Herbal medicine, foraging, and beekeeping may seem tangential to urban dwellers, but New Yorkers may be the ones most in need of a stronger bond with the natural world. Come one, come all to Sunday School, a summer-long workshop series hosted by Bushwick’s Enlightenment Wines Meadery. The series is the brainchild of Raphael Lyon, EWM’s CEO and head “mazer,” or meadmaker, who designed Sunday School in hopes of strengthening the relationship between humans and nature.
The goal of the series was, according to Lyon, to “flip the traditional notion of Sunday School on its head.” Instead of reciting bible verses, students will make their own shrubs from barrel-fermented kombucha vinegar, smoke cocktails over a sidewalk cooking fire, and enjoy an urban honey tasting.
What’s the common thread? All of the workshop topics are “mead-adjacent,” Lyon said. “Mead in particular is sort of at this intersection of herbalism in particular, and culinary fermentation and, of course, alcohol production,” Lyon said. He designed the series to teach people about areas that EWM has their feet in, but “people don’t necessarily know that that’s in the bottle.” One of these areas is the rare plant garden on meadery’s roof, where herbalist Naneh Israelyan nurtures medicinal herbs like andrographis, ashwagandha, and gentian to turn into tonics, tinctures, and other remedies.
Sophie Lipitz, the series organizer and mead saleswoman at EWM, believes that Sunday School is part of a larger conversation on plants, food, and medicine. The artisans instructing the workshops seem unlikely to be found on a panel together, but they’re all connected by a sort of “niche nerdiness,” about plants and the natural world. They’re also all, according to Lipitz, “the masters of their respective fields.”
Growing up, Lipitz’ experience of food was “closely entangled with my love for nature, and hiking and experimentation.” Lipitz met Lyon through her work with food pop-up Joint Venture NYC, based on foraged foods and cooking over fire. She and Lyon bonded over their shared interests in survivalism and “understanding the world we live in,” she said.
The first workshop, “Tres Hongos: A Mushroom Experience,” hosted by urban mushroom farming startup Smallhold, took place this past Sunday, June 23. Students learned to grill three kinds of mushrooms and ate them with oil made of chilies smuggled from Mexico and brought home their own ready-to-fruit mushroom bags.
Other workshops examples include “Guerilla Gardening for Native Pollinators,” on July 21 and “Wild Herbalism to Smoke or Brew,” on June 30.
Israelyan will also teach two workshops: “Intro to Botanical Medicine Making” and “Tonics for Digestive Woes.” Israelyan, who used to work at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, emphasizes smarter and more ethical consumption of herbal medicine from systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. One area that Israelyan focuses on is highlighting the differences between healing systems from different Native American nations, instead of lumping them together. Her workshops will cover correct dosage, preparation, and storage, but will also teach students, ultimately “how to be smarter consumers of your medicine.”
The series is also ideal for doomsday preppers. “I feel like if you went to all the Sunday School lectures, you’d come out of it pretty good for the zombie apocalypse,” Lyon said.
They almost called it the “End Times School.”
All jokes aside, Lyon hopes the series will send a specific message. “It’s sort of a reminder that part of the human experience is to make things and to interact with the natural world in a collaborative way. It’s not just an extraction industry,” he said. Lyon also mentioned that he may parlay the series into a sort of university, in which students can learn about “the natural world and our relationship with it.”
Both Lyon and Lipitz hope Sunday School will offer a space for like-minded people to connect. Lipitz hopes “that people are able to see that there is a rich community of experimenters and playful thinkers about nature in Brooklyn.”
Images courtesy of Enlightenment Wines.
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