We met John a few years ago at the International Herb Symposium (actually Jane Hulstrunk met him while waiting in line for coffee and introduced us – thanks, Jane!) just as we were getting ready to launch Numen. We became the lucky recipients of the generosity John describes below and, with his help, we were able to reach far more people with the film than we ever would have on our own. We’re thrilled to feature John as the first interviewee on our blog. Read below to take a peek behind the remarkable work he’s been doing spreading knowledge about the healing power of plants. Thanks, John!
Ann: You created HerbMentor in 2005 at a time when I don’t imagine a lot of herbalists were really using the Internet, especially as a teaching tool. What made you decide to share information about herbal medicine in this way? What was your vision? What was the response?
I was one of the original group that started Wilderness Awareness School. Jon Young started it as a club in my high school in 1983, but I did not get involved until after college in 1991. I was drawn to the vision of helping the environment through nature education. If one could learn about the land they lived in, one would love it, and then act to protect it. Also, bringing children up with a solid nature connection was vital for our future.
So, connecting people to nature for the survival of the future generations was always my work, and always my vision.
After having my first child in 1999, I realized I needed to learn how to take care of him after he didn’t come with an instruction manual. I found an herbal mentor locally. However, before I did that I was searching for a kit that might give me all the materials I needed to get started. I searched, but could not find one. So, finding a mentor was fortunate, as not many people have amazing herbalists living near them.
I was lucky to have great herbal mentors. I was also lucky to have gained all the skills of graphic design, packaging, marketing, basic web design, database programming, home study course design and administration and much more. I HAD to learn all this, otherwise Wilderness Awareness School never would have made it. It may have 30 employees now, but there was a time when it was just a few of us and the school’s existence was hanging on the balance.
Taking years of herbal classes, eventually teaching herb classes, and the experience of creating the Kamana naturalist home study program gave me the tools I needed to start LearningHerbs. Kamana is a pretty huge program, with tens of thousands who have gone through it by now.
I actually wanted to expand Wilderness Awareness in this area of home study with herbs, but they were not interested. Basically, I am a person who is going to do what I want to do. I’ve ALWAYS been like that. So, I phased out of working there as I was starting LearningHerbs. I had NO idea what the response would be, however, the vision was still the same… to help humans reconnect to nature through plants, so that they might teach their kids these skills…and so they might teach their kids. I also had a vision of people starting to teach their neighbors everywhere to stop spraying dandelions. I love dandelions, which is why one is on our logo.
I never really focus on the outcome that most people do when measuring responses or success. Honestly, I’ve never made a budget and I suck at spreadsheets. I also NEVER look at statistics or web traffic or anything. I am often used as case studies by Internet marketers and they are always astounded to hear that.
I do what I do to create tremendous value for people, so that their lives might improve with the information I have to give them. I keep thinking about people healing, communities thriving, and the Earth being a better place to live in the future. I somehow seem to be blessed with the gift to turn those visions into educational experiences that people want to participate in. I am thankful for that.
So, from my experience with Kamana, I knew the Herbal Medicine Making Kit would work. I knew people would want it and like it. And somehow, people found it. And it all took off slowly from there.
After the Kit, came Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game. That was my wife Kimberly’s creation.
From the game, came HerbMentor.com, our community mentoring site.
For HerbMentor, soon will come many more amazing things our team is working on.
Before it was just me, how I have an awesome creative team. I love that.
So, it’s been 7 years and it’s happened slowly.
Ann: How has the site evolved since then? What have you learned about what works? How has your approach and vision evolved as the herb community has changed? I don’t know if you can make generalizations like this, but what do people tend to be most interested in?
John: So, to be clear, you’re talking about HerbMentor.com, one of our products.
You know? That term, “herbal community.” I hear that a lot. What the heck is it? I mean, you can go to an herbal event, and say that’s an herbal community. You can go on HerbMentor and say that’s a community. And of course there are times when various small communities can converge.
I never look at things like that. I see every human as someone who innately wants to learn about plants. So, the challenge is HOW to bring that desire to learn out of them. So, I see all of humanity as the herbal community as we all use plants, right?
I think you can take someone like Rosemary Gladstar, and she could walk up to 10 strangers in WalMart and within 30 minutes have them all passionate about herbs. The herbal community is something always changing and evolving.
Online, I can only do so much. My strategy at this point is to meet people where they are. Meaning, they might look for a certain remedy online to sooth an illness. They find my site. Then, they might stumble across a product I have that might interest them. I try to get them involved with a cool, free experience. If they like it and if they like me, they might consider a product I have to sell. If not, I will still send them cool, free stuff every month. Again, it’s always about making folks’ lives more vibrant, healthy and fun.
However, the area that most interests me is learning products that are kid based. I LOVE our Wildcraft game. I mean, over 25,000 have been made. That means up to a quarter million might have played it. Perhaps. I like to think so anyways. I’ve heard amazing stories of what kids have told their parents from their experiences playing that game.
In 2012, we will release what I feel is the coolest, most bad ass herbal kids education product ever made. My wife has been on the task for 2 years now. It’s SO cool, and I can’t wait to be able to tell people what it is. It’s geared towards 4-12 year old kids. Mainly girls, but boys will love it too. Especially boys of groovy, hippie herbal folk like your readers. : )
Don’t worry, we have amazing new adult courses coming out to, but it’s the kids stuff that’s the most fun for me.
I’m surely thankful for all the support folks have given us. It’s all worked well so far!
Ann: HerbMentor/Learning Herbs seems like a fantastic way to reach people who don’t live in communities with a lot of herbalists and herb teachers. And like a perfect way to build those skills we’ve forgotten about how to care for ourselves with the plants growing outside our back door. I’d love to hear your thoughts about grassroots medicine and what it will take to build healthcare resiliency in this country, and how sites like Herb Mentor are helping to create that. What else is needed?
John: You are so correct. It was in Kamana that I discovered the potential of distance learning. Most people did not have nature schools, so it was a huge hit. Similarly, I knew it was the same for herbalists. I live in hippie groovy Seattle. Next to Vermont, the Northwest houses more herbalists per capita than anywhere else. I mean, Eugene, OR must have an herbalist on every street corner. That’s a cool vision, eh?
I also knew from experience, that start to finish, linear home study programs are tough for people to complete. When they don’t complete them, they feel bad about it and do not continue. So, I knew I had to create an “experience,” with no beginning and no hard completion. After all, when does learning about herbs end? I get complaints from people about not have a certification program. I will never have one. I allow the REAL herbal experts to do that. I’m just a dude who loves herbs and uses them in his house. I am no herbal expert nor do I want to be. I’m just good at what I do. I just love connecting other people with the experts.
You know? I have no idea how to build healthcare resilience in this country. However, I do know where to start. That’s with ourselves, then our families, and then our communities. There is SO much involved, and of course herbs are just a small part of that. Though, when people learn this stuff, they do feel a sense of self-empowerment and confidence in themselves. And from people’s inner strength will rise trust in themselves. Trust in themselves will lead to beautiful and amazing things.
So, perhaps our role at LearningHerbs is getting people inspired and getting people to trust in themselves.
I’ll let the amazingly awesome, talented, insanely smart herbal expert pals of mine take it from there. :)
Ann: Since you launched your site, especially in the last year, it seems more and more herbalists are realizing the value of using the Internet to reach people. At times the model you have used very effectively because you were one of the only ones using it can begin to feel a bit like a racket, like one more ploy to get me to opt-in to a list and buy something. Do you find that to be the case? Or is there enough of this to go around? How has your use of the Internet for outreach and learning changed as you’ve worked in this world? What opportunities are out there that you hope to tap in the future?
John: Well, there’s a lot going on out there. I seem to have the ability to block out the scammers and just see the really cool people. I pay no attention to the crap I don’t like.
What I can do here is tell you what I do.
That is to focus on creating tremendous value for people. When you give a lot of excellent information to people, they trust you. And when people trust you, you have the responsibility to deliver excellent opportunities for them if you are going to ask for money. I will never release anything that sucks. My list would hate me. They don’t mind me offering sales on our game or something every so often, because they know that 90% of the time I am giving them great free lessons.
There’s nothing wrong about taking opt ins to a list. That’s what marketers have to do. The question is “What are you giving them in return for their email?” If you give them 100 times more than they expected for absolutely no money, then you make friends. And when you want to sell something, some will buy.
Most of my audience is intuitively smart people. If I seemed like I was running a racket for example, most of these people would smell it. I seem to do a great job attracting great people. Our HerbMentor members are amazing. In 4 years there has not been any major conflicts and I have NEVER had to kick someone off the site. That’s amazing statistically.
I share my wisdom with people at herb conferences and other places ALL the time.
I believe in abundance. Period.
How will we ever make a DENT in the problems we face if we do not help each other get ahead and make a difference in the world. I LOVE looking at all the people that I helped out online. There are lots of people doing really well as a result of advice I gave them. Think about all the people then THEY are helping.
You can’t make a difference UNLESS you help others help people. Right?
I guess what has changed for me is now I am finding myself in the role of advising people as well as running my own thing. At some point people thought that I was someone they could trust and listen to. It sort of happened naturally. There are people calling me for Internet advice now who I first heard about through their books. Herbal heroes of mine. THAT is a trip. I love to be able to give back to those who helped me out so much.
The most fun part about being successful online is getting to be super generous with people. I love helping people transform. It’s what gives me the biggest thrill really.
Ann: What fires you up the most about this work? What gives you hope?
John: Oh! I guess I just answered that! : ) Again, what fires me up is helping people transform. That simple. Whether it’s a kid playing Wildcraft and learning they can use plantain for a bee sting, a mom who made her first tincture with the Herbal Kit, an HerbMentor member who started her own herbal products company (true story), or an herbalist who I helped release a product online… these are all transformations that will lead us to a better world.
That gives me hope. A TON of hope.
Why should we focus on what’s WRONG with the world? Let’s just focus on helping each other reach better parts of ourselves. Sounds like more fun too!
Thanks so much for interviewing me. Great questions. I wish you all well!!!