‘Garden goddesses’ share their knowledge at Winters talk

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Spring Warren transformed her yard in a typical Davis neighborhood into her own micro-farm. Kami McBride learned to grow and harvest her own plants and herbs to keep her family healthy.

What do they have in common? Both were dissatisfied with how things are and embarked on a path to find another option. And, both will appear in Winters together for the first time on Wednesday, Aug. 17, to inspire others to take gardening to the next level.

Their free talk begins at 6 p.m. at the Winters Community Library, 708 Railroad Ave., and everyone is welcome.

With Warren’s strategy of making use of every inch of space surrounding the home, and McBride’s strategy of growing and harvesting medicinal plants and herbs that are often native to this area and grow easily, together they will strive to show home gardeners how to “use their gardens in more ways than you imagined possible,” McBride says.

McBride will be familiar to many as the leader of hikes at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, where she teaches about the abundant native vegetation that can ease all sorts of aches, pains and rashes, or can be transformed into healthful teas and syrups that alleviate congestion, stomach aches and allergies.

Simple plants that grow wild everywhere in the region — like oat grass, dandelion and elderberry — are practically a free pharmacy and can be grown at home, she says.

In addition to leading the hikes, McBride teaches a yearlong course on herbal medicine, and is certified as a continuing education provider for the California Board of Registered Nursing. She also teaches a variety of other classes ranging from making skin lotions and oils to edible gardens, and even intensive classes focusing just on tomatoes or teas.

She is the author of “The Herbal Kitchen,” which features 250 healthful recipes for herbal oils, salts, vinegars, syrups, pestos and smoothies.

McBride became interested in herbal medicine in the early 1980s, following the death of a friend who died from complications from asthma medication.

“A couple people in my life got very sick taking pharmaceutical drugs,” she says, adding that her friend was only 21 years old when she died.

She started doing her own investigations into medication and natural remedies, and decided, “There’s got to be another way. We’ve got to do something different.”

At the time, she’d never even heard of holistic health care, and now she’s an expert on the topic.

McBride was 23 when she set off on a journey all over the country to learn everything she could about herbal medicine, spending seven years on the road just gathering knowledge. One of those years was spent living on an organic farm to allow her enough time to learn about plants and herbs in depth, and learning how to grow the herbs that could be used to make medicine.

“I became steeped in herbal medicine-making,” she says.

Her quest for knowledge for her own sake evolved into working with others to self-treat their ailments, and this eventually led to teaching classes professionally. McBride’s goal is to “empower people to use herbs in everyday health and home health care.”

McBride has seen with her own eyes the power of herbal medicine. Her young son has never been on antibiotics, and she says his asthma symptoms were eliminated using natural teas and steams.

“It’s a lot of work,” she admits.

Besides treating her son’s health issues using herbal medicine, McBride says she is teaching him at the same time about the herbs and what they do.

“He knows that’s our inheritance,” she says. “A hundred years ago, when someone got sick, you went into your yard and picked something (to take care of it).”

This dissatisfaction for the nutritional status quo and the desire to find an alternate path are what also motivated Spring Warren to tear out both her front and back yards, and set off on a goal to grow or raise 75 percent of her food right there on her quarter-acre Davis residential lot. This was the inspiration for her book, “The Quarter-Acre Farm.”

Like McBride, although Warren sought another way to stay healthy, she didn’t have an extensive gardening background, let alone one in farming, even on a small scale. She learned everything, literally, from the ground up.

Her inspiration came while she and her husband were on a cross-country road trip. It was the year of the big “salmonella scare,” she says, when people were getting sick possibly from eating salads, and the actual culprit for the breakout was under investigation.

Tomatoes, onions, peppers — everything was suspect, she says. Then she noticed what was passing by the car window.

“We were driving though the farmlands, and so much was corporate. We were seeing things sprayed,” she recalls.

Warren also noticed feedlots and livestock yards, and started thinking about the salmonella outbreak, and how consumers don’t really know what’s been sprayed on their food or fed to the livestock. It dawned on her that if she grew her own food, she’d know exactly what was going onto her family’s dinner table.

But she didn’t really know how. The only thing Warren had ever grown herself was tomatoes — a “hobby garden.” But she didn’t let that stop her.

“I could grow more,” she thought, and announced to her husband and son that she intended to produce 75 percent of their food herself, right there at home.

How did they react?

“They were horrified,” she says.

Warren got started by covering her lawn with cardboard and paper, piled with “huge amounts of mulch.” Rather than ripping the lawn out, her course of action was to smother the lawn with mulch, which required an ample supply. She learned to catch the sound of chain saws, mowers and grinders in the neighborhood and ask for the debris.

Besides transforming her lawn into usable farming space and planting fruit trees to satisfy her self-admitted sweet tooth, Warren also learned to raise chickens, and had to learn to freeze and can what she grew. Right from the start, she learned what grows really well in this area.

“The first month was the month of zucchini,” she says.

Despite these successes, it looks much smoother in print than in reality.

“I had problem after problem after problem,” she admits, and had to learn why some things grow well and some don’t, and why, and also had to figure out what caused her various failures and try again.

“I had to figure out the science of it, like that potatoes need cold weather,” she explains.

After a year’s worth of sweat-education, Warren met her goal. Seventy-five percent (by weight) of everything her family ate came from their own garden. So obsessed was she with this goal, she admits that it extended beyond eating at home. She kept track of what she ate in restaurants or at other people’s houses to make sure the 75 percent was an honest figure, and says sometimes she brought her own food to other people’s dinner parties if the percentages were getting too close.

Although Warren and McBride share many common threads in their quest for healthier living, and although both live in Davis, they’d never actually met until the opportunity arose for them to combine their knowledge and present it to others interested in healthy living choices.

It was a hot summer day when they met at Warren’s house, which wasn’t hard to spot in a neighborhood of neatly mowed and landscaped front lawns. Warren’s is a riot of towering sunflowers, grape arbors and squash beds. The back yard is more of the same, with paths leading to raised beds, vegetable patches, fruit trees and a chicken coop, which is shared with a curious, charismatic white goose that waddles along the fence line to keep an eye on visitors.

The two talked about their histories and viewpoints, and then strolled through the back yard, McBride occasionally pointing to a “weed” and noting the medicinal value to be had for free.

As they shared gardening tips and stories, successes and failures, a synergy began to emerge. This is what they will share with those who attend the Aug. 17 talk.

There is no charge to attend, and there will be a question-and-answer period, too. Copies of “The Herbal Kitchen” and “The Quarter-Acre Farm” will be available for purchase and signing.

For more information about McBride, visit her website, www.livingawareness.com.

For more information about Warren, visit her blog, www.thequarteracrefarm.com.

For more information about the visit of the “garden goddesses” to the Winters Community Library, call Toni Mendieta at (530) 795-4955.

— Reach Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com

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