Education in the Times of COVID

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There are many different definitions of education. There is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.” Another definition is “the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.” But I favor this definition of education the most: “an enlightening experience.”

Because what’s education if not something that creates an inner glow, that literally turns on the curiosity lightbulb in our heads?

One could say that education is important to me; after all it is in my job title. But more importantly, it’s in my blood. My mom was an educator for 30+ years and so the fact that I’ve been managing educational content for the natural products industry for over 20 years now—first with AHPA, then with Virgo (now part of the Informa Markets family), and for the past six years reunited with AHPA—just makes sense. The importance of education was something my mom passed on to me, and it’s a discipline I practice in my personal as well as my professional life. I never desire to stop learning and growing. I’m of the belief that even the tiniest vessel can teach me something if I’m willing to humble myself to learn and be taught. I simply don’t know everything, but I’m willing to learn it all.

In the botanicals industry, in particular, knowledge comes from a combination of what can be taught in a classroom and what comes from our roots—literally. There’s an homage paid to plants as living organisms, and also an appreciation for their service in food and for medicinal purposes. There’s a history of use that’s an important component of the modern day regulatory structure for dietary supplements.

There’s also much to be learned from other people in the botanicals industry. And there are plenty of good role models determined to pass their passion on to others so the industry will continue to thrive. There’s a legacy of knowledge about the industry and its history just waiting to be shared and explored.

AHPA’s President Michael McGuffin is an education hero for me in this sense. So much of what he’s learned about botanicals came from his life experiences, from walking through the fields as a child. He just has this vast love of plants and the earth and it’s this innate gratitude for nature combined with a passion for protecting the earth and the plants with whom we share the land that started that education process for him.

Another example is the Chair of AHPA’s Botanical Raw Materials Committee, Edward Fletcher, who is also the President of Native Botanicals. In a recent videocast with this publication’s Editor-in-Chief, Maggie Jaqua, and her co-host, Todd Pauli of 24 Stories Marketing, Edward shared his enthusiasm about wildcrafting. Not only could you hear, but you could also feel, Edward’s heartfelt enthusiasm for those unsung heroes in this industry known collectively as wildcrafters; those who harvest plants from their natural habitat with an eye toward sustainability.

For this custom, in itself, to be sustainable, there must be an educational passing of the torch to future wildcrafters and a commitment throughout the industry to acknowledge the value that this tradition brings to the business process.

This week is a good time for me to share some of my thoughts about education, given that the AHPA Botanical Congress is just days away. Although May 24 will mark the 9th time that AHPA is hosting this event, there will be at least two firsts.

The past eight events have been convened in-person. The ninth time will be a virtual event, a testament to the havoc that COVID-19 set into play. And it’s the pandemic that plays a central role in the second “first” for this congress. In working with the AHPA Education Committee, which assists in planning the event every year, our members wanted to theme the event. And they chose a theme around the pandemic: “Botanicals in the time of COVID.”

For the Education Committee, it was important to not ignore what was for most of us possibly the biggest disruptor of our lifetime, and certainly a roller coaster with far-reaching consequences not only to our daily personal lives, but also to how we manage our businesses.

Each session promises educational takeaways, beginning with FDA’s Dr. Cara Welch, who we expect will communicate with the audience how the agency had to reprioritize under the thick veil of the pandemic.

The other sessions promise to fulfill an educational need based around what we experienced from the pandemic from a business perspective. There is a session that touches on international regulation and one on sustainability and supply chains—areas impacted by the coronavirus. The expert speakers will also examine the expanded marketplace, addressing how marketing efforts turned on a dime during the pandemic, how the botanical industry gained new customers, and what the industry needs to do moving forward to retain those customers.

But it’s the session titled “The Impact of COVID on the North American Traditional Healers” that promises to pack an emotional punch as we will be educated about indigenous populations around the globe and the threats faced by these communities from the COVID pandemic. Hearing from leaders in these North American communities about what they needed to do to survive during these tough times offers an educational opportunity to listen and learn and to uncover the kinship with people whose rich history and culture is linked to the modern botanical industry.

Education means sharing history from generation to generation. I have a six-year-old son for whom I am planting the seeds of learning, as my mother did for me. My love for education and all that it brings to this world is something I continue to enjoy every day and pass forward with every opportunity I get.

Join us on May 24 at the 9th AHPA Botanical Congress, a virtual one-day event. For more information on the agenda, speakers and registration, visit www.ahpa.org.

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Natasha Weaver
Natasha Weaver, JD, is the director of education for the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA). In her position, Weaver works with member companies and AHPA staff to develop content-driven educational materials, including webinars, conferences and annual events that cover a variety of topics and issues most relevant to the botanicals industry. She has been involved in the natural products business for over 20 years, having started her post-law school career as the Director of Education for AHPA. After seven years with the association, she joined Virgo Publishing (now part of Informa Markets), a content provider for the natural products industry, serving in a variety of educational content-related positions. After more than eight years with Virgo, she rejoined AHPA, first as a consultant and then full-time in her current role. Weaver has a BBA in Marketing from the University of Mississippi, Oxford, and her JD from The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, Washington, D.C.