Massia Officinale* – A radical herb garden in rural Estonia.
Massia Officinale is a herb garden that offers itself as a platform for interdisciplinary work exploring entanglements of our ecological relationships. We invite artists, researchers, thinkers & doers for a collective imagining and activation, using and shaping of this platform and the interdisciplinary work with human and non-human nature. Focused gatherings are in planning – however, the invitation is independent of these – Massia is open all year round and the work on the garden is in full activity – join us, we could do with some helping hands!
Answering the first invitation early April 2018, 14 of us came together from various parts of the globe to meet in Massiaru, Estonia with the desire to conceive a vision and contour the light silhouettes for what Massia Officinale can be/come.
The following text aims to recollect the dense week of conversations, activities, connections, practice, knowledge and curiosity sharing and to collate the collective imaginings we came together for.
Massia’s building was built in 1937 to be a school for Massiaru and the surrounding villages’ children. The school functioned most of its time during Soviet occupation as seen in the interiors and lingering school materials. The history of the building, such as the recent history of Estonia and the Baltic countries altogether, is one of colonisation, struggles with identity and strong resilience. A structure defining the grounds, devising it into official and back entrances, fruit garden and play ground speak the language of rules and limitations, visibility and surveillance. However, we observe in Estonia’s countryside a turning away from micro-management towards the allowance of chaos.
We’d like to see the structures that define the grounds of Massia cracked and loosened, catching up with the surroundings. To rewild the ground, let the resident plants grow and see what diversity comes back when we stop mowing. Hoping much of the herb garden will be inhabited by the herbs that have been here for thousands of years, enabling us to archive local herbs, local herb lore and practice. We also like the idea of inviting non-native biology into Massia and those useful plants that have been cultivated so they can be where we humans might need them.
Approaches in line with principles of permaculture resonate well – from a philosophical perspective and also from the perspective of sustainability considering that Massia has no staff. Working with nature not against it; less work, more vitality, diversity and health. We like Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy and the idea of curating plants and allowing them to manage their ecologies themselves. We like Cho Han Kyo and the Korean Natural Farming’s method of using indigenous microorganisms to keep the soil healthy.
We are in favour of stepping back instead of in and prefer non-manipulative practices to create the herb garden. We’re curious to see what happens if we simply let all plants on the grounds grow without cutting them down. A living archive, that doesn’t need human interaction as much as one might think. Make use of the ground-tilling activities of the moles by using their hills as plant beds; using messiness as structure and experimenting with creating a perimeter with plants that repel moles.
We’d like Massia and its grounds to feel like an invitation to enter and interact with it, letting the inter-actor find their own way of entering, being, residing, engaging, connecting; Letting desire lines evolve instead of leading steps with rigid routes. Experimenting and researching pathways and ways of inviting through space. Introducing micro climates of space that offer various ways of being in the space for varieties of beings. Build spaces and sculptures for shelter, choreograph for the senses.
Pollination – Proposals for collective learning & doing
• Philosophy lectures (Philosophy of ecology pencilled in for 15th Sep.)
• Autumn Soil & Composting Sessions (in planning for end of Sep. – touching on microbiopolitics, soil health & fertility, soil as body, grounding and growing matter, decomposition, soilscapes)
• month long body weather gathering, working the land at day, movement practice in the evening (in planning for Oct.)
• Body weather gatherings for shorter periods
• Gardening weeks with specific focuses e.g. sowing seeds, watering systems, composting, farming experiments, companion planting, harvesting, seed saving, propagating… (8 May – 18 June first organised gardening weeks)
• The garden as studio
• Conversations on Post-Growth, Post-Human, Post-Fossile futures
• Microorganisms, fermented foods, human-bacteria-relationships and herbs that support these processes
• Seeds: the ecological importance, hidden information, sprouting & micro herbs, seed saving, seed justice
• Baltic botanics – exploring baltic herb knowledge and lore
• Baltic paganism
• Mycology Studies & planning fungi cultivation in Massia
• Lichen & Mosses
• Herbal Medicine studies & remedy practice sharing, working with the herbs in Massia and surroundings
• Herb studies led by the shift in seasons – growing and harvesting seasons correlating with season related health stories
• Food & medicine – cooking with wild herbs, foods and microorganisms
• Herb crafting (dying, making papers, textiles with herbs, fungi, lichen…)
• Biodynamics and non gregorian calendars in tune with plants
• Cultivating magic mushrooms from all over the world
• Nights at Massia – experiences touching on darkness
• Astrology meets astronomy meets herbalism under Massiaru’s night skies (e.g. during the Perseid meteor showers 11-13 August 2018)
• Bee project: a long term project, running through different planning and establishing stages, over the next couple of years, from planting attracting plants to keeping the hive healthy
The intensity of the gathering led to thoughts considering how to build in pockets for restoration during future gatherings. Breaks are important to enable us to process and regenerate. We’d like to propose formats in which every body has the chance to pursue personal work whilst co-creating opportunities for collective explorations, e.g. with alternating shared proposals days and personal work days. We’d also like to propose gatherings in which intense conceptual work is combined with intense physical work – e.g. combining the soil sessions with composting work, combining mycology studies with the building of a mush-room-room, philosophy of ecology lectures with the creation of micro climates of space…
If you would like to see more, here is a link to a more illustrative pdf documenting the in-between moments.
Spring Gardening Program
We’re learning that nature has it’s own ideas which don’t comply with an artificial schedule. It’s a daily improvisation. These are the things that we’d like to do over the course of the coming weeks.
• choreographing the herb garden
• planing and build planting beds with terracotta underground watering system
• sowing and planting herbs (lots of them)
• collecting wild herbs from the surroundings and building micro-climates in Massia where they can thrive
• collecting indigenous microorganisms for soil health
• creating herbs & food forest – a 120qm field with a hideaway island in its centre where we’ll be growing a mix of herbs & foods (where’s the line?) that provide each other with an ecosystem in which soil, animals, organisms and plants thrive
• creating micro-climates of space for plants, microorganisms, animals, and us – choreographing bodies in space using plant characteristics (height, fragrance, growing & companioning patterns, etc.), wellness profiles (what does who need? soil & light conditions, introversion/extroversion, etc.) and found objects in Massia (climbing toys, gas masks, watering structures, etc.)
• mole hill farming – using the tilling work of the moles to grow plants in their hills that help keeping them away
• tending the compost piles
• feed & update the herbarium with plants from the garden & surroundings
8-18 May – week I
18-25 May – week II
26 May-3 June – week III
3-11 June – week IV
11-19 June – week V
The dates are thought of as soft structure – every body is free to fluidly join in/out when it’s good for them. And besides the spring schedule, the garden is in constant progress and inviting for interaction until the frost comes back (or if you have ideas how to circumvent that limitation – also throughout winter).
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join us for the gardening sessions.
Massia Officinale* Spring Meeting 2018
Massia Officinale is the working title for a medicinal wild herb garden in progress. Located on the grounds of Massia, a platform for artists, scientists, political activists and any individual or group that wants to think change radically. The building used to be a school built in the 1930s and has been re-imagined as a place for radical work in 2016.
One of the visions for 2018, and beyond, is to create a space for radical herbal practice and research. Drawing connections between the herbal landscape of the surroundings and the medicinal herb garden to the practical space of a herb lab and apothecary for transforming plants into medicine and nutrition, and to a space for research and discourse where we can engage with the social, philosophical and political spheres of radical herb work and connect with artists, scientists, political activists and other individuals or groups for extended explorations of ecologies in the Anthropocene.
*The byname Officinale refers to the latin word’s common use to name plants with an established medicinal or culinary use. It literally means „of or belonging to an officina“, the storeroom of a monastery, where medicines and other necessaries were kept. It is related to opifex which means „worker, maker, doer” (opus „work“ + -fex, -ficis, „one who does,“ from facere „do, perform”.
The name describes Massia as a space where we do work, make sense and interact useful with ecologies – including herbs and going beyond.
Massia Officinale wants to be a platform for
• herbal medicine & wild food practice and education: for all knowledge levels, from the curious to the professional
• herbal research for medicine, botany, social and natural sciences, arts…
• entanglements (existing & yet to come) with other discourses & practices engaged with ecologies in the Anthropocene
• experimentation with herbs
The special set up of a herb garden, a residency that provides accessible working and living space and the idea of its use as a platform for radical work give fertile ground to a focussed engagement with herbal work. The space invites for both practical and theoretical work with herbs. The rich surroundings and the herb garden will provide a broad variety of plants to study and work with. The house provides work space for numerous people, a library with herbal literature (small but growing) and living space that allow for focussed studies over desired periods of time.
Massia Officinale intends herbs as an entry point to a rhizomatic exploration of ecological entanglements.
Grounded on a broad understanding of health that includes ecological and social health. The Massia officinale rhizome wants to tangle with discourses on the health of the planet and its inhabitants – human and non-human – disenfranchised epistemologies, intersectionality, etc.
The broad variety of definitions of what a herb is, is metaphor for the blurred and biased lines that are being drawn across our thinking about world (between categories, objects, species, genders, classes, forms of knowledge…). The definition that seems most relevant is the one that defines a herb as a plant that is useful. Let’s erase the lines we find unuseful and think and do world more healthily.
Massia is through its founder and the co-creators connected to similar platforms and an international network of researchers, scientists, artists, thinkers and doers – which also gives fertile ground to collaborations and meetings with non-herbal discourses and practices beyond the botanical and medicinal realm of herbal engagement. An anthropocentric thinking and doing has led us to a situation in which we’re facing the highest rate of extinction of non-human species and disturbed ecologies that point towards a future in which we cannot survive prosperously. Our concept of and relation to nature is in need of exploration. The work with herbs is the entry point for Massia Officinale to do so.
Next to the gravitas – this is a wonderful place that invites fun and experimentation.
We want to invite you for a gathering in Early spring – 30.3.-07.4.2018 – during which we can imagine possibilities and a program of how to create and use this platform together. We can design the herb garden reflecting these imaginations and make plans for how to blow life into them. We can plan and design a herb lab to create medicine, remedies and food, an apothecary for an extended community, a library, a herbarium, etc.
If you would like to get involved, write us an email to email@example.com
The building is surrounded by 2ha of grounds inhabited by old fruit trees, birch trees, oaks, pines, spruces, elms and linden, cohabited by tapestries of lichen. A rich carpet of wild herbs, mosses and mycelium.
The herb garden will be starting to grow in a little orchard with existing plum, cherry plum and apple trees, aronia and currant shrubs. Lots of herbs are already growing here: plantain, yarrow, selfheal, lady’s mantle, valerian, meadowsweet, ground elder, wild strawberry, marjoram, wood sorrel, sorrel, red clover, pineapple weed, nettles, eyebright, cleavers, mugwort, cranberries, oxeye daisies, horsetail, dandelions…)
The current idea is to create a herb garden that is home to all locally growing and wild herbs and also invites cultivated herbs that come from all over the world and grow well in the baltic climate.
Hopefully we can shape this together during the gathering.
Massia is located in an old school in Massiaru, a village in Häädemeeste Parish, Pärnu County in southwestern Estonia, close to the Latvian border. The location is about 180 km from Tallinn, and about 140 km from Riga (Latvia). 12 km from here is the baltic sea and its sandy beaches. 5 km from here is Nigula, one of the oldest bog reserves of Estonia with untouched swamp forests, lakes and importance to wildlife, specially birds.
The area is mainly inhabited by non-human nature, nature reserves, forests (sadly 70% are for commercial use, made up of pines, spruces and birches mainly), fields and wetlands. The topography constitutes a landscape that, from an anthropocentric perspective, feels like vast emptiness.A potentially transforming experience.
Estonia’s right to roam allows for responsible gathering of medicinal plants, flowers, mushrooms, berries, nuts and other natural products on public land not under protection.
Estonia‘s long tradition of use of herbal products and healthcare, based on traditions and practice experience, is accepted and developed within the Estonian health regulations.
Massia is a platform for any individual or group, artists, scientists, political activists, etc. that want to think change radically – whether this concerns the arts, politics, education, prisons, hospitals, society, economy.
Massia aims to be a platform for experimentation, for taking risks with one’s own work or with needs that cover a bigger ambition than only for oneself.
Massia stresses the notions of self-organisation and autonomy in a hospitable and easily accessible building in order to survive prosperously in the absence of authority and surveillance.
Not so far from Massia, at about 5 km into the Nature Protected Area is a cabin, available for the visitors of Nigula Reserve, where bears and birds and plants find a safe haven. This cabin functions like free accessible cabins for mountaineers in the mountains, safe havens, places for protection and rest. There are no instructions for use, nonetheless, they are always left clean even maintained. Not by the mountain administration but by the mountaineers themselves. Because they all understand that these cabins make sense, are useful, even life saving.
Massia tries to experiment with these notions of making sense, being useful, even life saving. It wants to be a building full of potentiality, never defined, never belonging to a specific idea or specific group, hospitable, easily accessible, an instrument for making work, for rethinking one’s work, reinventing it, and for rethinking, reinventing society or aspects of it.
The house is under constant reconstruction. Currently there are 13 bedrooms, 20 beds (more of them in progress) and multiple working spaces. In summer more guests can camp on the grounds.
Furthermore the house provides:
A fully Equipped kitchen
Dishwasher, washing machine and dryer
2 active speakers, mix board and beamer for audio/visual installations
Spacious theatre hall
6 working spaces (each ca. 36m2)
1 car to rent (cheaply)
Massia has no subsidy whatsoever. To enter the space you have to become a member for 12€. This membership is valuable for 12 months. Staying prices are 9€ per night per person when the stay is more than 4 nights and 10€ if under 5 nights. To stay for one full month costs 250€.
You can download a PDF of this invitation here