Archive for June, 2011

English Lavender

English Lavender on the High Plains of Kansas

Mike Neustrom began his career in the U. S. Navy serving as a diplomatic liaison with U.S. embassies and consulates in foreign ports. Now he grows lavender in Kansas on Prairie Lavender Farm. Check out his website. When you see the images of the neat “ship-shape” rows of lavender growing on his farm, it is easy to imagine him in his navy uniform. Mike now applies the discipline and organizational skills he learned in the Navy to growing lavender.

Mike Neustrom of Prairie Lavender Farm

Mike Neustrom of Prairie Lavender Farm

Prairie Lavender Farm, founded in 2002 on the high plains in north central Kansas, is home to 3500 lavender plants. Situated on 6 ½ acres on the south side of a hill above the Dakota Aquifer, the growing conditions match lavender’s three requirements: full sun, well-drained, alkaline soil. About half of the lavender plants are Lavandula angustifolia varieties, (sometimes called English lavender), the rest are Lavandula x intermedia (hybrids). Prairie Lavender Farm has lavender blooming from June through October with as many as four or sometimes five cuttings.

Mike retired from the Navy plus one more career before lavender began its campaign to win his affection. Mike was seduced by lavender at a roadside market. “By shear accident, I’d gone by a little roadside farmers market in Salina, Kansas. I noticed herb plants for sale. I ended up buying four or five flats of lavender, took them home and planted them in rows,” Mike said. That was how it began.

Lavender fascinated Mike. He wanted to find out where it fit in the botanical world, its history and how the herb was used. 

When Mike went to visit his sister Carole near Austin, Texas, he met Sharon Shipley, author of “The Lavender Cook Book” and coincidentally, Carole’s business partner. Sharon was in Austin to speak at the first Southwest Lavender Conference. Mike attended the conference where he met lavender growers and lavender nursery owners. When he returned to Kansas, he had several hundred Buena Vista lavender plants from Cathy and Sam Slaughter’s Gabriel Valley Farms.

Fresh Bunches of Lavender

To learn more about lavender farming, Mike traveled to Idaho and visited with Al and Peggy Armstrong at their Valley View Farm. He asked them about harvesting, making and packaging products and marketing.

After running Prairie Lavender Farm for the past eight years, Mike still enjoys this labor of love. I caught up with him via telephone last week. He’d just closed his gift shop for the day, and agreed to talk to me about his farm. Earlier that day, he’d hosted two large groups. An RV group, 22 people in all, had stopped by to see the lavender in full bloom on this June day. They’d been at the Kansas Smoky Hill River Festival and had heard about Mike’s farm from a nearby winery. Many people discover Prairie Lavender Farm by “word of mouth.”  Mike said, “I take them out, show them the fields, talk about the history and tell them about the farm.” Later that day, another group of 50 people came up from Wichita for a walk through Mike’s fragrant fields and a visit to his gift shop.

Once, a group of wheat farmers visited the farm. “You know they were dragged out here by their wives,” Mike said, “and they were fascinated with growing and farming aspects. I told them that they quit too early.” On this farm, Mike doesn’t quit until all the lavender is grown, harvested, distilled, dried, and then used to make products that are sold in Prairie Lavender Farm’s gift shop, online or at several retail shops.

Farm Gift Shop

Lavender Farm's Gift Shop

“We make everything on the farm,” Mike added. “I want to know what goes into every one of my products.” Best selling items are Prairie Lavender Room Spray,  Premium Lavender Body Lotion and Lavender Body Butter. He has developed 80 products, all using lavender.

Mike loves to cook with lavender. His favorite variety for culinary use is Buena Vista.“I like its sweet flavor. Some people use Provence, however I prefer Buena Vista for its taste,” said Mike. The herb blend, herbs de Provence, is the seasoning he sprinkles on chicken, pork or fish. Mike cooks chicken seasoned with herbs de Provence in a crock-pot and loves the delicious aroma that greets him when he comes in from the farm for dinner.

This Saturday, June 18th, Prairie Lavender Farm hosts its 3rd Lavender Festival. Here is a list of activities.  Sounds like a great way to spend the day!

  • Tours of our farming/processing operation
  • Demonstrations
  • Lectures on growing lavender
  • Making lavender gifts
  • U-pick bundles
  • Lavender plant sale
  • Live music & art
  • Gift shop open all day

As my conversation with Mike came to a close, I asked Mike what he likes most about his career as a lavender grower. Mike paused, “I am happy to say ‘I haven’t had to sit through even one meeting over the last nine years.’”  Who could have guessed that a twenty-year career in the navy would be the perfect preparation for creating a successful lavender business?

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Thirty thousand people flocked to the lavender fields last July during Sequim’s lavender festival. This summer, lavender takes the stage once more to star in Sequim’s festivities July 15-17. Two groups, each with a passion for lavender, are busy as bees buzzing around a lavender field, doing everything possible to make this year’s lavender weekend the best in the festival’s 15-year history.

 Last January, the group that plans and presents the Sequim Lavender Festival split into two groups. The Sequim Gazette reported that “Philosophical and administrative differences within the Sequim Lavender Growers Association led 11 farms and founders to leave the organization.” The farmers who left the group wanted to focus on the farming aspect of lavender, so they formed a new association called the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association. Each group is planning lavender celebrations during this summer’s lavender weekend. The “growers” will host the Sequim Lavender Festival and the “farmers” will present the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire. For lavender fans, this means two farm tours, two community fairs and twice the fun.

To find out what’s happening during this year’s events, I spoke with Mary Jendrucko, Executive Director of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association and also with Scott Nagel, Executive Director of the newly created Sequim Lavender Farmers Association. Jendrucko and Nagel have both been part of Sequim’s lavender festivities for many years.

Sequim Lavender Festival (The growers’ event)

"Mona" winning poster art for Sequim Lavender Growers 2011 Contest

Sequim Lavender Festival selects 2011 Poster Art "Mona" created by Chris Witkowski

This festival offers a tour of seven small farms in the Dungeness valley along with a festive Street Fair in downtown Sequim. The free self-guided Farm Tour is billed as a U-Tour, meaning you get a map and drive to the farms. Each farm will offer U-Pick lavender. You will experience the aroma of  lavender, see gazebos in the middle of a purple field and browse in charming gift shops. “For anyone considering small-scale farming, this is a great opportunity to see firsthand what works and visit with the people who make it work,” Jendrucko said. The farms open to the public are:

Blackberry Forest

Martha Lane Lavender

Oliver’s Lavender Farm

Nelson’s Duck Pond

Lost Mountain Lavender

Peninsula Nurseries

The Lavender Connection

Ed Hume, a northwest gardening celebrity, will kick off the festival at the Street Fair Friday July 15.  On Fir Street between Sequim and Third Avenue, 150 vendors will sell lavender and lavender products. Thirteen members of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association will be selling their lavender products at the Street Fair. The colorful booths will line the street with products such as hand-crafted jewelry created by Rockin Rocks jewelry or lavender-scented dog bandanas created by The Sequim Lavender Company.This event showcases Northwest juried artisans and their craftsmanship. A quilt donated by the Sunbonnet Sue Club will be raffled off. You can buy a raffle ticket at the Sequim Lavender Growers Association booth at the street fair. The proceeds of the raffle go to the Sequim High School scholarship fund.

A food court serving wine, beer and international cuisine will be a lively spot for a lunch break or snack. Local wines and beer are featured and this summer you can buy a Sequim Lavender Festival wine glass filled with Lavender Wine!  Live music adds to the jovial atmosphere with Pearl DJango, a gypsy jazz band, performing at the Street Fair on Friday evening.

Buses will shuttle people to and from the free parking sites to the Street Fair.

Sequim Lavender Farm Faire (The Farmers’ Event)

Sequim Lavender Farmers 2011 Wining Poster Art

Sequim Lavender Farm Faire Announces 2011 Poster Art "Lavender Fields, Forever" by Patricia Taynton

The classic Lavender Farm Tour and Lavender in the Park headline the NEW Sequim Lavender Farm Faire. The Lavender Farm Tour takes you to six farms, each with its own food, demonstrations, crafts, music and, of course, fields of lavender. “Meet the Farmer” takes place every day at 1 p.m. at each farm. The farmer will answer questions about growing lavender and guide you through the fields. They will share their techniques for growing, harvesting, drying and using lavender. Demonstrations will show how to distill lavender oil and how lavender can add an exotic taste to food. Culinary lavender will be featured on Sunday, July 17, Each of the six farms have arranged for demonstrations showing culinary techniques for using lavender.

The six farms in this tour are famous for their exquisite beauty:

Cedarbrook Lavender & Herb Farm

Olympic Lavender Farm

Port Williams Lavender

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

Washington Lavender (making its début on the tour)

Farm Tour hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Tickets give you unlimited access and free parking at the farms throughout the weekend and a free shuttle from Carrie Blake Park (the venue for Lavender in the Park).  

  • Advance tickets for the Farm Tour are $10 at the farms, local ticket outlets, and online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/162027.

  •  Advance tickets may be purchased until 6pm Thursday July 14th either online or at many ticket outlets in Sequim and Port Angeles. All Things Lavender in the Pike Place Market will  also  sell tickets for the Farm Tour.
  • Ticket sold during the festival weekend are $15 per person. Military personnel and their dependents pay $10 per person. Children 12 and under are free.
  • If you get your “passport” stamped at three or more farms plus Lavender in the Park, you can enter a drawing for prizes such as an overnight stay, gift basket or gift certificate from local stores.

Lavender in the Park, the newest part of the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire, will be located at the beautiful Carrie Blake Park. Admission is free.

More than 150 booths including food, crafts, nonprofit organizations and agricultural programs will be set up in the park. Check out these  presentations:  

  •  TheNorthwest Raptor Center will have their “Ambassador Birds” (birds who have been rescued and rehabilitated).
  •  There is plenty of parking on-site ($2 donation per car as a fundraiser for the Sequim High School Band) and then the Farm Tour buses that take ticket holders to the farms.
  •  Artists, photographers, glass makers and other artisans will display their work. One of the unique items for sale is Moosedream Lavender Farm’s Full Moon Dog Shampoo, advertised as an herbal concoction for dogs who want to smell as good as they look!  Other special treats such as lavender pillows, jewelry and glass etchings will be available. 

Carrie Blake Park with spacious lawns and lovely gardens will provide a relaxing and open area for the entire family. This location will be the hub for the buses connecting the Lavender Farm Tour and the people who come to visit from around the world.

Music at the James Center for the Performing Arts [band shell and amphitheater] will feature evening concerts from a Beatles Tribute band, Crème Tangerine, on Friday, and “Stompin’ at the Park” with Cort Armstrong and the Blue Rooster Band on Saturday.

Spend a Weekend in Sunny Sequim

Discover Cooking with Lavender

Discover Cooking with Lavender

Mark your calendar for the third weekend in July and get ready for a weekend where there is something for everyone. Sequim, located on the Olympic Peninsula, has many regional attractions such as Bird Walk in Railroad Bridge Park, Sequim Art studio Tour and Olympic Peninsula Wineries Tour.

My book, Discover Cooking with Lavender, will be available at the Monte Vista Medicinal Herb Farm’s Booth at the Street Fair, at Olympic Lavender Farm, Purple Haze and Washington Lavender. You can also find my book at Lavender and Lace Gift Boutiquein Sequim and at All Things Lavender at Seattle’s Pike Place Market and at the Made In Washington Stores  in the Seattle area.

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