Last week, I had the privilege of viewing a screening of "Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry" at Lindsey Wilson College. If you don't know anything about Wendell Berry, you can find more here, but I can tell you that he is one of the most well-known agriculture poets and writers. He is a former professor who eventually returned home to his farm in Henry County, Kentucky, to work the land and raise his family. He's written numerous novels, poems, articles and more, most based around the defense of the family farm, traditional ways of life, and agriculture. The National Endowment for the Humanities states, "(Wendell Berry) is the sum of his beliefs. And those beliefs arise from a longstanding tradition most fully expressed in the American family farm, a self-sustaining economic enterprise that reinforced familial bonds and human obligations to the natural environment."
Berry has always been an advocate for the family farm and I was certainly moved by the film. (You can find the very moving intro on Facebook here...watch it...it's worth your time, I promise!)
As I watched it, I became emotional. It was interesting to hear others comment on the cinematography of the film, or the sequence and editing, because I could not have cared less about the technical aspects of the documentary. What resonated with me was the essence of the film - the loss of respect for small farms, the cycle and struggle with farming, and even the loss of identity in our small towns and communities. I'm anxious for my parents to watch the film, having both grown up with agriculture playing a vital role in their lives and then spending their own adult lives dedicated to the farm.
Overall, three themes from the film stuck out to me.
First, the "objective." If you watch the opening few minutes of the film (here), you get it. While the city is great, and I certainly enjoy some of the conveniences of it, the poem challenges the typical things we work and strive toward. There's one particular quote that states something to the effect of putting ourselves in the "highest paying prisons." Wow. That made me stop to think. For so many, it's about the career ladder - better job, more money, more things. It's a cycle that is hard to stop. I fall victim of that thinking as well, but is there another way?
The second theme that stood out is the notion of how we have disrespected the vocation of farming and the rural way of life. It's something we've done to ourselves. We've stated that we live in the "middle of nowhere" and we've asked young people why they would want to stay in rural communities when the cities have so much more to offer. We've encouraged generations to do better than their parents, to educate themselves more, to buy bigger homes and have smaller families, and to take on jobs that don't take a physical toil on their bodies. Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge proponent in education, having spent much of my off-the-farm career in the field, and I will always value it. I'm not saying we should encourage people to drop out of school or not pursue higher degrees, but I am saying that there is real value in the vocation of agriculture and in working with your hands. I'm also saying that our rural communities are rare gems that should be cherished, grown, celebrated and held to tightly.
Last, and probably most saddening, was the theme of helplessness. I left the film falling more in love with my agricultural roots, but also feeling like I couldn't do anything to turn around this loss of land and loss of value in the family farm. While I'd love to turn my entire life on its head and become more of a true small farmer, I really don't know how to do that. It's easy to dream about and think about, but it's hard to do. How do you invest in a traditional lifestyle on the farm, but still be mom, wife, and everything in between, as well as feed your family. Sure, I do a bit of it now, but it doesn't support my family and our daily financial needs.
Perhaps just sharing my raw thoughts, as I'm doing in this blog (and am pretty nervous to do, in fact), and exposing readers to the primal messages of the film, will do a tiny bit of educating. In turn, if those reading this will do the same, maybe we can make a difference. Can we can work toward a movement of appreciation - for the farmers around us, for local food and goods, for the land, and for those working to better our world?
I'm going to try. Will you join me?
What we wished we'd known before starting a lavender farm.
I can't tell you the number of people who say, "Oh! A lavender farm! That must be so cool!" or "I've always wanted a lavender farm!"
While is is a pretty neat endeavor...and one that smells remarkable better than most typical "farm" smells - it is far from easy. Here are some things we wish we'd known before we began.
1. Plant on a hill.
Drainage is SO important for the life of lavender plants. The more hilly, rocky, slightly acidic soil you have, the better. Our soil drains fairly well, and most of our land is flat as a pancake, but we've had to amend our soil much more than anticipated.
2. Know about disease and test your plants.
While lavender is hardy and known to be resistent to many diseases, there's one that is taking many plants by storm. It's called Phytophthora and it can ruin your entire field and devastate a business. You can read more about it here. Unfortunately, we fear we may have it in our newest plants. We're sending them to UK for testing tomorrow. Be sure you're following our blog for results!
3. Have a plan.
See Jane. Jane has a business plan. Be like Jane.
See Mary and Allison. They have no business plan. Don't be like Mary and Allison.
Although I'm kidding (kind of), we didn't really know where we wanted to take this business when we started. We would have placed our plants in shorter, wider rows, anticipated for on-the-farm traffic, done better at preventative weeding, and done more research before throwing plants in the ground if we had to do it over. (A side note: KCARD is a free service in Kentucky that can help you think through some of these things! Find out more about them here).
4. Research which varieties do best in your climate. Know how you plan to use the plant.
There are a TON of different lavender varieties, but not all grow well in every environment. The two main groups are English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, and lavandins Lavandula x intermedia. We started out with two varieties, Munstead, which is a English lavender and a culinary lavender, and Grosso (fat spike), a lavandin.
5. It's a labor of love.
We love our little endeavour, but quickly realized that it's no easy task! Everything we've done has been labor-intensive. The planting, weeding, harvesting, drying, debudding, and more, has to be done by hand. It's been fun to get our families involved in every step of the process (although I'm not certain they would agree), and we hope to see the operation expand in the future, but it's certainly not a "plant it and they will grow" operation! Lavender doesn't really like Kentucky soil or weather, so we sometimes feel as if we are fighting a loosing battle, but don't worry...we'll keep on fighting it! We love sharing our passion with other lavender lovers out there!
What about you? Have you had success with your lavender plants? We're still learning too, so we'd love to hear about your successes or lessons learned.
It's Valentine's Day...the universal day of love, so we thought we'd share some of the top reasons we love lavender with you!
1. It's beautiful!
What is more breathtaking than looking out over lavender plants in bloom? We can't really think of anything! The fragrant purple blooms create a stark contrast to the green grass and blue skies of summer. We're already all googly-eyed just thinking about seeing our plants in bloom this year!
2. It smells heavenly!
While we've never actually smelled heaven, we can imagine it could smell a lot like a room filled with fresh cut lavender! (Okay, probably not, but you get the point). Lavender is probably most known for its smell and is widely believed to be known to increase romance (wink, wink!).
3. Lavender essential oil has some AMAZING properties!
While we can't legally claim healing properties, many essential oil experts report that not only does lavender help relax your body, but it also promotes sleep, reduces anxiety, and has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. It's great for keeping unwanted insects away, purifying the skin and air, and can even help you breathe better! Check out this article from organicfacts.net.
4. You can cook with it!
If you attended our 2016 Tea on the Farm, you know just EXACTLY how wonderful lavender-infused dishes can be! We were blown away by how chef Mete (our head chef for the tea) used culinary lavender throughout the menu. He's going to do it again this year (read the 2017 menu here), and I guarantee you'll go away with an increased desire to use more lavender in your kitchen! We'll do a blog post soon with some great lavender recipes.
5. You can enjoy lavender all year long!
Not only can dried lavender bundles be enjoyed all year, but you can also use oils, buds, stems and more to make wonderful, all-natural products that you can enjoy every day. Check out all of our all-natural, hand-crafted products here and let us know if there's something you'd like us to work on creating! (A foaming hand soap is next on our list)!
We met with the fine folks at Expressions Tea and Gifts yesterday to finalize the menus for the 2017 Tea on the Farm (purchase tickets here) and we are thrilled to announce a mouth-watering, lavender-infused menu that you won't get anywhere else! Chef Mete has created some masterpieces that we know you're going to love. If you're looking for a unique, on-farm experience in South Central Kentucky, THIS IS IT!
Update: ***BRUNCH is SOLD OUT****
Brunch @ 10:30 am ($30/pp) - -
Dinner @ 6:00 pm ($45/pp)
You aren't going to want to miss this!!
Lots of people ask us how we got started and why we chose lavender. To explain, I'll have to go back a few years and start with one simple fact: We bought the farm.
That's pretty much it. My poor husband had no idea what he was getting into when we agreed that moving to my grandparent's home place was a good idea. It seemed like a great plan...buy a business (he's an Allstate agent), rent the home my grandparent's made their life in until things got settled and we knew we weren't going to go completely broke, and then see what happens. Go with the flow.
Sounds good? Right?
It did to us!
Until the point we moved to Somerset, I had been focused on climbing the career ladder. I loved my job in marketing and PR, but when our first child came along it was like I hit a "trump-size" wall (sorry...had to throw that in there). I no longer wanted to get my Ph.D., work 50-60 hours a week or live in the city. Instead, I longed for time at home with my little guy and a quieter life in a small town. Luckily, my sweet husband agreed. Although he really had no experience with traditional farming, he was raised on a few acres and also had an appreciation for country life. Things seemed to fall into place as we were given the opportunity to move into my grandparent's home, located just 13 country miles from my husband's office. At the time, my grandmother, who was 97, had to be cared for in a nursing facility and the house was sitting empty. We thought our move would be temporary, as we really didn't know what the future held for her or for us. In a shorter time than we expected, my grandmother (Mama as we called her) was called Home and we were given the opportunity to buy the house and about 8 acres around it.
Fast forward to this "calling" I had to do something with the land. I wanted to be a farmer, but I knew I didn't really want (or could) be a traditional farmer with row crops, cattle, etc. By this time, we had one small child and another on the way. I had a great part-time job in public relations and a photography business that kept my busy. But the desire was still there. Every few weeks, I'd call my dad (who farms 1,200 acres and is an agricultural genius) and tell him my latest ideas. I wanted to milk sheep, I said. (Silence from dad). I wanted to raise pigs, (More silence). I watched "Farm Kings" and wanted to raise chickens. (Can you guess his response?)
Then, my mom said, "Let's grow lavender!"
"Let's grow lavender," I told my unsuspecting husband. (tee, hee, hee...)
And, that's how we started. We knew nothing, read lots, and threw some plants in the ground. We watered them with hope and began to figure out how many things we were doing wrong, typically a little too late. But, our plants thrived.
We planted some more. We started making products. We got licensed to sell products. We planted more. We pulled weeds, watched some plants die, planted more, learned more, experimented, wished we'd done things differently, realized we did some thing right...and so on.
Today, we have about 250 plants. Some look amazing. Others, not so much. We're still learning and growing, but we're loving our little adventure in non-traditional farming. Our hope is to share some of our struggles and successes with all the other lavender lovers out there through this blog. We'd love to hear from you, too! Drop us a note to say hello and follow along on our adventure!
The Lavender Farm at Woodstock
Just a mother/daughter team working with our families to bring a different, unique lavender experience to South Central Kentucky. We love the land, we love our farming heritage and we love lavender!