In a flurry of words, spoken like an old friend you’re catching up with over tea, chapter coordinator Stephany Hoffelt will paint you a clear picture of Iowa City. When we speak, Iowa City has the hue of a college town with a passionate civically-engaged populace forced to take risks with little guidance.
“Iowa is the only state that didn’t have a mask mandate at one point and the Governor refused to allow online schooling. Within the Midwest people know that Iowa is a mess, especially Iowa City.”
Over the summer the state of Iowa and Iowa City were in the throes of a dual-sided crisis. Almost half of all admissions at UIHC tested for Covid were positive and unrest triggered by the May killing of George Floyd saw increasing numbers of people gather in the streets to protest systemic racism and police brutality, increasing the risk of widespread transmission. Then a derecho hit Eastern Iowa causing serious damage and widespread power outages.
But by that time, Stephany was no stranger to chaos. With a large family, her teaching garden, and business of her own to run, Stephany responds to these challenges with familiarity and a matter-of-fact kind of humor. “There is literally always something going on,” she laughs.
The Iowa City chapter had already been providing medic training for area activist groups when the local BLM protestors called for medic support. “It’s hard to enforce precautions among protestors even though the organizers try,” Stephany shares. “One of my medics tested positive recently. It definitely adds a layer of difficulty to what we’re trying to do.”
In a place where the lines are more blurred and the dilemma of choice many young people are facing across the US right now, the choice is between stand up to injustice and risk exposure or stay inside.
Medics also risk arrest by police officers who in recent times have been less discriminating with their targets. “We’re not sure what’s gonna happen because police are going to be authorized to enforce arresting organizers that aren’t distancing.”
The medics coordinate regularly with marshals of the Iowa Freedom Riders - the group organizing protests in Iowa City with a goal of making sure those marching in the streets have support. The medic group uses a buddy system and medics are trained in first-aid and CPR to help people dealing with sprains, tear-gas, and heat exhaustion.
The Iowa City chapter of HWB does more still. At the start of the pandemic they came together to make an empty house available as a quarantine location for frontline workers who didn’t want to risk their families being exposed to the virus.
"The mutual aid collective and food projects sprung up as needs arose,” says Stephany.
Members have also kept their gardens going, contributing their herbs to herbal first aid kits and the chapter’s apothecary project. Others have been saving seeds as part Iowa City HWB's seed bank project while introducing new plants to their gardens.
The chapter still makes herbal learning available by hosting herbal teach-ins over Zoom and nearly half participate in the local Mutual Aid Collective they organized. As the season changes and we get prepared for flu season, the chapter will have their herbal preparations ready to go.
Stephany's great grandmother was a midwife who used herbal preparations to take care of her community and Stephany followed that tradition before she went to Goddard College where she studied clinical herbalism. She still thinks of herself that way, despite her degree.
“I felt a little undereducated when we moved to Iowa City and just wanted the letters behind my name,” she chuckles. A researcher, her name can be found listed as a resource in the course work of many herb schools throughout the country.
HWB Writer: Shari Shepard
Shari Shepard has had a love for wild things since her first summer spent in her grandmother's garden in Alabama. She is a writer, wanderer, teacher, ritualist, and musician. She comes from the sea spray and redwoods of the Ohlone lands, now widely known as the San Francisco Bay Area by way of the Chattahoochee River Valley once stewarded by the Muscogee. Her herbal learning is influenced by the Wise Womxn tradition, western herbalism, the root workers of the southeastern United States, and West African traditional medicine. She credits the plant world for opening up a doorway to deeper understanding about her ancestral lineage and for helping her step on the hard yet rewarding path of healing the traumatic loss of cultural identity caused by the colonization and captivity of her ancestors.
Her favorite medicine food is ginger, her favorite tea is Tulsi, and her favorite tree is the Sweet Gum.
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