“Plants can help you to create the major shifts within yourself that lead to major shifts in your reality.”
That is just one of the intriguing statements Amanda Midkiff makes on her Locust Light Farm website.
Surf around more on the Titusville-based farm’s site to find more poetic statements or gaze at the attractive photos of bucolic scenes or review a list of programs or classes designed to link people with plants — like “Introduction to Herbalism: Spicy Oxymels.”
That hybrid program showing participants on how to concoct syrupy herb elixirs is hosted by Grounds For Sculpture on Wednesday, February 3, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — one of the quarterly classes Midkiff offers as part of the nationally known regional sculpture garden’s regular programming.
And while she sometimes presents her herb-based programs with other groups — such as her regular sessions at the Alchemist Kitchen in New York City — Midkiff mainly spends her time providing her 60 or so online classes of various durations from her farm — currently located on the Gravity Hill Farm complex on Pleasant Valley Road.
“Thankfully, in 2019 I started doing online classes, so my business was able to hold steady during COVID,” says the Rosemont, New Jersey, resident who rents the farm lot.
“It is an unusual business,” she says of an enterprise with a website that rhetorically asks, “Do you crave a deeper connection with the plant world?” and “Ready to speak directly with plants?” And then offers an “invitation to the world of plant magic” where participants experience hands-on herbal medicine classes, seasonal rituals, and the creation of the space “to have your own experience with the plants: up close, intricately crafted, and uniquely personal.”
To do so, the website says there are “intensive online courses to guide you on your magical journey with plants.”
“The classes I call magic are really self-help and use ritual,” says Midkiff, who formerly studied anthropology and maintains an interest in the subject.
During the hour or so socially distanced interview on one of the farm’s porches during a light sleet that pelted the remains of last year’s herb rows, Midkiff says she started Locust Light in 2015 in Solebury, Pennsylvania, as a wholesale herb farm.
She says the name came from the fact that “the land at night was filled with lightening bugs. And the man who owned the land said it was filled with locust trees. I wanted to give the farm a name but one that could remain flexible in case I moved.”
Originally from Blairstown, New Jersey, the daughter of a teacher mother and pilot and aeronautical engineer father came to the region in 2013 to help a friend establish Roots to River Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
“I had a background in framing and was passionate about herbalism. Even in college,” says the 2012 Lehigh University graduate.
“I studied sociology, anthropology, and Spanish. I wanted to go to law school and work with agriculture trade with the U.S. and its southern neighbors and advocate for rights. I took an internship to work on a farm to find out what the work was like and realized I loved it,” she says.
The impulse to create her own herb and “magic”-centered farm came in 2016 when she conducted a Roots to River medicinal garden tour where people could pick their own herbs. “It was such a success, and I wanted to continue it,” she says.
However, the rental arrangement with the resident family who owed and rented to Roots and River precluded such regular activities, and the CSA moved to the property that recently has been shared by the Barn at Gravity Hill, Rolling Harvest, and the Farm Cooking School.
Midkiff says her interest in connecting people and plants deepened when she was brooding about environmental concerns, went to Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, and came upon a book on ancient seasonal holidays.
She says the book focused on pre-Christian Northern European rituals that commemorated the solstices and equinoxes as well as the four cross-quarter holidays that fall between the above and represent the Wheel of Life based on agriculture: Imbolc or the first stirring of spring (February 1); Beltane, the start of summer or growing season (May 1); Lughnasadh, the time of the first harvests (August 1); and Samhain, when plants complete their lives (November 1).
“If you’re not part of a religious organization, you may lack a ritual life. I felt that connecting people to a ritual, although they may not belong to a larger religious organization, can offer people the right to their own rituals, to honor more life events with ritual, to process the changes in one’s own life,” she says.
She says her approach was aided by studies through several herbal programs and participation in an eight month Core Shamanism program — developed by an anthropologist to inform and engage contemporary people in ancient rituals and beliefs.
About her evolving farm-based business, Midkiff says, “It is extremely hard to make money form a small business. So up to 2019 I was working with two or three farms. It was hard and takes a lot out of what you’re really interested in. And when I started Locust Light, I was making herbal products.
“When I started teaching, I found it was more profitable and able to support me. And the more I thought about what I wanted to do, the business started to support me, and it has held strong. There are limitless things you can do with the herbs.”
Midkiff says she developed a successful operations mode, until the pandemic forced her to improvise, “I had a class every Monday night — a practical herbalism series. Then I would have a class for each seasonal holiday. And I would have classes on some Saturdays and festivals.”
She also says her current online classes are “completely different than live Zoom classes” and made up of pre-recorded videos and physical activities — the latter of which she feels is vital.
For example in the class “Rituals and Potions,” she is using the potion making exercises as a way to help people connect and reflect on personal or social situations and “figure it out” through a “mix of internal work and reflective journaling while you’re mixing herbs.”
Then thinking like an anthropologist, she says, “I am reading a great book right now written by an archeologist who said we have to talk about magic like religion and science — magic as an idea that you can participate in the world around you (science separates you as an observer). When I talk about magic, it is having personal power so you can live as you like.”
Focusing more on the idea of magic, she says, “The word is touchy — it makes people not take you seriously. But it also involves a sense of curiosity and enchantment.
“I didn’t like the word and didn’t start using it until 2019. There is a lot of ‘magic’ out there that isn’t grounded. But working with plants there is a lot of grounding and tools to help your life — tools with depths of meaning. There is a depth of understanding when working with herb plants. With science we can observe things — but that doesn’t mean it is not magical.”
In addition to the Grounds For Sculpture session, Midkiff also has several projects opening up.
One is the Plant Magic for Beginners, a go as you please eight-lesson class with videos, handouts, and guided medication that covers such topics as Radical Plant Empathy, Attention and Intention, and Red Clover Spell. The cost for the session is $47.
Another program starting is “Ritual and Bath,” a seven-week online course that, among other topics, includes “making herbal oils, sprays, bath salts, and so on.” $295.
And Make it Happen, a yearlong program where participants “connect with one plant ally whom you’ll work with all year” and “manifest one potent intention using seasonal ritual and daily magical practice.” $270.
Looking ahead, Midkiff, who mentions her fiancé, Tinicum Farm owner John Crooke in Frenchtown, says she soon hopes to have a permanent location where she roots Locust Light and is looking forward to the time when she can have more in-person classes.
She also wants readers to know from May through September the garden will be open on Saturdays for visitors to pick herbs on a donation basis, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and see Locust Light Farm “as a community space for people to feel accepted and welcome.”
Reflecting on her business challenges, she says, “One of the biggest challenges for myself, and for many other farming and unique small businesses, is accessing the capital to expand the business, particularly to acquire land. It is exceedingly difficult for small farms to access both land and the capital necessary for infrastructure.
“Another challenge is balancing the need for widespread marketing with the need to do the actual work of the business. When you run the entire business by yourself, it’s difficult to give enough time to the many different facets of work.
“It can also be hard to describe my business to people. I often change exactly what I say depending on whom I’m speaking with: I make a quick judgement about what type of language and ideas they’re comfortable with, and adjust from there. Even though I run a successful, profitable business, I know that there will be people who won’t take me seriously if I use the words ‘magic’ or ‘spirituality.’”
However, she says, “A happy surprise from running my business is that I get to be surrounded by the most interesting, kind, intriguing, and fun people. I am now the central hub of a community of sweet, curious, whimsical-yet-grounded plant-loving people who make me laugh and continually amaze me. What a gift.”
Then looking over the winter fields that will soon need tilling, she says, “I know my business is unique, but I make a living and pay my bills.”
Locust Light Farm, 67 Pleasant Valley Road, Titusville. For more information, go to www.locustlightfarm.com.