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The Recorder - Bridging the gap

After a recent service at the First Congregational Church in Ashfield, some of the churchgoers gathered upstairs to make herbal medicines and thank-you cards for migrant agricultural workers throughout Pioneer Valley.

The church has partnered with the People’s Medicine Project, an organization that first began as a community garden and has since added additional educational pieces, said the project’s director, Leslie Chaison, who is also a congregant at First Congregational Church.

“We try to bridge wellness resources in our community with community need,” Chaison said, of the goal of People’s Medicine Project.

The medicines made on Sunday will  serve refugees and migrant farm workers at a Dec. 15 clinic in Springfield.

“We are really interested in (reaching) out to the immigrant community that’s — particularly right now — undergoing a lot of stress from this administration,” Chaison said.

For the First Congregational Church, the outreach aligns with its mission, said Lori Wyman, a member of the church’s Mission and Social Justice Committee.

“This is a practical way to help people in our community,” Wyman said, citing how migrant agricultural workers, who are integral to Pioneer Valley farms, “aren’t given chances (to use) alternative health care.”

“We were thrilled when (Chaison) proposed this to us,” Wyman added.

The People’s Medicine Project began in 2012 as a community garden and expanded by giving mini workshops on herbal home remedies, like quelling cold symptoms, Chaison said.

Chaison, an herbalist, connected with other herbalists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and cranial sacral therapists, who all provide services as a regular clinic at Greenfield’s Recover Project, which provides services and support to those in recovery.

A series of connections link last Sunday’s medicine making party to refugees and migrant agricultural workers.

Abby Ferla, the Operations and Development Manager of the People’s Medicine Project, reached out to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, where a staff member there connected them with La Cliniquita, a clinic run out of Brightwood Heath Center, an affiliate of Baystate Medical, Chaison said.

“We’re trying to combine the plants that are familiar (to migrant agricultural workers) and (to) formulate something that has specific relevance to health issues that they might be experiencing,” Chaison, said, adding that this is the first time the People’s Medicine Project will be part of a clinic specifically for refugees and migrant agricultural workers.

To research the needs of the migrant agricultural worker community, Chaison collaborated with a staff member from Pioneer Valley Workers Center, who brought forward ideas for herbal remedies that may be well received at December’s clinic. Additionally, the staff member, who works with migrant agricultural workers, told Chaison that massage would be a welcome healing modality, Chaison said.

“(The staff member) talked about how folks are really obviously feeling so much stress and anxiety about their situations, so we’re bringing a lot of calming things (to the December clinic),” Chaison said, like “teas that help with anxiety and (calming) the nervous system.”

Additionally, Chaison said she has been reading work published by health workers who worked in communities with migrant agricultural workers; these articles detail some herbal and home remedies that have were sought out by the refugees and migrant agricultural workers in those communities, Chaison said.

With those suggestions in mind, Chaison designed three stations for Sunday’s medicine making party.

At the first, volunteers blended herbs to make medicinal teas: one to reduce anxiety, one to help get to sleep, one to reduce hypertension.

“(Immigrants) who are living in this country now are probably living with a lot of stress,” Ferla said.

People passing the tea station would comment on the nice smells of the herbs.

“The people doing it are feeling very zen, and having a great time, said Rochelle Nahmias, who was mixing herbs for a tea.

At a bottling station, volunteers bottled a syrup made of elderberry, thyme and garlic, which Chaison said is a good cough syrup.

“They work, but they taste bad,” said Rosa Stegeman. Her mother uses similar recipes at their home in Conway, she said.

At a third station, volunteers mixed salves, which Chaison said are applied topically to ease muscle aches, pains and inflammation.

Salves are mixed at a high temperature. After the heat is taken off, the salve quickly begins to solidify, and in a matter of a few minutes has settled to a chapstick-like consistency.

In that time, volunteers poured the mixture into pocket-size tins. Spanish labels identify it as a sore muscle relief.

A fourth station is art-based, to craft cards for migrant agricultural workers “to reach out and say ‘We support you, we’re thinking of you,’” Chaison said, to send well-wishes.

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at moreilly@recorder.com or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.

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