The Botanical Bus bilingual mobile herb clinic is a relatively young nonprofit, officially earning that designation only in 2019, but it has already built a strong presence in the communities it serves in Sonoma and Napa counties. Founded with a vision of community-led action for health equity, the Botanical Bus offers culturally centered integrative health services to Latinx and Indigenous communities through a regular series of pop-up clinics at work sites and community centers.
Powered by a team of Latinx and Indigenous promotoras, or Community Health Advocates, and integrative health practitioners, Botanical Bus services include acupuncture, clinical herbalism, massage, art therapy, somatic therapy, and much more. Last year alone, the Botanical Bus provided services to hundreds of community members through 19 farmworker clinics and 19 wellness workshops, as well as health education to nearly 300 promotoras through seven train-the-trainer workshops.
The Botanical Bus was part of a network of frontline community-based organizations that the Healthcare Foundation supported in 2021 in that network’s critical Covid-19 outreach to our region’s most vulnerable and isolated communities. This fall, the staff of the Botanical Bus took part in a project of Santa Rosa–based Integrated Medical Clinic Foundation (IMCF) to create a culturally centered Spanish-language version of IMCF’s highly regarded Imagine You resilience skills curriculum for mental health service workers, an initiative supported by a grant from the Healthcare Foundation.
We spoke with the Botanical Bus’s executive director and co-founder Jocelyn Boreta in late September, midway through the process, to learn more about the work the Botanical Bus is doing and the value for her team of a Spanish-language Imagine You curriculum.
What was the need you identified that led to the founding of the Botanical Bus?
I identified a strength more than a need. My history is in community organizing for a human rights organization. I came into this work when my first child was born, together with our other co-founder Angeles Quiñones. We started a group called Cultivando para Salud at Bayer Farm, building community together around herbalism and nutrition in the Latinx and Indigenous community. I wanted to learn how I could nurture my family with herbal medicine and nutrition; that was a personal focus of mine. I was very inspired by the intergenerational knowledge that existed, the power the community had to feel better with the recipes and the remedies that their grandmothers had passed down to them. As a community organizer, this was one of the most powerful things that I’d experienced in a long time. Very organically, we started gathering. From that group came the heart of the Botanical Bus. Our core team consists of Promotora community health workers who identify as Indigenous Latinx people. Our mission is to empower holistic health by and for the Latinx/Indigenous community.
Where do you focus your outreach and activities?
We’re local, very grassroots, community-driven. All of our work is in Sonoma and Napa counties. We have a clinic coming up where we’re in partnership with [North bay] Jobs with Justice. They’ll be bringing farmworkers in from Sonoma and Napa counties, welcoming them into the clinic that we have with Corazón Healdsburg at the community center in Healdsburg. Every Saturday we host a mobile clinic at a family service center location in Sonoma County. And we do pop-up clinics at vineyard work sites when a vineyard will sponsor.
“Our organization is really centered around empowering the promotora community health worker workforce, and specifically with respect to Indigenous herbal medicine and nutrition, which is a vibrant part of the community that we want to invest in and be a part of.”Jocelyn Boreta, Executive Director, The Botanical Bus
How popular are the services you provide?
Every clinic is booked to capacity. I think the most important aspect of the services is that they are culturally centered. They are bicultural, bilingual health services with the intention of meeting people where they are. That includes physically, where community is coming to access wrap-around services; also at vineyard work sites, where there are otherwise innumerable barriers to accessing care, including time off from work or access to health insurance. Bringing health services onto the work site is providing an immediate bridge to integrative healthcare, which a lot of people are experiencing for the first time. And by being at the family service centers every Saturday, people know where to find us and when. Every second Saturday we’re at La Plaza Nuestra Cultura Cura in Santa Rosa; every third Saturday we’re at the Healdsburg community center with Corzazón Healdsburg; and every fourth Saturday we’re at La Luz Center in Sonoma Valley. For two years now we’ve had that same schedule, so people register in advance through our partnerships with family service centers. I’d say about 50 percent of our clients are return clients who come once-a-month or multiple times a month. With herbalism and nutrition, or acupuncture, being able to experience the health service regularly is really where the benefit comes in.
That brings us to the Imagine You program. The Botanical Bus staff is currently collaborating with IMCF’s project to produce a Spanish-language version. How did that come about?
All of our programs have been community-driven and that includes this new training program: One of our promotoras, Maria Rivera, who is also an employee at CPI [Child Parent Institute], has been providing Imagine You somatic therapy sessions at our clinics since we launched them in the fall of 2019. We provide them once a month at La Luz Center. The name Maria has created for it is Reposo en Respiracion, or Rest in Breath.
For a while, the training that Maria took was only available in English. We had been interested in it, but a majority of our promotora community health workers are monolingual Spanish speakers. I think it was Maria who connected us when IMCF was looking into this translation project. We were immediately interested in the pilot for our promotora team. We also have a new team of herbal apprentices, who are young people who identify as Latinx/Indigenous and are working in the clinical setting and learning more about clinical herbalism. We’ve invited them to join as well.
How has the process been going?
We’ve had a few sessions now, and it is a wonderful reminder of how important it is to center the diverse and powerful sense of well-being that each one of us has. It really lines up well with our mission, the idea that we each have the power to feel better and it’s in us. This training is for community health workers, service providers, which is wonderful for us. Our team can go into the clinic with that extra reminder that power belongs to the client, that power lives in their very unique sense of well-being, and it’s our job to meet that client exactly where they’re at, in that sense of self and well-being. I feel the program is aligned with our work, and that it’s important to be offering it in Spanish so we can invest in that bilingual, bicultural workforce.
I want to stress that all of our programs are led by promotora community health workers. Working within their own community, this workforce has a very unique power to cultivate trust. Our organization is really centered around empowering the promotora community health worker workforce, and specifically with respect to Indigenous herbal medicine and nutrition, which is a vibrant part of the community that we want to invest in and be a part of. We want to help people realize that the knowledge is their own, that the power to feel better is within them.
What from your perspective is the importance of funding directed to collaborations like the ones the Botanical Bus is a part of?
The power of our work, and the standard that we hold ourselves to, is in being able to make really strong referrals within a healthcare network. We specialize in providing integrative health, herbalism, nutrition, bilingual/bicultural health services—that is something that we can uniquely offer in this wider network. But especially in the context of Covid, in the context of emergency response, our services alone were not going to be enough for clients facing all the challenges associated with the pandemic, including things like food insecurity. We needed to be part of a larger team to be able to respond in an effective way within our community. The Healthcare Foundation’s support really fostered that. The community was called to work together. That’s a unique form of foundation support, honoring partnership between organizations. Now we’re at a place where we’re looking beyond the pandemic, beyond an emergency response, and it’s a radical request that we continue to work together. I’m very inspired by that. I have witnessed really inspiring levels of collaboration that continue. And the Healthcare Foundation has prioritized that in their funding.