November 03, 2016


Fig Bethlehem ›

Yoga at the Lavender Farmette

By Vanessa L. Palumbo for Fig Bethlehem

I pulled up alongside a row of trees. The branches whispered to me as they lightly brushed against my window. The car immediately filled with the rich smell of pine.

I opened the backdoor, threw my mat over my shoulder, and walked up the gravel path past the welcome sign. As I got to the top of the driveway there was a quaint fenced in garden bursting with vibrant color.

As I turned the corner towards the barn, an empty bench with sunflowers draped across invited guests to sit. And then, there was the barn, the most picturesque setting for a yoga class anyone could ever imagine. 

The first thing I noticed was the far open window with fresh flowers sitting on a tabletop. The bright morning light made the buds glow. Panning around I saw beams draped with lavender, vases of flowers on stools highlighted with industrial lighting, and the hues of blue and purple yoga mats. I chose a spot on the floor under an old basketball hoop.

Let's backup. How did I get here? First, yoga at a lavender farm sounded too enchanting to pass up. Second, I had been meaning to take one of Laurel Attanasio's (a fellow Fig blogger) classes for some time now. So this opportunity was a win-win in my book!

For a little background, The Lavender Farmette is an urban-micro farm in Emmaus by Florence Rodale, a French transplant. Her and her husband rescued the farm on the cusp of urban development and have restored the property consisting of a stone home, smoke house, and a bank barn. The barn was built in 1840 and has been restored to what you see above.

All of Florence's plants are grown without chemicals or pesticides using only organic methods to yield her crops.

Now, back to the hour of zen...

The moment the session began was the moment I stopped thinking and let my senses take the lead. I smelled the lavender hanging from the exposed beams. I smelled the planks of the wooden floor. I heard the crickets in the distance. I felt the brisk morning air at the nape of my neck. It was utterly serene.

As the session ended, the garage doors opened letting the afternoon light trickle in. It exposed tables full of homemade lavender scones with spreads and other light refreshments. Wine and local brew in growlers sat sweating on tables with embroidered flowers. Florence hosted a table of fresh wild flowers in mason jars and lavender infused items for purchase.

I purchased one of Florence's lemongrass soy candles which is GMO-free soy wax, pure essential oil, and hand-poured. It contains no chemical fragrances or dyes so it burns cleanly. Oh yes, and it smells heavenly!

I believe there is something to be said about a yoga class that immerses all your senses. Using your breath to focus is one thing, but to clear your mind by immersing in the sensory items around you was invigorating. This was especially so because the area was foreign to me, so the new senses were welcoming and were not tied to other thoughts that could normally lead focus astray. The barn offered so much to the senses and aided in the flow of motion and relaxation. It was one of the best classes I have ever taken.

If there is another class at The Farmette I strongly encourage you to go! Also, buy that lemongrass candle. You won't regret it.


Vanessa L. Palumbo - Resident Tourist Bethlehem 


Old World Lavender on a Historic New World Farm

As seen in the Fig Bethlehem online blog, July 13, 2015

By Nadia Hassani

When I drive along our area’s back roads, I often see dilapidated stone barns looking sad and out of place as wider roads, malls and cookie-cutter housing developments encroach. The barns are relics from the time when Lehigh Valley was a farming valley, before losing 80% of its farms and 53% of its farm country to development (I wrote about this in a previous blog post).  

There are exceptions and it is uplifting to see a Colonial-period farmhouse, barn and outbuildings restored and filled with new life and purpose. Lavender Farmette is such an example.

I found Lavender Farmette by following the scent. I went to the Bethlehem Food Co-Op Craft Fair last April where I bought a bunch of dried lavender, full and beautifully presented. I chatted with Lavender Farmette’s owner Florence Rodale, who started her enterprise eight years ago. This lead me to the Farm’s website stating that Florence and her husband “rescued it from the sprawl of urban development”. I was even more intrigued.

I visited Florence’s Lavender Farmette last week. She alerted me that she was already well into the lavender harvest so I should not expect to see much of the purple bloom. What I did see was stunning enough – and not just the lavender, but also the old buildings in various stages of restoration. Breathtaking and aromatic!

The first foundations on the farm date back to 1794. There is a house, barn, milkhouse, smokehouse and cold cellar, all a great example of self-sustainability. The large barn, where decorative spaced patterns in the bricks provide cross-ventilation, makes a perfect place to dry the lavender.

The farmland at Lavender Farmette is gently sloped which actually is a blessing because the soil has high clay content, which means poor drainage that is deadly for lavender plants, as they do not like to get their feet wet.

When Florence walked with me through the rows of lavender plants, she noticed that after the daily heavy rains, there was a small puddle on the landscape fabric which is stretched on the soil to raise the soil temperature and suppress weeds. Without interrupting our talk she bent down, made a small cut into the fabric so the water can drain, and we moved on.

Florence describes Lavender Farmette as an “urban micro-farm”. The micro does not only refer to the farm’s size of 2.5 acres and its small, artisanal production of lavender products. It also means that each and every one of the 2,000 plants needs to be carefully pruned, weeded – in addition to wet soil, weeds are the other enemy of lavender – and harvested. Florence recruits family and friends to help out. On the day I visited, her son was carefully working his way down a row of several hundred lavender plants.

Florence Rodale is a native of France who has lived in the Lehigh Valley since the late 1980s. Before starting her farm, she had already grown about 200 lavender plants in her home garden in Allentown.

It was not an easy start at the Farmette. The farmland she and her husband bought posed a set of challenges before they could begin planting. To improve the soil quality, she screened the soil and removed a generous deposit of rocks and large boulders. She also added loads of compost. Florence has high praise for the difference compost makes. The more the better, she says.

Despite all the tender loving care, things can go wrong, like on every farm. In the icy winter of 2013/14 Florence lost one-third of her plants. That winter also reinforced the importance of pruning. A spherical-shaped plant catches and holds the snow, providing insulation from the deadly winter winds.

Florence grows several varieties of lavender, including the culinary varieties Munstead, Hidcote, Sachet, and Provence. The two varieties for sachets and other scented products, Phenomenal and Grosso, are the easiest to grow, Florence says.

Every portion of the plant can be used, even the stems, which can be used as fire starters. Soaked in water like a wooden skewer, the stems of culinary lavender can also be placed right onto the grill to give barbecued meat, fish and chicken a subtle lavender flavor.

From the lavender Florence produces dried lavender flowers, sachets, soap, and culinary lavender for cooking. She also makes lavender cushions with Cyanotype using a photographic printing process with cyan-blue print. When Florence is not tending to her lavender, she is a fine art photographer with a specialization in handmade photographic printing processes like Cyanotype, which was introduced in 1842. At the upcomingOlympus InVision Photo Festival at ArtsQuest, Florence will exhibit a collection of her photographs through Floreant Projects at her Lavender Farmette studio.

To make her essential oil, a natural oil, and hydrosol, a condensate floral water, Florence uses a steam distillation process. Expanding beyond lavender, she also grows a small patch of lemon grass and rose-scented geranium, both annuals, to make hydrosol and essential oils. The oil of rose-scented geranium acts as a tick repellent.

Over the years several garden clubs in the Lehigh Valley have invited Florence to speak about lavender. People are always surprised, she says, to learn about its many health benefits. Because it is an antiseptic, it can be used to cleanse and soothe minor burns and insect stings. Lavender’s relaxing scent also makes it a favorite in aromatherapy.

For gardeners, lavender has benefits that go far beyond it being a decorative plant with a delightful scent. Lavender is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Lavender is not native to North America; it hails from the Old World. The lavender plant serves as a pollinator plant that attracts bees and bumblebees. Other beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds feed on lavender’s nectar.

I won’t even try growing lavender on our wind-battered hilltop. It won’t survive. But I am happy to know that if I want to get my hands on some lavender (for my favorite recipes with lavender see my gardening blog) it is grown locally, and with organic methods.

Lavender photos courtesy of The Lavender Farmette. Food photo by Ted Rosen.

Made in America

The fairly new blog, The Americanologists (the owners look for a made-in-the-USA lifestyle) paid a visit to the Rodale General Store in Emmaus and noticed my “made in America lavender sachets”. Thank you!




Growing Lavender for Art and Soul


As seen in Organic Gardening magazine, June/July issue, 2013

By Florence Rodale

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