An exciting weekend with lavender growers of the Great Lakes

Last weekend, I had the honor of attending Great Lakes Lavender Growers’ 3rd Annual Conference as keynote speaker. The conference Diversify Today; Transform Tomorrow was sponsored by Michigan State University and organized by a passionate, excited, friendly and gracious group of lavender growers.

The topic of diversification in agriculture made space for great conversations about crop diversity, environmental stewardship, social action, value-added products and so much more.

I met many enthusiastic lavender growers at the conference. Doreen King of Lakeside Lavender, Kehaulani Jones of Rowley Creek Lavender Farm, and Jennifer Kelly and Wynne Wright from Michigan State University were just a few of the people who made my time in East Lansing a special experience.

Formed in 2014 Great Lakes Lavender Growers (GLLG) is a member-based organization made up of individuals and lavender farmers in the Great Lakes region, with members coming from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin to collaboratively advance the lavender sector of the agricultural economy. This young organization is a wonderful network of lavender lovers, and they are actively creating a lavender industry in the Great Lakes region.

Nervous as I was, I was also excited to present on the topic of diversity at the conference. Sustainability and diversification go hand in hand in agriculture.

“It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.”

— Sancho Panza, Don Quixote

I began by telling the story of our farm. In 2006, we planted 40 lavender plants. By 2008, we completed our 3-year transition and became certified organic. Now, in 2018, we farm 10 acres in total, 5 of those acres home to over 15,000 lavender plants.

While we have become more and more diversified over time, the decision to diversify happened during the early years of our farm for a few reasons:

  • The viability of cherry farming was decreasing in our area due to disease.
  • We didn’t want to manage a heavy-input crop, such as peaches.
  • We wanted to grow high-return specialty crops and small-acreage crops.
  • We wanted to become less reliant on cherries to maintain the farm, as late freezes made cherry farming very unpredictable.
  • We wanted to farm full time and to start a rural enterprise. (After all, we were putting in too much hard work to be labeled a “hobby” farm!)

Slowly but surely, as we grew the farm by leasing more land and expanding into new enterprises, we became more diverse. As of now, this is what diversity looks like for us:

  • Lavender: Raw (minimally processed) product; fresh and dried bundles & buds
  • Fresh produce: Fruit trees and vegetables
  • Greenhouses: Plant starts; wholesale, retail and crop development
  • Value-added products: products made from lavender and other aromatic herbs & flowers, like essential oil, hydrosol, body care products and dried flower wreaths
  • Seasonal farm stand and agritourism

For us, diversification also plays out within the lavender crop itself. By growing more than 50 different varieties of lavender, we can harvest throughout the summer rather than all at once. We can create a broader range of lavender products, utilizing the unique qualities and characteristics of each variety of lavender.

By slowly diversifying our farm, we are able to create a longer growing season. In doing so, we have a more stable work force and better relationships with our farm employees. I’ve also enjoyed building a diversity relationships with customers, connecting with different people with varying interests.

“Farmers farm for the love of farming.  They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals.  They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it makes them miserable.  They love to live where they work and to work were they live.”

— Wendell Berry

I was honored to present at the GLLG Conference amidst an excited group of people collaborating to build up the lavender industry.

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