for the love of lavender

A look into the life of a lavender farming family.

Location: Yamhill, Oregon, United States

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the distillation of lavender

The distillation of lavender for essential oil is in full swing this time of year. The old copper still gets a lot of attention when we run it on the street next to our store in Yamhill, Oregon. The fragrance is amazing and the aroma weaves it's way all through the town.

The still is an old alcohol distiller that has been converted to use for essential oil distillation. It holds about 100 lbs of lavender at a time. The amount of essential oil it produces depends on the variety of lavender. Some are big producers and some are not. Often the lower quantity essential oil producers give us the higher quality essential oils. We use the lavender essential oil as well as other essential oils in many of the products we craft. We also sell lavender essential oil to other crafters. We have recently begun to use the lavender essential oil in foods. More on that another time.

The gentleman you see in the picture is our good buddy Butch. We call him our "master distiller" because of his skill with the still and his endless enthusiasm for distilling essential oils. He always shows up with a smile. Butch is a true treasure and a true friend.

Butch has built his own mini distillers at home. The first one he made using an old pressure cooker. It worked but he didn't think it worked well enough so he built another largely from scrap metal he had around his place. The second one has a truly unique design and works well. Next he's going to build himself a "real" still. I'm sure it will be wonderful and work well. After years of research and experimentation it's bound to.

Butch likes to distill so much that he has distilled just about every tree, shrub and weed around his place to see what, if any, essential oil they will produce. His neighbors vegetation is fair game too. He has three different cedar trees so of course he had to distill a batch of each. Interesting thing is the essential oils produced are distinctly different from each other even though they are all three cedar trees. Each variety of lavender can produce distinctly different essential oils also. Some are nice and some are not. Some don't even produce enough essential oil to be worth the effort.

We have been using the still more and more for demonstration and educational purposes at festivals and events. Our Yamhill Valley Lavender Festival being one of them. Everyone is fascinated by how it works and the still always draws a crowd. People also develop an understanding of why essential oils can be so expensive when they see what a small amount of essential oil comes out of that big still.

Many lavender farms around Oregon are distilling lavender essential oil these days. Many have small table top distillers and some have bigger ones like us. As with most things lavender - it's impossible to compete with imported essential oil when it comes to price but there is something very satisfying in making and using your own essential oils. For the love of lavender...

lavender at the farmers market

We were in Astoria, Oregon at the Sunday Market last weekend, same as every weekend from Mothers Day until October. Trying to sell our lavender goods to promote our lavender farm, products and store. We have been doing this market for 4 years now and it has become an important part of our lives. We do many other markets and events throughout the summer but Astoria is the only one we do the entire season from start to finish.

Our kids teenage years have included our treks to the coast every Sunday. We used to feel a little guilty that our kids work so much and that we need them to accompany us to markets and events. We sometimes look back on our childhoods full of summer camping trips, swimming, riding horses etc. with fondness and wonder - what memories are we making for our kids?
The truth is we are making wonderful memories for our kids. The memories may be different from our own but nevertheless, just as special.

We require the kids help to load the truck and trailer for market, unload and set up when we arrive and then at the end of the day when it's time to pack up and head for home where we unload everything again. That leaves the entire day at the beach for them to play. They often bring friends along and there are many activities for them to do throughout the day. Swimming, movies, shops, a trolly, the
Astor Column and more are all within walking distance. They know Astoria as well as they know their home town of Yamhill, Oregon. No matter how much they grumble about having to get up at 5am to go they always have fun once they get there and they almost always look forward to going. Yes, they will have fond memories of Astoria in their future. For the love of lavender...

sometimes the canyon looms

Occasionally we find ourselves in a rut. Then the rut becomes a trench and the before we know it, it's the grandaddy of all canyons. At least it's a canyon full of lavender which smells good.

This time of year is especially hazardous as everything seems to come at once. The lavender harvest, the farmers markets, all the Oregon festivals and fairs which we like to attend with our lavender products. Then on top of that we add family obligations, farm and home maintenance (hard to do during the rainy Oregon winter) and at some point there is supposed to be a vacation! But we haven't really had one of those in years.

We've been in such a canyon lately and when we're in such a place we just keep trudging along the bottom of the canyon because it's the easiest and most comfortable route. Working endlessly, 7 days a week and honest 16 hour days and thinking that it's normal to do so. We don't begrudge it - after all, we have choosen it. It's easier to keep doing things the same way, but that same old way - well, it gets old after awhile. There is life outside of lavender. At least we think there is. I look forward to exploring it sometime in the future. For the love of lavender...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

the scents and sensations of town

Yesterday we did what we call "going to town". Town being the city of Portland, Oregon. We don't go into "town" all that often so it's always a special event for us, like a day off, a mini vacation of sorts.

Yesterday's trip involved the usual errands of picking up provisions and supplies which we can't access locally. We bought fabrics, ribbons and ingredients for making lavender goods, new shoes for one of the kids, had a nice lunch at an exotic - to us - restaurant and visited a few big box stores and wondered - what the ?

As we drove around "town" we found ourselves enveloped in sites, sounds, fragrances and sensations that we don't experience on a regular basis. The strong odors of hot asphalt, exhaust fumes and storm drains. The bright colors of the cityscape against the sky, the beautiful flowers in the parks, the river running through the city with it's contrast of nature dividing concrete. Loud engines, horns and voices all around us. Bright light reflecting off of towers of glass. It was beautiful. The city was speaking to all of our senses. We wondered - what would it be like to live here?

We found ourselves comparing our experiences in town to what people might be experiencing when they live in town and come out to the countryside. Walking a mountain trail, or meandering through a lavender field. Wondering, what would it be like to live here? Town and countryside, so different from each other yet the sensations can be the same depending on your frame of reference. Both can be something different, something beautiful, something exciting!

We truly enjoyed our trip to "town" yesterday and experienced it in all of it's glory. Seeing it as something different, exciting and beautiful for us at the same time it might be mundane to someone else. Sometimes we could describe the farm as mundane but most of the time we call it overwhelming and hard work. A work we are dedicated to and a lifestyle we love but sometimes we still wonder - what would it be like..... For the love of lavender...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


There is power in numbers. A group can achieve so much more than one person trying to go it alone. The Yamhill Valley Lavender Growers as a group has already accomplished so much. We have greater purchasing power as a group. We pulled off a fantastic lavender festival. We learn about lavender and life from each other. We have been able to give back to our community. Most of all, we have formed a bond that I hope endures for a very long time. Whether you call it synergy, karma or luck, I feel fortunate to be a part of the great things that are happening here. For the love of lavender...

Monday, August 07, 2006

the lavender festival

We love that we have several lavender farms concentrated right here around our town of Yamhill, Oregon. Our Yamhill Valley Lavender Festival held the second weekend in July was a huge success because of the hard work and dedication of the lavender community here. Over 1500 people attended our artisans street faire, sampled lavender culinary delights, attended lavender crafting classes and so much more. It was truely a celebration of lavender and community.

The highlight of the Yamhill Valley Lavender Festival for many was the tour of the area lavender farms. Seeing the vast blankets of purple and experiencing the amazing aroma and buzzing bees is a true delight. We were so pleased to be able to share the experience with so many. As some of the younger fields in the area mature, the experience will be even more awe inspiring as more and more fields become a part of the tour.

We're so appreciative of the wonderful cooperation it entailed to produce the event and how it all came together so well. It's amazing what a group of dedicated people can do. The results are both measurable and immesurable. The income is measurable, the attendance is measurable, the number of volunteer hours, how many porta potties, the number of meals served are all measurable but - what about the smiles? The pleasure people experience? The work experience for the teenage workers and volunteers? The feeling of well being when you experience a field of lavender with all of your senses... how do you measure that by any standard measure? Of course, you can not even though the results are obvious.

The Yamhill Valley Lavender Growers are a group of real people who work together cooperatively to produce an event that will benefit themselves and their community. This years festival was supported by the growers, a grant from the
Yamhill County Cultural Coalition and many area sponsors. A percentage of proceeds will benefit youth and senior programs in the area. We're proud to be a part of such a group. For the love of lavender...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the hazy purple dream

When we planted our first lavender field, we knew we were not the only ones with the hazy purple dream of endless fields of the stuff. At the time we only knew of a handful of others who actually had plants in the ground though. The difference between dreaming about it and doing it involves many obstacles, a steep learning curve and -believe it or not- farming.

We used to picture every hillside covered in lavender. Every field of weeds, every fallow field, every unused piece of land - a purple sea of color. The reality is that lavender is a fairly high maintenance crop costing more for us to produce than what we can purchase it for- if we were willing to purchase imported lavender for our products. Lavender buds, bunches, oil etc. can all be purchased very inexpensively from several overseas countries.

We think many people including us planted their lavender fields on faith. Faith that they could find a market for the lavender later when the plants were full grown and producing. You have a few years while the plants are growing to figure that out right? We joke now about believeing that "if we plant it they will come" but we did in fact believe that. In reality it's important to have a plan before you put your first plant in the ground. Your plan will determine what varieties you plant, how many plants you need and what you intend to do with your harvest.

As more and more lavender farms crop up all across the country it will only become more difficult to have a viable plan. Here in Oregon there are about 40 lavender farms now. We hear of new ones on a regular basis. It seems the hazy purple dream is still spreading. At the same time the hazy purple dream is fading for some. There are already lavender farms going out of business or that don't know what to do with all that lavender.

We still believe in our purple dream even if it's not as hazy. We no longer picture every hillside covered in lavender. Our dream has aligned itself closer to reality while we keep the faith that it will all be worth it in the long run. Working this hard at something you love is supposed to pay off right? You just have to be content with the payoff being about lifestyle and not only about money. For the love of lavender.....