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Lida Lafferty, author of "Spike It with Lavender"

Lida Lafferty, Author of Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living

The charming book,  Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living by Lida Lafferty, offers many creative ways to use lavender. The book presents a collection of ideas and recipes for drinks, savories, sweets and even household items such as lavender dryer bags and lavender mist.

I find many reasons to praise this book and rejoice in its genesis. Lafferty, a speech pathologist living in western Colorado, never intended to grow lavender. She certainly couldn’t have guessed that she would ever create a lavender recipe book.

Honeybees sparked Lafferty’s interest in lavender. In 2008 she worried about her honeybees and wanted to give them a healthy and abundant food source. From Colorado State University’s Extension office, she learned that honeybees thrive on sage, yarrow and lavender. Lafferty was already growing sage and yarrow on her 2 ½ acres in Grand Junction. For the sake of her bees, she put in 75 lavender plants and added more the next season.

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

All summer Lafferty’s lavender filled her fields with fragrant purple blossoms. Her honeybees hovered over the flowers, foraging for pollen. One day Lafferty was harvesting lavender. Everywhere she looked, she saw honeybees enjoying the magnificent flowers. Lafferty felt guilty about taking away the bees’ food. She found herself talking to them, saying, “Okay ladies, half of this lavender belongs to you, I get the rest.” Lavender had become a character in her story.

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Lafferty joined the Lavender Association of Western Colorado. Colorado’s arid climate, high altitude and alkaline soil gives the herb everything it desires. Farmers planted lavender as a cash crop. It adds to income from cherries, peaches and wine grapes.

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

When Lafferty met with other lavender growers, the conversation buzzed about their dream of a lavender celebration. Some had attended the Sequim Lavender Festival. They were excited and eager for a gathering in Colorado. Lafferty tossed out her idea. “I think it’d be great if we had our own association cookbook which would be an ideal ‘take-home’ item for festival attendees.”

The association published Lafferty’s book in 2011. Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living contains a collection of recipes. Well-known chefs, lavender growers and talented home cooks contributed recipes. This approach yielded diversity; each recipe reflects the creator’s experience and personality.

Professional chefs relied on their culinary training and skill in pairing flavors and textures, however some had not yet discovered lavender as a culinary ingredient. Lafferty sent them lavender honey and lavender buds. She asked them to experiment with it and contribute their recipes. Lafferty converted these chefs from skeptics to believers. Their recipes showcase tasty ways to use lavender.

Growers with years of experience using lavender generously gave many recipes to this book. From this group, special mention goes to Roxi Lane from Dayspring Farm for sharing her “top secret creations” such as Dayspring Farm Lavender Espresso Brownies. Also Paolo Legarre’s Sage Creations Lip Balm stands out for its simplicity.

From talented home cooks, the book gives us family favorites that have been perfected over generations. These range from Gram Jane Molasses Cake with Lavender contributed by Julie Zahniser (in honor of her mother) to Sheila’s Herb Chicken Stew contributed by Nancy Lofholm.

Amy Nuernberg created the book’s artistic cover and tabs. Artist Susan Metzger contributed her batik design along with original art and local photographs. These work well with Lafferty’s clever idea to use a ring-binder for easy reference while cooking and to enable expansion.  The 2012 recipe collection has recently become available. She’s now collecting recipes for the 2013 edition.  If you want to contribute one of your recipes, you can find her submittal guidelines on the Lavender Association’s website. March 31, 2013 is the last day for submittal.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Another helpful feature of this book informs readers of the wide range of lavender varieties, each with their own flavor and fragrance profile. Some are sweet, others spicy; some are subtle, others bold.

For culinary use, Lafferty recommends English Lavender which comes in hundreds of varieties. Because many recipes in the book specify certain varieties such as Miss Katherine, Folgate or Croxton’s Wild, readers discover many flavor choices.

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Kathy Kimbrough, founder and past president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado, said, “What I like best about this book is that it’s accessible and affordable.”

Kimbrough added, “The book has been great for our association. It educates people who are just discovering lavender as a culinary herb, increases the sales of culinary lavender, and provides us with an ongoing revenue stream.”

When the association held their first lavender festival in 2011, Lafferty’s suggestion came to fruition. Many festival attendees went home with a copy of Spike It with Lavender. The 2012 festival attracted about 2000 people. The 3rd festival is scheduled for July 12-14, 2013.

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, why not give your favorite foodie a unique gift? Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living!  And if your Valentine likes sweet treats, but not cooking, give him or her CakeLove Chewy Cookies, one of Lafferty’s favorite recipes. Put them in a fancy package tied with a red bow and include your own love note. And when you pop the question, “Please be my Valentine?” the answer will be “yes.”

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

 

CakeLove Chewy Cookies

Re-printed here with permission from Lida Lafferty, author of “Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Bake these on parchment lined cookie sheet to the point where the dough won’t give when you poke them. Choose from a few choices of mix-ins to get your favorite flavor, or customize by mixing and matching. I love the warmth you get from the honey and the pretty bouquet that comes from the lavender. Enjoy!   ~Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and Love Cafe

 

¼ cup Lavender infused Honey*

½ cup superfine or plain granulated sugar

½ cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

3 oz. unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg

1 (optional) egg yolk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

Flavor Mix-ins:

½ cup whole rolled oats

½ cup candied ginger pieces

Or

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup pecan pieces or almond slices

Or

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup almond slices

¼ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 to 315 °F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.

*Note: To make Lavender-Infused Honey, combine ¼ cup to 1/3 cup dried lavender buds and 1 cup honey in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand, turning the jar upside down periodically. After a week, discard lavender buds by filtering through a sieve. It’s now ready to use.

Mix honey, sugars and zest in stand mixer fitted with flat paddle. Slowly add in melted butter and vanilla extract. Add in egg and yolk. Stir to combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon, and then add to mixer. Add mix-in of your choosing and stir until combined. The dough should come off the side of the bowl and barely feel tacky. Add a touch more flour if it’s very sticky.

Scoop out the dough with a trigger ice-cream scooper. Lightly press to flatten to ¼” to ½”. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, remove from oven to cool and serve warm.

Store any leftover dough in an airtight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Warren says there’s a fair amount of tolerance in the recipe to withstand variance in the art of mixing and atmospheric conditions (temperature and pressure).

So here’s what you need to know. It’s soft, not crispy, because of the honey. It’s chewy! No worries about altitude adjustments. It’s scrumptious, one of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. 

Make them after school with your children, after work, or at midnight. Linger with good talk, a glass of milk, and this good cookie.

Thanks to Warren Brown of CakeLove, Washington, DC area.     ~Lida Lafferty


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Ontario Lavender-058-4

Victor Visiting Farm in Ontario

Victor Gonzales planted his first lavender plant in 1997. Today, he owns and operates Victor’s Lavender, where he propagates lavender for sale throughout North America. Years of growing lavender presented him opportunities to find out for himself what works and what doesn’t. A sought-after speaker, Victor imparts his knowledge at conferences, in demonstrations and on his CD (available here). He also consults with growers to help them increase lavender production. His outgoing personality and generous spirit have led him to Lebanon and Morocco to share his knowledge.

According to Scott Nagel, Executive Director of the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association, “Victor’s success stems from three attributes: a strong work ethic, a friendly and giving personality and deep knowledge of lavender production.”

Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Victor was the second youngest of 12 brothers. When Victor was ten years old, his father went to California for work.  In 1986 when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform Act, the entire family moved to California. Victor was 15 years old.

 Victor’s first job there was picking fruit in the San Joaquin Valley. The work was hard, and the conditions difficult. Eventually he landed a job in a packing plant. “I was happy to work inside an air-conditioned building, finally out of the hot sun,” Victor said.

Everything was going well, and then Victor seriously injured a leg playing soccer. That accident cost him his job. His recovery would take months. He didn’t want to return to picking fruit in the hot sun, so when his brother-in-law told him about job opportunities in Sequim, Washington, Victor along with his wife and young son moved north.

Victor Checks Temperatures for his Plants

Victor Checks Temperatures for his Plants

Small Cuttings Grow Roots in Victor's Greenhouse

Small Cuttings Grow Roots in Victor’s Greenhouse

“I love Sequim. The mild temperatures remind me of my village in Mexico,” said Victor.  At first, he worked three jobs: growing garlic, running a U-Pick operation at Graysmarsh Farm (a berry farm) and waited tables at Los Palomas. He also did occasional painting, construction and the odd handy-man job.

Soon, Victor accepted a job at Sequim Valley Ranch. The wealthy owner, who lived most of the year in Hawaii, had hired a manager to clean up the place – fix broken windows, paint and clear debris. Based on word-of-mouth, the manager phoned Victor.

Soon the place was looking good. And then one day, the manager who was looking for a way to start a money-making operation, asked Victor, “Can you grow lavender?”

“What’s lavender?” Victor asked.

“It’s a plant.”

“If it’s a plant, I can grow it,” answered Victor.

Victor began with 300 plants. Within weeks, all the plants died. Victor explained, “We were doing everything wrong. The soil was too heavy; we used too much fertilizer and too much water.”

Then they planted 1000 more plants, about 50% died.

Victor was watching and learning about the optimal conditions for lavender such as soil type, watering, fertilizer and which varieties would thrive in Sequim’s growing conditions. He saw every failure as a learning opportunity, like a mystery to solve.

His next challenge was working out successful propagation strategies. He needed a greenhouse and improvised by taking off the roof of an old garage and replacing it with plastic. “I took cuttings, and they all died. I needed a real greenhouse so I could control temperature and humidity.”

The manager got Victor a greenhouse. Victor took 20,000 cuttings and planted them in 2 ½ inch pots in light soil. After several weeks, half died.

 “I consulted with other lavender growers, the WSU Extension office and other horticulture specialists. That’s when I decided to take my own chances and listen to my own mind. I did five tests and recorded the results. I checked on the plants everyday – learning about soil types, potting hormones, greenhouse setups and irrigation methods. I learned that lavender requires dry heat near the roots. The rate of survival improved. We were selling plants and the operation was named Sequim Valley Lavender.”

Victor in Lavender Field

Victor in Lavender Field

By 2001, Sequim Valley Lavender was growing 50,000 plants and sold $200,000 worth of live plants to nurseries, according to Betty Openheimer’s book, “Growing Lavender and Community on the Sequim Prairie.”

Victor became the farm manager at Sequim Valley Lavender. One of the early customers and now CEO (Chief Education Officer) at Growing Lavender Plants, Susan Harrington, recalled meeting Victor. “It was 2002, and I was buying lavender starts to plant in my backyard. Victor was helpful. He shared  the lessons that he learned from his mistakes.”

Victor's Greenhouse: Perfect for Cultivating New Lavender Starts from Cuttings.

Victor Shows Kathy his New Lavender Babies – All Healthy & Happy in his Greenhouse

When Sequim Valley Lavender closed door in 2004, Victor’s previous customers tracked him down. They wanted to order his lavender plants. That’s when he began his own propagation business, naming it, what else, but “Victor’s Lavender.” Today, he has four greenhouses, and they are full of lavender plants.

Scan_Pic0040

Speaking at conferences about growing lavender, Victor always gets rave reviews. Victor begins by telling his audience, “I’ve made every mistake possible, before I learned how to grow lavender.” In the last few years, Victor spoke at many event including: Ontario Lavender Conference (2012), Sequim International Lavender Conference (2012), Northwest Regional Lavender Conference (2011), New Mexico State University’s National Immigrant Farming Initiative (2011) and  Sequim’s 1st International Lavender Conference (2000).

Recently, Victor entered the retail market. A popular Sequim farm, Moosedreams Lavender Farm, announced its closure as of January 31, 2012. The owners, Elizabeth Norris and Barbara Landbeck, wanted to retire and, at the same time, were looking for a way to continue their organic and earth-friendly product line. They gave Victor their formulas and recipes and shared their production techniques.  

Victor's Products-003

Order Victor’s Body MIst for Men or his Body Goatmilk Creme – Great Valentine Gifts

Victor provides these lotions, soaps, and creams to retail customers with the Victor’s Lavender label. He also provides these products to his wholesale customers and, if they prefer, will use their private labels. Victor has a talent for finding “win-win” outcomes: He needs a more steady revenue stream, and his wholesale customers are looking for lavender-inspired, eco-friendly products.

What’s ahead for Victor’s Lavender in 2013?

Give yourself a treat, and find an opportunity to meet Victor. Be sure to tell him Kathy sent you and you will receive a 10% discount. You can also find him on his website: Victor’s Lavender.

Victor spent years learning about growing lavender, however, he already knew the formula for success in his life: a generous spirit, hard work and a loving family.

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In November 2012, I traveled to Canada to speak at the Ontario Lavender Conference. During this two-day gathering, I discovered a vibrant, inspiring and collaborative community of lavender enthusiasts.

         

Ontario Lavender

Ontario Lavender

Ontario’s lavender industry grew out of a small study group formed in 2003. Later in 2010, it blossomed into the Ontario Lavender Association. During this time, Ontario’s farmers were seeing a shift impacting farming opportunities.

  • Tobacco, which had been Southern Ontario’s leading horticultural cash crop, diminished. Demand plummeted due to health concerns, cigarette taxes and new government policies. In 1970, 3,000 farms grew tobacco in Canada; today the number has dropped to about 650.
  • Fruit orchards, burdened with high labor costs, struggled to compete with growers around the world. Prices dropped and income dwindled.
  •  Raising hogs no longer supplied enough revenue to cover costs.
The Lavender Farm owned by Bob & Barb Gilles

The Lavender Farm owned by Barb & Bob Gillies

The situation was clear. Some families who had farmed their land for generations needed to cultivate new crops. Farmers transitioned into various horticultural crops including grapes, a wide range of vegetables and other fruit crops.  Some Ontario farmers shifted to growing lavender.  

These farmers imagined a new industry. One that would use lavender in an array of value-added products such as soap, shampoo and seasonings, and at the same time attract tourists to visit their lavender fields during the summer bloom. Revenue would come from farm boutiques, tours and on-line shops. However, before purchasing and planting thousands of lavender plants, the growers wanted to feel confident that their plants would survive Ontario’s cold winters.

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

To discover which kinds could survive the winter, a trial tested 27 varieties at six sites in southern Ontario. Additional testing would evaluate lavender varieties to rate their visual beauty, oil quality and content and bloom time, for example how many weeks the bloom endures.

Chaired by Anita Buehner, who is co-owner of Bonnieheath Lavender, the Ontario Lavender Association obtained a research grant from the Sand Plains Community Development Fund. The money would fund research to find suitable lavender varieties for Ontario’s growing conditions. Growers who hosted the trials paid the cost of the plants; and the University of Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Erie Innovation and Commercialization provided support. Growers, government ministries, industry associations and academia, all worked together to launch Ontario’s lavender industry.

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Research will continue for three years. Additional funding came from OMAFRA New Directions Research Fund. A detailed report summarized the findings related to the survivability  of lavender varieties.  This report is available on the  Ontario Lavender Association’s. According to the report, “…lavandins did not survive as well as angustifolias.” and “The highest rated angustifolias were Folgate, Betty’s Blue, and Blue River ….”

 The Ontario Lavender Association now has 25 members, and in November 2012, hosted its first Ontario Lavender Conference. Jan Schooley, owner of Apple Hill Lavender, and Dr. Sean Westerveld, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, co-chaired the event. The agenda focused on “The Business of Lavender.”

Ontario Lavender Conference

Kathy Gehrt Celebrates Ontario’s Lavender Conference

Seventy-four people went to the conference. Attendees included growers, artisans, and research professionals. Most participants came from Canada; however several growers traveled from Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania to learn about Ontario’s lavender experience. Mary Tate Bergstrom represented the United States Lavender Growers Association.

Echo Lane Lavender's Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

Echo Lane Lavender’s Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

When I read about a banquet with “lavender-inspired culinary delights,” I was intrigued. Lavender played a leading role in the menu. Green salad served with savory dressing demonstrated lavender’s ability to accentuate the fresh flavor of vegetables. The main course, chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, combined many flavors. Herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs such as lavender, rosemary, basil and thyme, seasoned the potatoes perfectly. The finale, mixed berry trifle with lavender-infused cream, silenced the room as diners relished the flavor. 

 

Pat Earls, an Ontario Lavender Association member and owner of Lavenders of Norfolk, created the recipes, and the chef received kudos for his preparation. This banquet not only exceeded my expectations, it provided positive proof of lavender’s culinary versatility. (Thank you to Pat Earls for sharing her recipes and giving me permission to share them on my blog:  Lavender Salad Dressing, Herbes de Provence Mashed Potatoes and Lavender Berry Trifle.

After dinner I gave the keynote presentation, “Lavender Business Models from around the World.” Farms I featured included:Ali’i Kula Lavender, Bridestowe Estate, White Oak Lavender Farm, Forest Green Man Lavender, and Becker Vineyards. Each of these farms exemplifies successful agri-tourism strategies.

The next morning I talked about the culinary connection. My topic was how to use culinary lavender to stir up profits. As a foodie, I especially like to discuss flavor combinations. This presentation generated a good discussion. Questions ranged from “Can lavender stems be used in cooking?” to “Have you experimented with hydrosol to flavor food?” I can’t wait to try these ideas, and when I do, I will post the results on my blog.

On the drive to the airport for my flight back to Seattle, I felt honored to have been a speaker at this event. I’d met new lavender growers, and I was inspired by their resilience and enthusiasm. I don’t know whether lavender will replace the income lost from tobacco, fruit and hogs; however I do know the Ontario growers will transform their region into purple fields of lavender in the summer season.

I am already planning my return to Ontario; but my next trip will be in summer when lavender will be in full bloom.

         

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Red Barn in Field of Lavender

Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm during 2011 Sequim Lavender Farm Faire

During Sequim’s lavender celebration, I visited Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm to demonstrate some recipes from my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender.” Busy talking and signing books, I didn’t have time then to discover the story behind this place. I barely noticed the lavender plants lined up like soldiers in a parade and saluting their fans with purple flowered stems.

Months later when Scott Nagel called to invite me to speak at the upcoming International Lavender Conference (April 2012), I became curious about how Sunshine Farm became a tourist destination for thousands of people from all across the country and beyond.

Summer at Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

Picture Perfect

Agritourism is emerging as a popular way to see working farms, to understand local agriculture and to discover regional cuisines. Sunshine Farm has achieved success in this new industry. I wanted to learn what made this farm so popular.

To find out, I returned and spent an early October morning with the farm’s owners, Steve and Carmen Ragsdale. I learned that their formula for success depended on their planning, preparation and passion. Their top ten tips are listed below.

1.      Do your homework. Set your goals. Prepare a business plan. Get help if you need it.

  • To help them develop their plans and meet their goals, Steve and Carmen engaged the volunteers at SCORE – a free consulting service that is part of the Small Business Administration.
  • Their goal was to own and operate a lavender farm that would attract tourists.

2.    Build on your experience, skills and personal style.

  • Carmen owned and operated beauty salons for 38 years. She had experience creating products using herbs and oils, and she was skilled in customer service.
  • Steve, a naval architect and engineer, understands machinery and planning.
  • Even before they devoted themselves to Sunshine Lavender, Steve and Carmen grew lavender on the hillside of their Port Orchard property.

3.    Take one step at a time.

  • The Ragsdales acquired their property in 2000 and developed their farm in phases: Finding the site, preparing the soil, planting lavender, building greenhouses, propagating plants, creating products for their gift shop, and in 2006 their farm became part of the Sequim Lavender Farm Tour.

4.    Select the right site. For lavender, that means soil that is well-drained and slightly alkaline and a site that offers full sun. If you intend to attract visitors, look for a site that is visible and easily accessible. Check out zoning laws and permit requirements.

  •  After searching for two years, the Ragsdales found their 10 acre site, just off highway 101, about 10 miles east of Sequim. Their farm is the first one you see when you drive towards Sequim.

 

Sign for Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

This Great Sign Makes it Easy to Find Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

5.    Make sure your signs are easy to read, and your farm is listed in visitor guides, tourist attractions and in local papers.

  • A large sign makes it easy to find Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm. Commanding attention, the big red barn and white picket fence can be seen from the highway. In summer, the purple rows of lavender beckon to passersby.

6.  Remember your farm is a stage. Keep it looking neat and uncluttered. Make it inviting, with clearly marked paths, places to sit so your guests can relax and take in the beauty.

  • Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm reminds me of a palace garden. Carmen and Steve understand they are in the agritourism business, a blend of agriculture, tourism and entertainment. Their visitors expect an unforgettable experience. When you walk around this place, you  feel like you’re in paradise.

    Colorful Andirondack chairs offer place to rest

    Adirondack Chairs Invite Visitors to Sit and Enjoy the Lavender

7.    Make sure your plants look their best. That means replacing plants that become stressed. Lavender is the star of the show, every plant must look lush!

  •  This fall, Steve, Carmen and family  will replace 4000 plants with ones they propagated in their greenhouses. This takes all hands on deck.  (The stress was due to excessive rain in 2011. Due to la Nina weather pattern, in 2011 Sequim received over 60 inches compared to an average of only 15.)

 

Lavender Season at Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

Lavender Season at Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

8.    Place signs in the lavender fields describing the different varieties giving a brief summary of its characteristics.

  •  Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm has more than 8000 lavender plants in its fields with some 65 varieties. Visitors can easily read about the various types and learn about their size and color.

 

Melissa - Angustifolia Cultivar - Thriving at Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

Melissa - Angustifolia Cultivar - Thriving at Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

9.    Develop a unique and attractive array of gift items.

  • Carmen began developing bath and beauty products when she operated her salon. Now, she creates soaps, face creams, hand lotion and more using the lavender oil that Steve distills from their harvest. What lavender oil they don’t use in their products, they bottle and sell in their gift shop.
  • By tweaking family recipes and experimenting with lavender in the kitchen, Carmen wrote three cookbooks. In the gift shop, she offers her own line of culinary products from culinary lavender buds to salad dressings and seasonings.

10.   Have fun. Don’t get too busy to stop and smell the lavender.

Steve and Carmen Ragsdale with their dog, Sugar

Steve & Carmen along with their dog, Sugar

  • Steve and Carmen enjoy working together and caring for their farm and it shows in the relaxed atmosphere that makes Sunshine Lavender such a special place.
  • Taking a leadership role in the lavender community, Steve has been elected president of the newly formed Sequim Lavender Farmers Association. The association is hosting an International Lavender Conference in 2012. The keynote speaker will be Tim Upson, author of “Lavandula, The Genus” considered the bible for lavender growers.

Agritourism, still an emerging industry, comes in many forms. Wine-tasting, corn mazes, pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms attract people who want to escape from their everyday routine and get a glimpse of another world. At Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm, visitors discover the beauty of lavender and enjoy the gracious hospitality of Carmen and Steve Ragsdale.

 

 

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I was drinking a latte and writing, when I heard the sound of mail dropping into my mailbox. Even though, I have a strict rule about not interrupting my morning ritual of writing, I could not resist. I opened my mail box and retrieved my mail – a few fliers, a couple of bills and a postcard announcing a big lake-front house for sale – only $4.5 million. 
 
Then I suddenly wanted to check the front porch. I was expecting a package from Olympic Cellars. So when my eyes landed on a large tubular package, I thought, “Great my wine has arrived.” But then I looked closer and saw the label–“Labyrinth Hill Lavender.”  How exciting!
 
I picked up the package and brought it into my kitchen. When I opened the carton, I could see pink tissue wrapped around a bundle. I pulled the precious bundle out of the carton. It was tied with a purple satin ribbon.
 
 
 I unwrapped the pale pink tissue. The bunch of lavender filled my kitchen  with fragrance and my heart with appreciation for friendship, beauty and summer.
 
 
 
    
 
How exquisite!  A fresh and fragrant bunch of lavender. I recognized it immediately as Grosso – long-stemmed and a rich full fragrance.  Grosso is grown for its oil content, and its fragrance is intoxicating.
 

"Lavender, Sweet Blooming Lavender"

"Lavender, Sweet Blooming Lavender"

Thank you, Susan!  What a sweet surprise! I love your “Care and Feeding Instructions” for my new “Bundle of Joy” and the tutorial on how to weave a lavender wand.

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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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The Mexican Garden in central Texas

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.

Mendola Walkway

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.

Becker Vineyard Entrance

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.

 The weekend ends with an adventure, a “Tuscany in Texas ” tour. The tour includes visits to a lavender farm, an olive farm, several wineries, followed by a wonderful Italian meal with a Tuscan touch, and an introduction to touring opportunities in France and Italy. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend in February than to enjoy Texas with a Tuscan flavor.

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