Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Sanctuary Stewards: Hillary Banachowski and Keir Knoll
We’ve just surpassed a major milestone this year—that of a third growing season under our belts. To be honest, I could never have imagined this day would come because I was so overwhelmed by the immensity of the work that lay ahead. My husband Keir and I have had our hands and hearts completely immersed in the all-consuming, exhausting, but oh so meaningful work of growing a small medicinal herb farm. I looked up and suddenly three years had gone by.
You see, this was no small feat. Thirty-four acres of abused and deeply disturbed land called out to us. No driveway, no well, no house, and no prepared beds— only Johnson grass, dead corn stalks, and depleted soil. I questioned the sanity of our decision at least once a week. Most of our first year was spent in the compost zone. It’s akin to the twilight zone, but involves back- breaking work, sweat, and real live salty tears. It was a time of breaking things down and being broken open so that new life could emerge. Time was non-existent.
Year two oﬀered a glimmer of “oh my gosh, it’s happening…we ARE doing this”. Tiny sprouts of hope were popping up everywhere in the realm of infrastructure, cultivating community, and the health of the gardens themselves. In the spring of our third year, something felt diﬀerent. There was an ease to the season. We had running water, well established beds, and the seeds we had planted had grown deep, strong roots. I noticed that the pace and flow of things felt sane and right, and the once depleted soil is now chock full of fat, juicy, happy worms.
To the land, I would imagine, this is no surprise. In her infinite wisdom, she will continue to heal herself and us along with her. Yet, what has surprised me the most about the journey is the people who have shown up.
Like the plant allies who support us along the way (major kudos to beloved tulsi), we are still here because of the dear hearts who came to help lift up our vision, learn, connect, and work their asses oﬀ alongside us. Our farm is aptly named Sacred Roots Herbal Sanctuary. Little did we know at the time just exactly how much power the word sanctuary could hold. Year after year, interns, friends, volunteers, work crews, and total strangers have now become family. It truly takes a village. In the process, we’ve all been stretched, shaped, and transformed by this generous and wise land we call home. Who was healing whom?
Like life, this sanctuary is a perpetually evolving, organic work in progress and a labor of love to last a lifetime.
Hillary Banachowski and her husband Keir Knoll live in Shepherdstown, WV and feel grateful beyond words to be “growing where we’ve been planted.”