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Posts Tagged ‘Conference’

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.

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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.  

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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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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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