for the love of lavender

A look into the life of a lavender farming family.

Location: Yamhill, Oregon, United States

Monday, July 31, 2006

teenagers, each a work in progress

Having a lavender harvest crew of teenagers is not always easy. Especially in the early mornings when they are silent and brooding. Barely awake, barely speaking, barely functioning at all. Everything annoys them at this early hour and it seems best to give them a little time.

As a community member we're committed to this hiring of teenagers even though it makes little sense in terms of business. We consider it a long term investment in our community and in each of the kids we're able to employ. These work opportunities help kids build confidence and self esteem. They learn responsibility and work ethic. They learn how to work together with others outside of their usual circle of friends. They learn that a little hard work won't kill them - even though there are a few teenagers who might like to argue that point.

We are able to employ 10-12 teenagers during lavender harvest time. On an average day they will harvest and hang about 800 pounds of lavender. Over the course of the harvest season, 8,000 - 10,000 plants and literally tons of lavender. That's a lot of lavender...

Overall, we truly enjoy the company of teenagers. We enjoy overhearing their conversations when they think we're not listening. We enjoy their ability to learn new things and to be open to learning. We enjoy seeing their eyes light up when they receive their first paycheck. We enjoy seeing them turn from a group of ordinary kids into a real cohesive team, working together to get the job done.

Yes, we do feel it's important to hire teenagers even though it may not be the easy way, the most cost effective way or the most efficient way. It's just the right way for us. The long term benefits and results are immeasurable. For the love of lavender...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

a bit of a bee problem

We had a bit of a bee problem yesterday. Of course there are always a lot of busy bees buzzing happily around the lavender. Bumblebees and honeybees alike go from flower to flower to flower in a seemingly endless quest. There are often too many bees to count on every plant. The quest of the bees and our own quest to harvest usually are carried off without a hitch. They are much more interested in the heavily fragrant flowers than they are in us.

The delicate dance usually happens like this: We approach a plant and gently rock the plant from below which causes the bees to wonder off to the surrounding flowers, dignity in tact. We can then harvest the lavender plant without interference from the bees. As we move from plant to plant this routine continues, we sway the stems and the bees move on.

Sometimes there are some challenges when we approach the end of a lavender field. As the bees available harvest diminishes along with our own, they become more protective of the few plants that are left. They'll buzz around us and sometimes even make a feeble attempt at a dive. There are just fewer plants for the same number of bees. Still, we rarely get stung. Usually only when we accidentally grab a bee as we are putting our hands around the stems to cut them. When this happens we always honor the bee that gave its life unnecessarily for our gain.

The problems yesterday occurred when a swarm of honeybees invaded the drying shed where we were hanging the morning’s harvest. There are sometimes a few bees in the drying shed but this was something else entirely. Imagine a group of 10 teenagers merrily going about their business of bundling and hanging lavender when all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere - bees, bees and more bees everywhere. Bees buzzing, bees flying, bees hovering, bees diving, bees landing, yes - landing on them.

The intense buzzing was immediately joined by the girls screaming and the boys yelling and all of them jumping, flapping and running. Needless to say, there were casualties. Casualties among the bees and among the kids as almost all of them were stung - some of them multiple times. The bees won. We decided to stop working and let them have their day with the lavender. This morning they were gone - but gone to where? Would they be back? We decided to move to a different drying shed (several miles away) to prevent any further injuries to bees or kids.

We thank the bees for the work they do. For their serenade of busy buzzing which accompanies us on a daily basis. For lavender honey - so sweet. For their beauty and sense of purpose. We can learn a lot from bees. We can learn about how hard work can produce something nourishing and beautiful. About teamwork and about self-sacrifice. Thank you bees. For the love of lavender...
For pictures of bees and lavender see

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

early morning harvest

I so enjoy the summer mornings during the lavender harvest season. Going out early to the lavender fields. The bees just waking up as the sun covers the lavender with its warmth and diffuse light. Before the full activity of the day begins. While time itself is still waking, shaking off the haze of darkness.

Harvest is both a time for joy and sorrow. As each lavender plant gives up it's bounty the fields change from seas of intense color and heady fragrance to the orderly landscape they become the majority of the year. Little green mounds all lined up in a row like obedient little soldiers. Rows of green just waiting for the chance to bloom again next year so they can be robbed of their offering once more. And yet, year after year they offer up thier bounty again and again.

In truth, the beauty of the lavender fields do not completely go away. Their beauty just transforms from the spectacular colors and fragrances of fresh ripe lavender to all the beautiful things we can make with the harvested flowers. Still beautiful, still fragrant. In their processed forms - everlasting. For the love of lavender...
To see some of the possibilites
To see more photos of lavender and harvesting