folks from the general area rather than afar, at their best evoking the flavor of a particular area and its resident cultures and ecosystems.
1. International, Broad Spectrum:
Inclusive, geared towards the widest range of participants, with the broadest possible scope (for example, the IHS). Almost everyone wants to attend one of these extra large events sometime, and feel the energy of it.
2. International, Professional:
Designed for professionals, academics (in the case of university conferences), and/or primarily for existing or applying members (as in the case of the American Herbalist Guild conferences). Nothing else can take the place of such an event, if yours is a particularly professional, official, or academic career path.
3. International, Niche:
Events that still invite global participation, but that are characterized by a particular tradition or approach (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine conferences, and the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine that’s known for a naturopathic emphasis), a certain constituency or subset (the various new radical or “revolutionary” herbalism events, for example), or a community or cause (such as Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous, devoted specifically to the folk herbalism revival… and the seeding of other groups and events).
Created special for the herbal community in a certain bioregion, intimate, evoking a strong regional/cultural flavor, and often emphasizing the medicinal plants common to the area. Close-by regional events are less expensive to attend, and one can therefore often afford to attend one even if planning on going to an international conference the same year. Every bioregion (defined by natural landscape and biota, not political boundaries) needs its own herbal gathering, and all of us need to support local involvement.
Which of these 4 types might serve us best, hinges on how we answer some basic questions, such as:
•Am I seeking a path to accreditation, professional credibility and career?
•Or am I desirous of an empowering but informal education?
•Would I do best with entry level classes, advanced, or something between?
•Am I looking for classes within a certain tradition, or diverse perspectives?
•Am I searching for a particular skill set, for a specific intended use?
•What do I most need to know, and what would I most enjoy learning?
•What do I plan to do with what I learn?
•What time of the year am I most likely able to get away from my normal work and home routines?
•Would I do best with the intimacy of small group, a moderately sized event, or an excitingly large one?
•How far can I afford to travel, if I make my herbal education – and my attendance at a conference – a priority? And what might be the benefits of attending a smaller event close by?
•Is there somewhere I would strongly like to visit and explore, that is also the site for an herbal gathering?
•How important are the social, ritual or celebratory aspects to me, what kinds of people would I most like to build relationships with at this time, what experience would I find most inspiring and lastingly fulfilling?
Once we’ve given sufficient thought to our personal requirements and wants, the next step is to do extensive online research to find out which event(s) best serve them. Look at as many different conferences as you can find, so as to be able to fairly consider them all. Then go to as many as you want to and are able to, focusing on those that will do the most for you and your ability to give to others.
Nearly every gathering has an informational website describing their focus and any characteristics that distinguish them, as well as their dates, location, classes, and any entertainment or other activities. Weigh the following factors when comparing the various events, in accordance with what you know to be your personal needs, desires, and short and long term plans.
Emphasis & Mission
When selecting which conferences to attend in any given year, it can be good to begin with checking out the event’s focus, emphasis and mission. Is it largely general, such as “providing herbal information to all,” or more specific? Is it geared community and folk herbalists or to clinicians and professionals? Does it feature the specific approaches/traditions/perspectives you are most interested in? Do you personally share the mission and aims of the conference? What is the overall spirit, impression or vibe of the gathering?
Originality & Character
Regardless of its focus or approach, it is an event’s unique character that makes it special, and its degree of originality that assures its integrity, makes it stand out, brings it recognition, and results in the loyalty of its participants. The less that an event appears to copy the style of another’s, the more it has to offer. Look for herbal events that are self defined, emulating without imitating, with a definable spirit and palpable flavor all their own.
While a number of the teachers are the same at various conferences, the size and make-up of the attendees varies greatly. Attendance can range anywhere from 50 participants to over 1,000, with some crowds being broad spectrum, others primarily professional or academic, some being mostly made up of spiritual/magical/self-help leaning folks, some that are for women only… and a few funky wild events like Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous that draw self-described misfits, homesteaders and kitchen herbalists, activists, younger enthusiasts and even teens. Imagine what kinds of folks you might want to hang-out with most, learn with and from, and develop friendships and alliances of purpose with.
One of the most important factors of all is the matter of class topics. Whether there are 10 classes or 50, the question is how many of those being offered contain the information you most need for your work and aims, and which you’re really excited to attend.
Class Types & Levels
When assessing classes, keep in mind whether you are looking for entry level, moderate or advanced lessons, since basic courses can be uninspiring if you already know the material, and because one has to have a good understanding of the basics in order to makes sense out of some of the most advanced classes. There are also different types or formats of classes to consider, such as instructional lectures/talks, question and answer sessions, group panels and debates, hands-on workshops, ceremony/ritual, and roving plant identification walks.
Number of Classes Per Slot
You may also want to know how many classes are being taught simultaneously. Too packed a schedule, too little down-time, and too many classes at once can be hectic for some attendees, but having too few of classes in each time slot means fewer opportunities and choices.
It’s good to know or research the herbalists who are presenting at any given event, since teachers have very different specialties, teaching styles and levels of knowledge. On the other hand, it likely shouldn’t be the main criteria, because:
1. The majority of the better known herbal instructors can be found teaching wherever they are invited, with many of the same names appearing repeatedly all around the country.
2. Many of the most effective and exciting teachers happen to also be the lesser known ones, herbalists that we may not even recognize the names of when we research the lineup at the different conferences.
3. Class topics and content can be more important than who is doing the teaching, especially given that teachers can fall into a rut and repeat nearly identical classes at multiple events.
Conferences are held in all but the coldest times of the year, with some indoor events beginning as early as March and as late as October. Dates can matter, if you are someone who can only get away from work at certain times, or a parent with school-age children that you would like to bring.
How close you live to an event is a factor if there is no way you can gather enough funds to travel further than a certain distance, or if you are looking for a conference that mostly involves people and topics related to your home region.
Where an event is held is also a consideration… first and foremost, because of how much the landscape and spirit of a place can affect our experience of it. Every location has its own history, natural history, spirit and ambiance. Are we drawn to mountains, deserts, forests or farmlands, or would we prefer the convenience and comfort of a more urban setting? Is it important that there be natural areas near the event site for plant walks?
Lodging, Facilities & Meals
It’s important to keep in mind what kind of lodging and facilities we’d like to have, whether we can be comfortable in a campground tent at an event with no rooms available, would enjoy rustic rented cabins, or would prefer the convenience and amenities of a well-appointed hotel or convention center.
Kid & Pet Friendly
If you have pets that travel with you, you obviously need to be sure that pets are allowed on site or in the rooms, and under what circumstances. If you have infants you need to bring, or children who have an interest in herbs and would love to come, then you will want to find out how kid-friendly any given event is. Childcare is seldom provided, but you can sometimes find sites with playgrounds, and some events including Herbal Resurgence include a number of special kid’s classes and events just for them. If you would appreciate a break from the noise and demands of children, on the other hand, you will want to look extra hard at conferences that prohibit or at least don’t encourage plant-playing rugrats.
As important as any other criteria, perhaps, is how a gathering that you heard or read about feels to you. Does the possibility of going there feel mainly like a reasonable and practical choice, or do you intuit a deeper connection, feel drawn or called? Do you feel excited about the very possibility of attending, to the point of being gladly willing to ask a boss for time off of work, or a family member for their blessing on the trip? It may be one of the gatherings that you should go to, if you sometimes think about what it will be like while doing your daily tasks, or ever dream of it at night.
For further input, seek the opinion of herbalist friends with similar tastes who have attended different events. Look up blogs and reviews from previous participants. Ask for suggestions and hints from other herbalists on online social media sites, and compare their experiences and impressions.
Once you have figured it out, it’s time to commit, start saving up, plan and grin!
HOW TO PLAN & PREPARE
As of 2013, tickets are averaging from $250-350 for most multi-day events, although a few nonprofit conference cost as little as $35 per person. Registration is often less expensive the earlier you purchase your tickets, with up to 40% discounts for some early purchases. If purchasing at the door, plan to pay more. Considering what organizers often spend on site and facilities rental, bringing teachers, promotion and entertainment, you can almost always be sure you are getting a good deal. Pay attention to whether the special longer classes known as “Intensives” are included in the ticket price, or if you have to pay extra to attend them.
Besides tickets, you may need to figure-in your gas costs or plane tickets, the price of a cab or shuttle from an airport to the site if you are flying, meals and lodging in route, meals and lodging at the event, and a little extra for fun purchases at each conference’s Healer’s Market.
Decide if you are driving or flying, plus a shuttle or rental car from the airport when necessary.
Conferences may include the price of meals in the registration costs, provide and charge separately for prepared meals, invite food vendors to take care of the participants’ needs, or simply suggest you bring enough food to both eat and share in a potluck atmosphere. In the case of Herbal Resurgence, the Mormon Lake management insists on them being the only ones to serve food on the site, though anyone can bring their own “fixin’s” and prepare their own meals. No matter what the meals arrangement, I recommend you bring a supply of easy to prepare meals or snack foods to supplement.
Arrange far in advance for childcare at home while you are gone, if needed. If taking children, plan and pack accordingly.
Conferences usually last from 2 to 4 days, and you will want to arrive on site the evening before.
Plan to Bring:
A blank journal or note taking supplies. A time piece to avoid being late to. Supplementary food, snacks, special dietary needs. Clothes for any weather, due to nature’s many surprises. Basic first aid, skin care, and any herbal preparations you use, and any extra herbs or preparations you have around that you might want to trade to others. If any of the classes are held outdoors, you may want to bring a sun hat and sunglasses, and even consider bringing your own comfortable seating pads or chairs if you are driving to the event. A tent, bags, sleeping pad, pillows and ground cloth if camping out. And remember your camera, to capture those precious memories of your time at the gathering.
As Rosemary Gladstar writes in the Plant Healer Conferences Guide: “Rather than becoming set on one way, we are beginning to recognize and honor the many diverse ways that we can work with plants, and the importance of that diversity to health and healing. I feel every herbal conference hosted in this country has played a big part growing our herbal communities and in creating respect and honor for the various green paths we chose to follow…. and the footsteps we follow in.”
Indeed! Pick the events the events that excite you most and equip you the best, and/or those nearest to you, learn and enjoy!
Thank you to Jamie Jackson for all her work on this project.
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