If, as their motto says, “land is the medicine,” nature’s pharmacy is overflowing for the healers of Gathering Roots.

Gathering Roots is one of two new farm and healing projects that serve similar goals, but take different paths to get there.

The Black and Indigenous-led Gathering Roots Wellness collective just completed the purchase of 78 acres of land in Auburn — including three houses — to create a healing center for local Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

Just being on the Gathering Roots land feels like exhaling a long breath. Under the steady gaze of Mount Tahoma (Rainier) and the Cascade Mountains, the expanse of rolling meadows, woods, stands of trees and precious wetlands combine to form a bucolic tableau. The cacophony of bird songs provide their own relaxing soundtrack.

While they are still in the planning phase of their project, the vision for the land is multifaceted. In what is the current main house, they plan to host local BIPOC healers in leading meditation retreats, mindfulness retreats, African drumming retreats, yoga retreats and a multitude of other programs.

Further down the line, the collective plans to build a lodge on the land with a commercial kitchen as well as a yurt village for guests. In addition, they will use part of the land to grow food to feed BIPOC communities as well as teach others about the health benefits of growing your own food. They plan to put the wetland area into a conservancy.

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The two parcels of land and the houses on them were purchased on April 1 for $3.2 million with the help of a grant from the Kataly Foundation. 

Co-director Tracy Stewart said for BIPOC, “Our experience and view of the world are marginalized, ignored, most places we are in,” and there are not a lot of places where BIPOC can be their complete whole self. She said the vision of Gathering Roots is to center BIPOC strategies for “calming our system, practices for easing stress, building holistic health and building relationships within and between our cultural groups.”

The ability to “lay down your burden” in a beautiful place could not come at a more critical time, Stewart said. “The last several years of intense racism in the community has taken its toll. The ongoing violence from the police against the Black community, people are tired and then couple that with then COVID happening, and just the exhaustion of fighting on all fronts,” Stewart said.

Omitosin King, co-director of the Gathering Roots Wellness collective, outside one of the houses on the property the collective recently purchased in Auburn. King said finding the perfect piece of land and receiving the grant to purchase it, “has all just been in divine order.” (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

The cumulative impact of racism and the stress that comes from it contributes to what is called intergenerational trauma, or trauma and its negative health effects being passed down from generation to generation. 

Healing centers like Gathering Roots aim to interrupt that cycle.

“We would like for folks to be in a place where they can feel like they can reconnect with well-being and feel grounded and then go back out into their communities and carry that with them and then come back and get grounded again and again,” Stewart said. The space will “help people fill their well,” after coping with racism and trauma.

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Gathering Roots co-director Omitosin King is a priest in the West African Indigenous tradition of Ifa. She said she has had to do more grief rituals over the past two years than any time before. King said she has worked with people who are dealing with COVID-19 deaths as well as people facing isolation and loneliness.

Omitosin King adjusts her straw hat Thursday as she dreams of the farm the Gathering Roots Wellness collective will plant and nurture in Auburn. The farm will feed Black, Indigenous and people of color communities as well as teach people about the health benefits of growing your own food. Mount Tahoma (Rainier) can be seen through the window at left. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

King said finding the perfect piece of land and receiving the grant to purchase it, “has all just been in divine order.”

She said in the past she has participated in meditation retreats and yoga retreats, and has been not just the only Black participant, but the only person of color at all. 

That experience led to the question, “What if we just built a space just for us to be able to do our own rituals and have [an Indigenous-led] sweat lodge and have meditation? There’s no place for Black and brown people to come heal up, where we feel comfortable,” she said.

Indigenous healing with native plants

Tucked alongside a busy road in Tukwila, Sovereignty Farm is creating its own space of healing for Indigenous residents of the Chief Seattle Club’s Eagle Village transitional housing. The Chief Seattle Club is a Native-led human service agency and day center.

This isn’t an agribusiness, there are no neat rows of monoculture crops on flat, denuded land. The plants grow within the natural environment — stinging nettles nestled along a slope full of blackberry, devil’s club planted in a muddy streambed, alongside brilliant green horsetails. 

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Led by farm coordinator Victoria Plumage (Assiniboine, Native Hawaiian), the farm sits on an acre of private land donated for use by the club by a supporter. 

The vision for the farm is to grow food that can be served in Chief Seattle Club’s Pioneer Square cafe, set to open in the fall, but more important, provide a healing and learning space for the apprentices who are working on the land, Plumage said. The program’s goal is to have 12 apprentices working on the farm, who get paid a wage for their work in addition to learning new skills.

Learning and then teaching about native plants is a calling for Plumage. “How can we choose plants that are sustainable for the space and keep it healthy?” Her vision is to create “multiple miniecosystems” at the farm. A little bit of forest, a little bit of wetland and a hotter area that in the summer months feels like being on a prairie.

To promote healing, Plumage said food and traditional plants can be a path toward connecting to larger systemic change as well.

Plumage said they could connect food to health and nutrition and environment and climate change. Plus, “physically, just being outside, breathing, fresh air, doing physical activity is beneficial.”

Both Gathering Roots and Sovereignty Farm are early on their journeys as healing spaces for BIPOC community. But the need could not be more urgent, as racism, settler colonialism, displacement and COVID-19 continue to take their toll. Both projects show that a different future — one that breaks the cycles of intergenerational trauma — can be possible.