From social distancing to staying in quarantine, COVID-19 has hit many foundational structures in our society. During the beginning of the pandemic in March, the country came into a panic-fueled frenzy, buying copious amounts of toilet paper and other household goods, leaving shelves empty and barren—and most importantly, leaving other folks and families without basic needs. And now with states like California officially closing for the second time due to COVID-19 spikes, where do we go from here? How do we care for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities amidst all this? Especially when communities of color and low income communities are being hit the hardest?
We go back to the roots. Literally.
Meet Loba (Loba/they), a queer educator, herbalist, and activist located in occupied Tongva land better known as Los Angeles, California who has been organizing through plant connections and land justice amongst many other forms of healing and justice work. As the pandemic started, Loba decided to find ways to connect to communities and people across the country through a herbalism webinar called “The Apocalypse Series.” Their first webinar, titled “Sprouting Gardeners: DIY Plant & Garden Tending for the Apocalypse,” was hosted live through Zoom on April 18. Later on, new webinars have dropped from “Intro to Herbalism for the Apocalypse” to “Herbs for the Nervous System: The Apocalypse Series.” They focus on growing your own gardens, making herbal medicines based on certain plants, and also centering food and land justice.
“Even before the pandemic, I have always engaged with community herbalism, figuring out how to support people by making medicine,” Loba told me over Zoom. “I think it’s very important for me to make medicine and share it with people. I think that herbalism is sometimes not super accessible for most folks and I think herbalism is a part of resistance practice in a way. A part of movement building, of nourishing people and taking care of each other, you know mutual aid.”
For Loba, they saw that as the pandemic started, many people within the community started realizing how important it is to know how to tend to a garden, plant, and grow their own food. “I think a lot of folks, especially city people are disconnected from the production of food and how easily it is for this entire system to go down and people don’t know how to grow a tomato.” This was a big part of why they started the series. It was knowledge and tools that were not taught formally in school and Loba saw the importance bringing those skills during the pandemic to share with communities. They wanted to have people not depend on Agriculture corporations, an industrial complex that is extremely abusive to workers.
The mission of the first class, as Loba describes, is to cultivate gardens that are super low resource and cheap maintenance, especially perfect for concrete jungles like Los Angeles. And with so much good feedback and rapport, Loba decided to call it “Sprouting Gardeners: DIY Plant & Garden Tending for the Apocalypse.” “It’s understanding that our families have survived a lot of apocalypses too. There’s a lot of resilience in that way,” they said.
With these webinars, Loba sees herbalism as a way to establish and create healthy connections with each other. “We hurt each other, but working with plants, working with land and first is such a good way to create healthy relations that are fulfilling and learn how to care for each other,” they explained. And for Loba, it's important that communities that are highly targeted by systemic oppression and terror to have access to this kind of care through gardening and herbal medicine. They name plants like dandelion, nettle, and cempasuchil as resilience plants that have faced resistance and thrive in the most concrete or marginalized places.
I was fortunate and had the pleasure to take one of Loba’s classes, titled “Intro to Herbalism for the Apocalypse.” With a pad and pen in hand, I soaked up Loba’s words like a plant to the sun, photosynthesizing knowledge and care. During the beginning of class, Loba was dedicating and centering class on the land that we as people occupy: land that belongs to the Indigenous and First Nations people who first lived here known as Turtle Island.
I asked Loba why it was so important in their work to center on Indigenous land justice. “It's understanding the land that I’m on, I don’t own. There’s no way you can own land, to start there. There are a lot of issues going on with Native Californians groups and tribes that are not recognized by the Federal government. And there is a reason why: it’s an expensive land. Millionaires live here.” Loba called for centering work around Indigenous people and land justice because of huge developments where Indigenous people and plants have been gravely affected by settler colonialism.
"In these classes, we talk about capitalistic healing mentality, how you can go out there and harvest white sage and sell it," they told me. "While White sage is the original plant to this area, and extremely sacred to Native people. And I spend 30- 40 minutes of importance acknowledging the land we are, the people who have before and the future. How do we take care of land and make it healthy for the next generation?”
And Loba recognized and made sure to say that land justice is not without Black resistance. “It’s important to acknowledge how much agriculture and botanical knowledge they brought to this territory and continue to create in this territory.”
With all of this talk about plants, gardening, and how we as a community are going through a total lifestyle shift, one can only dare to ask: what's next? What does our future hold during this COVID-19 pandemic era?
“I come from this super pessimistic lens, that we are all gonna die, ” Loba said bleakly, yet grins and laughter escaped from their mouth. “That something that keeps me going is the idea of alternative realities, how we can imagine what the future will look like, what the world would look like. Plants and fungi are so sci-fi, everything about them gives me a feeling for the future.”
They spoke on how seeds grow so abundantly and fungi has these deep networks that can communicate. Citing their version of sci-fi feminism, it is “creating, rethinking what a future looks like.” Loba said, “When I have any types of thoughts and feelings of disillusion, I go back to creating something for the future. Whatever it is that we are doing right, is going to impact the future. It gives me hope.”
Loba has seen the impact that these webinars have had on the community. “I have people telling me that that keeps them alive during the pandemic or that they are making teas from taking my classes," they said. "A lot [have] realized that the future is going to look differently. And we need to prepare for that shift. What I think is important for me to do is to create a hub for especially queer, trans BIPOC to be able access technologies for the future. Doing these webinars have really made me feel that people are really instead in garden and seed saving. And they see how it is important."
Loba makes sure their classes are accessible, letting attendees sign up on a sliding scale. You can also access a recording for a slightly bigger fee. According to Loba, as many as 4,000 people have listened to their seminars.
So what’s next for Loba? The future, of course. These webinars also a way for Loba to fundraise for their Queer Land Project, which is a project or center as Loba calls it. “Specifically for Queer Trans BIPOC to access knowledge that is usually kept by cis/white people. Like how do we figure out building housing structures that don't require polluting the planet. Build things. I am going to create a lot of that content on my patreon”.
With building gardens and building communities to build a new future, we see through Loba and their work, plants are the future. Specifically food and land justice, that ultimately will sustain us. By acknowledging the land we own and giving Indigenous people sovereignty over the land, we are one step closer to actually living in a habitable world, where we survive, one seedling to one root to one branch to eventually, a forest.
To connect more with Loba, follow their Instagram and check out their website which has recordings of all present webinars and other classes they have taught, as well as more information on their services and resources. A link to their Patreon can be found here, and donate to their Queer Land Project here.
Top photo: Loba embracing plants in their backyard. Taken by @thatonelatino. 2020.
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Natalie (she/they) is a graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Feminist Studies and a Editorial Intern for BUST mag. Hailing from the Bay Area, California they love to read, write poetry and analyze their birth chart. Check them out @hunnistix on Twitter for causal updates on how Mars square Saturn transit has been treating them.