Monday, July 23, 2018

Oregon's Lavender Industry is Taking Root

A lighter shade of purple was the color of the day at this years Willamette Valley Lavender Festival.

It's a three day celebration filled with fun, food, music and of course all things lavender. The festival accomplishes several things. It expands awareness of the industry. It's an outlet for showcasing many of the products made by the areas growers and it draws potential customers to their farms.

Willamette Valley Lavender Festival in Newberg, Oregon / Scott Gese
The festival takes place in Newberg, Oregon on the second weekend in July. This is also when most lavender plants in the Willamette Valley are at their peak and ready to harvest. I guess you could consider it a harvest festival of sorts.

Lavender Wands at the Willamette Valley Lavender Festival / Scott Gese

Have you ever been to a lavender farm?

If you'd like to visit an actual working lavender farm, this is the weekend for you. There are a half dozen growers located within a few miles of the festival site. They've banded together to promote a self guided auto tour of their farms. You can get a guide map at the festival if you're interested in making a day of it. Be sure to have your camera handy. There are some incredible pictures to be had as you stroll among the rows of fragrant plants.

U-Picking Lavender in the Willamette Valley / Scott Gese

Small Farms Sprout a Cottage Industry

If you take the tour, what you'll find is that most lavender farms are not as big as you might think. An acre or two is an average size. Very few are more than several acres. For many growers, their farm is a big part of their livelihood. To meet expenses requires one to be creative. You have to do more than just grow plants for u-pickers. Many of the growers produce their own line of hand made lavender based products. The temptation to pick up a bar of fragrant soap or bottle of hand lotion at the register can be overwhelming. Some of the handmade items for purchase might include...
  • Soaps and lotions
  • essential oils and hydrosols
  • lavender honey (from their own bees)
  • jams and jellies
  • teas
  • vinegar
  • baked goods

An assortment of crafts such as lavender wands, pillows and air fresheners are also on hand.

If you're not too keen on rubbing elbows with bees in the field, you can buy bunches of fresh picked or sun dried lavender on the stem. It's also available off the stem by the bagful to use for your own craft ideas.

The Oregon Lavender Industry is Growing

There are more than a dozen lavender farms in the Northern Willamette Valley. Not too many years ago you would have been hard pressed to find half that many. As the popularity of herbal and aroma therapy increases, the lavender plant has become one of the standouts. It's the diversity of this plant that makes it so popular. It has both culinary and medicinal uses. It runs the gamut from fresh cut blooms to oils and hydrosols. The beauty and unmistakable fragrance lends itself to a range of craft and artistic uses as well. Lavender is a very versatile herb whose popularity is growing. The number of farms and acres planted are expanding with each coming year.

Willamette Valley Lavender Field / Scott Gese

Why the Willamette Valley?

The best way to answer this question is by comparison and here's why.
Lavender is following in the footsteps of the very successful Oregon wine industry.

For years France had a lock on what is perceived to be fine wine. California wines crashed that party. But it didn't stop there. Once the bar was set in California, wine grape growers discovered what a few early Oregon growers already knew. There was fertile ground in the Willamette valley.
The word spread and soon Willamette Valley wines were taking home major awards. Vineyards began to expand in both size and number. These days Oregon wines from the Willamette valley are rivaling many California and French wines.  

Willamette Valley Wine Vineyard / Wikimedia

The Oregon lavender industry is on the same track.

It all has to do with Oregon's year round moderate climate and the fertile Willamette Valley soil.

As with wine grapes, the word is beginning to get out about lavender. It grows extremely well in the Willamette Valley. So well in fact, some varieties don't even need to be watered during the growing season. The lavender plant has a reputation for being drought tolerant. That bodes well for growers. Oregon's winter rains is all they need.

Will the Willamette Valley rival the commercial lavender farms in the Provence of France? Judging from past experience, such growth is certainly possible. It's only a matter of time before the first commercial fields show up. From there, step back and smell the lavender.

Lavender Field in the Provence of France / Wikimedia

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