My husband John and I were in Ashland, Oregon in early August when I received an intriguing email. Beth Patterson’s email invited me to speak at the Southwest Lavender Conference. Beth had participated in my class, A Lavender Feast, in Sequim, Washington several years ago. She lives in Texas where she owns a gift shop, Lavender and Old Lace. When Beth learned that my book, Discover Cooking with Lavender, was available she suggested me as a speaker. I felt happy to be invited to attend the conference and enthusiastic about demonstrating my lavender-inspired recipes.
Lavender may be an ancient herb, however lavender farms and festivals are a recent phenomenon in Texas. I was surprised to learn that Texas is home to about 50 lavender farms and the conference in February 2011 will be the 4th Southwest Lavender Conference. Lavender enthusiasts from Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and Colorado will learn about growing and marketing lavender, and share their knowledge with one another. The event will take place February 18 -20, 2011 in Kerrville, located in central Texas about 100 miles west of Austin.
I’d read the Unexpected Lavender Queen, Jeannie Ralston’s memoir of becoming a Texas lavender grower, so I knew a little about how lavender became a trend in central Texas in the early part of the 21st century. Still I was curious about how the Southwest Lavender Conference got started. I wanted to know more about this event, so I contacted Cathy Slaughter, treasurer of the Texas Lavender Association and owner of Gabriel Valley Farms. Cathy organized and underwrote the first conference in 2006. “As people in Texas were getting into growing lavender, they had lots of questions. Since they bought their starts from me, they would ask about pruning, disease, marketing, oil distillation and more. One time someone called and asked if I could get a tractor for plowing their fields.” Cathy realized there was a need for education. She was aware of the benefits from networking, and decided to offer seminars. The first conference brought people together so they could learn from one another and share their experience.
The 1st Southwest Lavender Conference attracted 100 people. The speakers included Sharon Shipley, author of The Lavender Cook Book, Susan Dietz and other experts on growing and using lavender. The attendees welcomed the opportunity to learn how one another approached lavender cultivation and product creation. Cathy expanded the conference to include nearby states with similar growing conditions, so it became the Southwest Lavender Conference.
Cathy’s vision of lavender growers working together culminated in the formation of the Texas Lavender Association in 2009. Its mission is “to promote the research, education, growth, market development and distribution of lavender and lavender products.” Chelita Riley, president of the Texas Lavender Association, led the effort to win a specialty crop block grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture. The grant was awarded for:
- Developing and implementing educational programs to support lavender growers and potential lavender growers
- Increasing awareness of the Texas lavender industry by providing conference topics and speakers
- Conducting bi-annual workshops
- Developing marketing materials to promote the lavender industry
In Texas, grants have been awarded to the grapefruit industry, the pecan growers and watermelon producers, but this was a first for the Texas lavender industry.
And of course I want you to attend my culinary demonstration on Friday, February 18th at 1 p.m. You will discover the taste of lavender in an array of gourmet recipes from Lavender Lemon Soda to Latin Mango Salsa and more.
The conference agenda offers an array to topics. Organized into two tracks, the first will focus on production with presentations about growing, pruning; propagating and distilling. The second track will address the issues of promoting and marketing.
The complete agenda with a list of presentations and speakers can be found at the Texas Lavender Association website. Registration information is also available here. If you are growing lavender or considering it, you will not want to miss this event.