A Lesson in the Illusion of Control, and Why We are so Thankful

Author: Lily Mazzarella

Lily Mazzarella Farmacopia Santa Rosa Fire Relief

I was scheduled for major surgery in the early morning hours of October 10th, and had spent the weekend prior turning inward, preparing my mind and body and for the upcoming procedure.  So when friends banged on our front door, waking me and my partner at 5 on the morning of Monday 9th, I experienced a form of whiplash, an about-face reality check.  Our electricity was already out, smoke seeping into our drafty house from fires a few miles away.  “Wake up, we need to go.  Santa Rosa is on fire.”  Words none of us expected to ever hear.  While we are accustomed to wildfires raging throughout California, especially during the crackling-dry fall and longstanding drought, I, like most folks, assumed that living in a moderately-sized city exempted us from this kind of disaster.  But this was the fire that broke all the rules.

It reminded me that no matter how carefully we plan, the impression that we are in control of our lives and that events will unfold in an orderly fashion, is, quite simply, an illusion.

During the fires, Farmacopia experienced some dramatic, and unfortunately common, impacts.  Our dear Danielle, who has been with Farmacopia for 10 years, lost her home in the fires, and barely escaped with her life.  Dozens and dozens of our customers and clients lost homes, businesses, or were displaced.  Several of our staff and their families were evacuated.  We lost many days of sales, which, as a small business living (like many Americans) paycheck to paycheck, is a bit harrowing.  We were all exposed to incredibly noxious, toxic smoke, ash, and sediment as whole swaths of our city burned down around us.  Only one of our hospitals remained open.  For days, thousands of people were sick, terrified, and in immediate threat of uncontained fires.

An amazing thing happened, though, on the second day of the fires.  The Tuesday right after the fire, most of our staff showed up to work.  We wanted to gather, and we wanted to help.

So, we opened Farmacopia as a free holistic fire relief clinic Wednesday through Saturday after the fire and offered herbal support, nutrients, flower essences, tea, essential oil inhalations, bodywork, acupuncture, and N95 masks to all who came (we kept the clinic open as a free fire relief “station” inside the store for weeks after).  Many of our staff worked for free, and we had a dream volunteer team (one of whom brought us lunch every day!).  We estimate that about 800 people came through the clinic in that time, seeking support for headache, stress, sore throat, sinus congestion, respiratory distress, disorientation and grief.  We gave away thousands of dollars of liquid herbal medicines, nutrients, labor, and supplies.  And, as just as crucially, copious amounts of love, listening, and comfort.

Meanwhile, we began receiving herbal donations from helpers near and far, and were able to staff and support clinics at various evacuation shelters throughout the county.  Soon we started sending herbs and herbalists to support the firefighters, and the National Guard at the Petaluma and Santa Rosa armories.  We offered 4 bilingual clinics with our partners at Northbay Organizing Project.  We made countless care packages for families who had lost homes, and distributed donations to practitioners helping fire-affected folks for free or at discounted rates.  Two weeks after the start of the fires, I was lucky enough to partner with Daily Acts to teach a class on self-care for toxic stress and toxic smoke at the Sebastopol Grange.  Our naturopath, Dr. Bridget, wrote excellent blogs on how to protect self and family given the degree of exposure we faced.   3 weeks after the fire, we hosted our free, day-long Sonoma [Stay] Strong Health Event with classes, a DIY facial mask bar, plant medicines, super foods, classes, acupuncture and bodywork.  We held a silent auction which raised over $1700 for UndocuFund, which helps some of the most vulnerable in our community with economic recovery from the fires.

In this very scary time, we were able to connect with our community, hold our people tight, and BE held.  Herbalists from Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and Brooklyn sent herbal donations.  Local herbalists served up syrups to soothe raspy throats and frayed nerves.  Bigger companies, like Gaia Herbs and Traditional Medicinals came through with substantial offerings.  Flower Essence Society in Nevada City and our tincture supplier Galen’s Way in Sebastopol were true angels, giving large donations that reached thousands of people.  Some of our customers, touched by our efforts, gave unsolicited monetary donations which helped to offset our economic losses and support our efforts.  Many contributed to Danielle’s GoFundMe.

In short, the fires blew my Farmacopia world wide open, in difficult and incredibly rewarding ways.  I am grateful beyond expression for Danielle’s escape, for a staff so generous and compassionate, for the network of volunteers, collaborators, and friends who materialized through this process.  I am grateful for the plant medicines that supported me and everyone else through this disaster.  I am grateful for the power of nutrients to fuel our bodies’ detoxification pathways.  I am grateful for the incredible talents of all our practitioners who stepped up to give their expert services and comfort to literally thousands of people.

I am grateful and humbled that my business is still standing because while this experience shows that Farmacopia is so much more than its walls and computers and fabulous array of bottles, I am also aware that it is not always possible to come back from a total loss, even if your business is beloved by many.  These are tricky times for brick and mortars, and in the scheme of things I’d imagined could befall my business, a conflagration consuming Santa Rosa was not previously one of them.  I thought I was having surgery, but instead this happened; my planned medical leave allowed for participation that post-surgical recovery never could have.

My heart goes out to all of you who were affected by the fires.  I know this loss is one that will keep unfolding for months, years, and maybe generations.  The fires have changed us irrevocably.  We at Farmacopia know this isn’t over, and we are here for you.  We are continuing our efforts in community recovery and will announce further initiatives in the coming weeks.

And to everyone:  thank you for your prayers, good wishes, and support.  I can still feel them.

With love and gratitude,



  1. So grateful for the many ways in which farmacopia stepped up in such a huge way for our community. And thankful to have been a part of it. Thank you for your tireless efforts, Lily!

  2. Such heartfelt comments really touched me. I am one of those that rely on and appreciate all of you so very much. I can’t imagine our community without you. Thank you all for your loving and kind support in our healing journeys.

  3. Lily
    What a beautiful sharing, so filled with emotion, love, caring, sorrow.
    Did you have your surgery? If not, will that pose a more serious problem
    for you?

    How blessed the whole community was to have you and your staff so
    giving and generous with an outpouring of everything to help others get
    through an unbelievable tragedy. The pictures were shocking; I can only
    imagine the impact of actually being a part of the devastation. As you
    said the recovery will take huge effort, years and for some, sadly, it may
    require a move or emotional, psychological support for a very long time.

    Thank you and all your staff for all that you do, and for just being YOU.

  4. Lily, you and your staff and all the volunteer herbalistas are angels for Santa Rosa. I sent many to you and they are grateful. Thank you thank you thank you and blessings for your ?rescheduled surgery?! xo

  5. I feel inspired and overflowing with gratitude with your sharing Lily!

    There are so many different ways to serve and I am blessed to be serving the way I am since the fires, caring for my mother who is living with Alzheimer’s and am in awe of the ways others are finding to share and care and make a difference!!!

    Thank you for your myriad offerings to our community!

    Truly, KimJoy

  6. Lily, this is such a beautiful, moving report–to hear all the massive loving response that was taking place out of the public eye. I knew, of course, because I am on your mailing list, what Farmacopia was doing.

    I live in Sebastopol, so was not directly affected by the flames, but was devastated by the terrible loss. I stopped in at Farmacopia on my way to work at the fairgrounds shelter, feeling incapable because I was so emotionally devastated. I was given some herbs–yes, for free–and such sweet loving care. I am so proud and grateful that a business like yours exists in our community.

  7. Lily, what a beautiful and moving letter. Bless you and your staff for all that you did. We’ve seen many wings sprout these last few months, or maybe they were already there and we are just now noticing.

  8. What a beautiful and moving story….thanks for stepping up and providing such an important service during such a difficult time….sending love and gratitude to you and the Farmacopia team

  9. I love you Lily and all staff at beloved Farmacopia. The community loves you and needs you and will continue to support you as you support all of us! Thank You for being there helping us and those in need. God Will Bless you all abundantly!
    Love Linda

  10. We are grateful for you and your caring team, Lily. Austin and I are recovering in Kauai paradise. We will be back home soon.

  11. Dear Lily and the amazing Farmacopia staff – thank you for supporting and loving your community the way you have. Through the uncertainty, sorrow and fear I felt the love come pouring forth from your beautiful little organization. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge, your products and your hearts with us. Although I wasn’t able to come to the store, I felt the comfort from Dr. Bridget’s newsletter and the emails you all sent with ways to keep us healthy and cope with our grief. I have always been a huge fan, and now as I read this, even more profoundly grateful for each of you. Thank you for doing such good work in our beautiful little community. With love.

  12. Thank you for this beautiful letter, Lily, and all that you and your team were able to do and continue to do for the community!

  13. oh Lily , you have expressed so eloquently the thoughts and feelings of so many of us in this overwhelming event. Thank you to all of you at Farmacopia and the incredible network of herbalists, friends and volunteers who’ve held all of us in our pain. much love and gratitude to all! Lisa Leckenby

  14. Lily and staff,
    You are a remarkable and loving group who inspire me and give me hope for humanity. No, really… I mean it. I was so glad to have a place to go and get grounded during the fires when I felt lost and shocky. You are so vital in this community. Deep felt thanks.

  15. Dear Lily. Your eloquently written story moved me to tears. Thanks for sharing. I am more dedicated than ever to supporting you and continuing to request that you fill my herbal needs, even though I have moved to Los Angeles. There’s no Farmacopia here, and there’s surely no Lily anywhere else on the planet.

  16. Very many blessings to you and everyone at Farmacopia. It is very inspiring and heartwarming to hear of all your efforts and very generous giving to our community. Thank you.

  17. Thank you all so much for being available for our family. We all appreciated it. This was so scary. It affected our entire family as we lived together and waited to hear if our homes had burned down. We were all so fortunate to only have smoke damage. Being open for us was extremely supportive. Felt like visiting family after a long absence. The store was full of strangers and friends alike, all talking and sharing. All of you treating us with your valuable information and with your open hearts. All of us going through this disaster together. Thank you so much. I enjoyed your well written story Lily. Thank you for sharing. Yes weren’t not in control. Something I need to repeat many times during my day.

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