Virginia farmers growing fragrant lavender to diversify

~ Press release issued by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

RAPIDANCornerstone Farm is one of many Virginia farms that have diversified their operations by growing beautiful, fragrant lavender.

Cornerstone has evolved from a horse training operation. Jennifer Harris began growing lavender on the Orange County farm where she had trained horses for more than two decades with her husband, Richard “Rick” Harris III. When Rick died in 2010, Harris needed to diversity Cornerstone in order to make ends meet.

She began raising and marketing grass-fed beef and selling hay and farm-fresh eggs. In 2017, she heeded advice from a friend at White Oak Lavender Farm in Rockingham County and began planting lavender. Today she harvests the herb from about 300 plants and creates products like soaps, lotions and sprays, essential oils and culinary products.

Harris said she’s found success selling her items wholesale, and she has a loyal customer base that buys her products at craft fairs and local markets and through Facebook and Etsy.

“There are so many people who love lavender,” she said. “And to see customers be excited by my products — it’s so satisfying to know that I’m making things that people love and enjoy.”

Harris is not the only Virginia farmer who’s found success with the popular herb.

Bonnie Swanson, who operates Evergreen Lavender Farm in Appomattox County with her husband, Ken, switched from cut flowers to lavender after a trip to Oregon.

She planted her first shrubs in 2009, and today the farm grows 850 plants, offers workshops and sponsors an annual lavender festival with around 1,200 visitors.

“Lavender is a beautiful herb; it’s very sensory,” Swanson said. “People react so positively, and that’s a joy in itself.”

She sells homemade lotions, balms, soaps, eye pillows and lavender wreaths at the Lynchburg Community Market and in her farm’s shop, which is housed in a 1925 Norfolk and Western caboose. The farm also welcomes visitors for U-pick lavender during the June-to-July harvest season.

Julie Haushalter, founder and operator of White Oak Lavender Farm and The Purple WOLF Vineyard in Rockingham County, said her lavender plants contribute to the serene, stress-reducing setting of the 10-acre agritourism destination.

“Lavender is connected to tension- and stress-relief,” explained Haushalter, who also is a charter member and vice president of the U.S. Lavender Growers Association board.

The family’s first handcrafted lavender products were a sensation at the local farmers market, and the business grew.

“People would flock the table, and then they flocked the farm,” Haushalter recalled. The site opened to the public in 2008. “It grew organically — literally — with public interest.”

The Purple WOLF tasting room, named with the farm’s acronym, opened in 2015. It offers tastings of classic wines ranging from dry to sweet, plus flavorful original blends of grapes and lavender.

Now the farm offers U-pick lavender in season as well as year-round agritourism experiences, including tours, wine tastings, lectures, farm animals, live music and a gift shop with more than 100 handmade lavender products.

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