Our Staff

Emily Ruff, Executive Director

Emily Ruff is a community herbalist who has practiced the art and science of plant healing for over a decade. Her studies have taken her around three continents where she has studied under healers of many traditions. Her background in gardening and botany came in childhood while wandering the wilderness and digging in the sandy soils of Florida with her grandfather, a tobacco farmer turned urban gardener, and her father, a botany and astronomy professor. Her journey into herbalism continued through apprenticeships in Guatemala under the tutelage of local healers on the southern coast of Lake Atitlan, in the mountains of Vermont at the feet of Rosemary Gladstar, and in the Central Florida apothecary Leaves & Roots with herbalists Carolyn Whitford and George D’Arcy. Emily’s academic studies include Ethnobotany, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies at the University of Central Florida and Curanderismo with the University of New Mexico. She is a Bach Flower Registered Practitioner.

Emily’s dedication to preserving bioregional medicinal plant traditions and ecosystems led her to become active in the organization United Plant Savers. Inspired by a need for greater connection among her regional community, she founded the Florida Herbal Conference event in 2012, an event that continues to sell out annually. In past years, she served multiple terms as president of the Herb Society of Central Florida and as co-founder of Homegrown Local Food Cooperative. Most recently, in response to the tragic shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Emily founded the Orlando Grief Care Project. From the community relationships cultivated through the national response to this tragedy, Emily formed the Herbal Action Network to continue weaving the web of compassionate herbalism into community engagement. Emily is an instructor in the Herbal Academy Advanced Herbal Training Course. Sharing her time between Florida and Vermont, she currently serves as director of the Sage Mountain Botanical Sanctuary.

Emily’s classes have been described as “heart-filled,” “enriching,” and “empowering,” creating a bridge between the teachings of our ancestors and the technologies of our modern world. Emily can be found in joy cooking, practicing yoga, writing, photographing flora, creating music with family and friends, and digging her fingers in the dirt. The plants continue to be her greatest teachers.


Maggie O’Halloran, Education Director

Maggie O’Halloran is an herbalist and educator in Central Florida. She comes from a large family where chaos was the norm. She always found peace outside watching things grow or climbing magnolia trees. One of her older brothers was considered hyperactive and had a hard time staying in school. Because of the impact food had on his behavior they had no sugar in the house, including ketchup! She learned in her mother’s kitchen that the things you put in your mouth impact your mind and your body.

In the early 90’s she first found her own inspiration to view health from a holistic perspective while working as a teacher assistant at a mental health hospital for children. From that experience, she decided that there had to be a better way to help kids beyond medicating them to a zombie state with pharmaceuticals. She started college studying education and psychology and ultimately received a bachelor’s degree in Human Development.

In 1999 she took her love of plants to Oakland, California where she worked with inner-city elementary students and teachers, learning and teaching about violence prevention and anger management through physical education and body awareness. She explored working with food, exercise, breathing, and communication skills. She continued to study plants and their medicine by sharing with friends.

In 2006 she moved to Florida to find a slower pace in life. Though her love of teaching hasn’t waned, she took the opportunity to focus on deepening her plant knowledge in a more intentional way with herb walks with Emily Ruff. Since then she has found inspiration from teachers like Phyllis Light, Rosemary Gladstar, David Winston to name a few and mostly Emily Ruff. Finishing the community herbalist program in May of 2015.

She continues her passion for helping people find peace by sharing her knowledge with whomever will listen. She enjoys working with friends, family, and strangers seeking a more holistic way to be healthy. These days she can be found hiking on trails, tending her garden, creating something good for you in her kitchen, teaching in her community about plant medicine, and learning from her ten-year-old herbalist and his friends.


Mila Belle, Marketing Director

Mila Belle Dykes is a sculptor, martial artist, and kitchen herbalist.

Mila became curious about the herbalist path while traveling across the country with Beautiful Chorus. The curiosity was inspired by fellow songbird Patty Coulton, who delightfully identified yarrow and plantain while hiking out in nature, and along the roadside, or pointing out a spicy edible flower in a garden bed. Mila nibbled on flowers and was fascinated that so many plants growing in the wild held medicinal properties.

Her curiosity led her to take the Roots of Herbalism course and Family Herbalist Program. Since then her favorite kitchen creations are custom herbal teas for ailments and preventative medicine. She values the overall empowerment she got from taking those courses and the community built, a solid foundation to advocate and take responsibility for health.

As a songbird with Beautiful Chorus, Mila sang at numerous Florida Herbal Conferences and has since become the official photography lead. She has also been known to drop in at Moon Circles and dance or attend Bodhi Garden events.

Mila’s ideal day consists of a good night’s sleep, a morning meditation,  vigorous exercise and martial arts training, a song, walking in nature, delicious meals, and being in good company. She can be found working on metal and clay sculptures, walking her dog Lexie, fumbling around in the garden, reading audiobooks, and hanging out with family and friends.

Mila is in constant exploration and implementation of ways to create health and harmony in her life. She understands that quality of life embodies a way of holistic living that acknowledges mind, body, and spirit and the need to nourish and create health and harmony in that sacred trinity. She finds her work with the Florida Holistic Living School fulfilling by helping to fulfill its mission to provide educational experiences that value and teach holistic living to the broader community.


Chris Flocken, Bookkeeper

Chris Flocken is a gardener, painter, and writer. Chris grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she developed an early kinship with the flora, fauna, and mountains of the Sonoran Desert. Later she lived in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where the landscape and plants of the Mid-Atlantic Region found a special place in her heart. She worked there for a not-for-profit organization that circulated traveling art exhibitions to museums throughout the U.S. Also during this time, Chris formed a company that made terrariums that she sold through florists and garden shops.

In the mid-1980s, Chris moved with her family to Central Florida where she learned yet another lexicon of native plants. While raising her children, she taught elementary school and also did bookkeeping for her partner’s janitorial company.

In 2010, Emily hired Chris as the bookkeeper for the Homegrown Local Food Cooperative. The Co-op was originally a community outreach project of the Florida School of Holistic Living. In 2013, Chris became the School’s bookkeeper. She has enjoyed many workshops offered by the School and recently completed the Roots of Herbalism course.

Chris is a summa cum laude graduate of University College at the University of Maryland with a major in art history and a minor in English. She is also a graduate of Rollins College with a Master of Arts in Teaching. She writes short stories and poetry and is writing a memoir. She has published her poetry in the Florida Writers Association’s Collection in 2020 and in the Florida State Poets Association’s Cadence in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. She has published her photography in the Sandhill Review in 2020.


Debbie Krause, Community Liaison

Debbie Krause is a Central Florida herbalist with a passion for plants, healing and medicine-making. She graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies from Rollins College’s Hamilton Holt School in 1994 and has had a passion for nature and a connection to nature ever since. One of her greatest joys is wandering through the woods here in Florida or up in the mountains of North Carolina.

Debbie began her formal herbal training at the Florida School of Holistic Living and completed the Community Herbalist training under Emily Ruff’s skilled guidance. She has continued her training with a variety of esteemed herbalists including Kim Ellis, Margi Flint, Jody Noe, Phyllis Light, 7Song, Thomas Easley, Michael Cottingham, John Gallagher, Rosalee de la Foret, Sam Coffman and Steven Horne.

Debbie believes that learning never ends and is thankful for every opportunity to learn about herbs, wilderness, and healing. She appreciates every teacher who has crossed her path and believes that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

While Debbie appreciates every aspect of herbalism, she has a true passion for medicine-making. You can often find her in the kitchen working with fresh roots, creating tinctures and formulas or making her well-known “Deb’s Super Salve” first-aid salve and lip balm. She takes a lighthearted approach and loves the fun, messy nature of herbalism and the cast of characters that has become a core part of her life. She also enjoys teaching others how to take their own health and the health of their families, communities and environment into their own hands.


Shannon Alycia, Home Study Coordinator

Shannon Alycia is a Mother, Folk Herbalist and light-worker. As a healer, her passion in life has become empowering others by helping them learn how to be responsible for their personal health and well-being. With such a busy life and being mindful of the fact the she is human and not immune to the external stressors in our world, Shannon decided to implement yoga into her daily routine. After attending yoga regularly, she was pleased with how yoga helped her off the mat in every aspect of her life. Having crossed paths with a wonderful teacher by the name of Tymi Howard and feeling blessed to be a part of the beautifully spirited community of like-minded individuals she helped grow, she was in Love! Shannon soon decided she wanted to deepen her practice and began teacher training the following summer. Shannon has been teaching yoga ever since and is truly humbled by the opportunity and experience. Allowing yoga to take a key role in her life has been essential as it has opened doors to new positive opportunities, new friends, and most importantly opened her heart! Shannon wants to share her passion and love for yoga with others, knowing it will have many positive effects in their lives as well.

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