Elders Building a Healthier Future

They meet in Chase Legacy Center’s art room every Thursday for herbal tea and the deeper refreshment of conversation. Known as WeAct (When Elders Act, Communities Thrive), the group began as a natural living discussion circle, and evolved into a discussion/action group.

The weekly gathering of elders is convened by the decidedly youthful Greg Monzel. Today he’s harvested Echinacea and mint from the herb garden tended by the group just outside. With curved shears, he snips the big healthy blooms and fragrant leaves into a blue teakettle as people stroll in.

An herbalist, Greg offers his prodigious knowledge of wildcrafting and permaculture, but participants have a wealth of information too. The discussion moves in spirals, touching on plant medicine, gardening, and other homespun topics.

We explore the identification and uses of lamb’s quarters, with one member noting that this “weed” is high in iron. From another participant, we get the inside scoop on Distelrath Farms’ new cooperative model, which allows the farmer more time to pursue his mission: educating children.

From another, we learn of Taj Mahal’s original plan to be a farmer, and why he changed his mind: “He couldn’t figure out how you could keep from being poisoned by putting poison on the ground.” We lament the way conventional agriculture wages war on the land.

Comfrey root bearing a smile

Greg produces a section of comfrey root dug from his garden. A terrifically tough—and useful—plant, comfrey’s roots extend some 40 feet underground. He cuts the root into tiny pieces to send home with everyone. Each garden can benefit from nutrients pulled up from the depths.

After a while we take cups of bright-tasting tea outdoors to the raised beds designated for WeAct use. There’s the excitement of lifting carrots from the earth. We discuss uses of borage and alfalfa, remedies for mildew, and where to buy a hori hori. Greg urges us to take dill seeds and coriander seeds to plant or eat.

The sky is deep cloudless blue for the first time in days. We stand in the sunshine enjoying the cool morning breeze. It’s the kind of moment that you wish could last all day, and in fact Greg says it is the high point of his week. Too soon, the group disperses.

Harvesting carrots from WeAct's group vegetable bed

Harvesting carrots from WeAct’s shared vegetable bed

Though we don’t visit it on this day, WeAct also maintains a vegetable plot on the adjoining vocational high school campus near the Colonel’s Cupboard, a student-run restaurant. The group supports the school’s horticulture and culinary programs in gardening and preparing homegrown produce.

From the mission statement: “WeAct is an activist organization of elders (and elders in training) who meet weekly for continuing education and community engagement…We consider anyone age 50 and over an elder, though the group is also open to elders in training who may be under 50.”

Among the goals:

  • to reaffirm the wisdom of community elders
  • to advocate for the right to home-grown nutrition
  • to create awareness of community resilience and natural balance

How are the elders (and elders-in-training) in your community manifesting a healthy vision for the future?

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