Tending to the Garden

I worked my way from a too-young, abusive marriage to college as a single mom, then focused feverishly on my chosen field: anti-violence. I incurred vicarious trauma during messy middle of the  night crisis calls, advocating for women in courts, and driving alongside rural sheriff ’s deputies to help stranded, isolated domestic violence victims before proper police training and protocol existed. I advanced to eventual directorships at several domestic violence and sexual assault agencies, and participated in activism with state and national anti-violence coalitions.

There are some successes I am especially proud of during that first intense career. These include input on The Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and acting as coordinator of two policy-changing efforts in Wisconsin: The Domestic Violence Mandatory Arrest Monitoring Project, and an equity project that addressed gender bias in the courts.

One morning, a woman sat next to me at a crisis shelter with a swollen and bruised face and a split lip. I called the County Sheriff ’s Office to ask why a Domestic Abuse Restraining Order had not been enforced.

The sheriff simply replied, “They are always fighting, but it is never a big deal. She never gets hurt.”

“Yes, in fact, she does,” I said. “I am about to drive her to the clinic for her wounds.”

This was a pivotal time for me professionally. I was seeing systemic institutional dysfunctions daily, including dealing with a lack of funding
for critical services—what I called the ‘begging for dollars game’ so women and children could live free from violence.

I participated in Mujer a Mujer, an anti-violence delegation in and around Mexico City, one year after the earthquake of 1985. It was a period of immense economic strife in Mexico. At a shelled-out women’s health clinic, I learned from healers and activists how women with few resources grew medicinal herbs in a courtyard to heal gynecological ailments. They also practiced natural methods to address emotional distress and trauma in refugees from political and economic upheaval in Central America.

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This approach to healing was so inspiring to me. When I returned home, I went back to the garden to heal — to step back and assess what had happened since I was that scared young woman fleeing domestic violence with two young children. I began turning soil, creating an urban herb garden near the confluence of two rivers. I planted sundry botanicals— from Chamomile to Comfrey — and began experimenting with teas, tinctures, salves, syrups, and flower essences.

I decided to shift from crisis intervention to trauma- informed and nature-based healing. Several Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) degrees later, I returned home to the Midwest, where I started a naturopathic and botanical medicine clinic in Wisconsin.

Today, I train clinicians and activists in natural and botanical medicine to help mitigate the impact of trauma on anyone from veterans to survivors of childhood abuse to humanitarian aid workers who are coping with primary and secondary trauma.

Whether we are dealing with climate change, domestic violence, or working towards health justice for all, the garden brings us natural methods to deal with discomfort, distress, infection, irritation, and emotional trauma.


Gigi Stafne (she/her) is an activist, educator, entrepreneur, mother, and grandmother. She teaches and trains throughout North America, including in the Twin Cities. Details: greenwisdom.weebly.com