My husband and I visited the lavender fields of Sequim, WA, during the 2005 Sequim Lavender Festival. It was love at first sight! Cutting bundles of fresh lavender and inhaling the aroma, I knew I had to learn more about this amazing herb. I was in awe and resolved to bring that same beauty to our home in the Loess Hills of Iowa.
In 2006 we started our research phase. I planted a small plot of 20 plants at our home in Chariton, IA. I questioned the ability of lavender to survive a Midwest winter. I read everything I could about growing lavender, and had lots of success and a few failures. I also developed our own recipes for lavender lotion and lavender butter balm. The 20 plants survived for 3 years and we decided we were ready to take the leap. I heard about property up for auction 9 miles north of Missouri Valley, IA. Tim and I grew up in Pisgah and Little Sioux, only 10 minutes away from the farm that was up for auction, and we had talked for a very long time about moving "home", so it felt right.
After lengthy negotiation and a lot of praying, we agreed on a budget. Auction day came, and the bidding quickly approached our maximum. I raised my hand for my third bid of the auction, which was a bid for our maximum. I was certain it would not hold. Several long moments later the auctioneer said "Sold, to the young lady in the purple sweater." We were excited, but had no idea the amount of work waiting for us.
In June of 2009 we planted 1,200 Hidcote varietal lavender sprouts. It was truly a family undertaking. Our brothers, sons, nieces, nephews and friends helped us get the first 1,200 plants in the ground. We borrowed a tractor to till the ground and planted each bush by shovel and hand (we still use the same process for planting today). A long weekend ended with a fish fry and a little fun.
To say that we were "open" in 2009 would be very generous. I made balm and lotion in my kitchen, and printed labels for packaging on my computer (ink on the labels ran when it got wet!) We hosted tour groups in our garage, having only a few hundred visitors the first year. We had no idea where it would go from there, but everyone seemed to like the products and all the visitors left with smiles on their faces.
After a couple years operating out of the garage, we decided this whole lavender thing was worth some extra investment. In 2011, I applied for a small business loan from the Harrison County REC. I remember being very nervous when I made my presentation to the board. We were thrilled to get the loan. I like to think that was the moment I turned pro.
Even though I was now a business "pro", it was still a family venture. We decided to make half of our Morton shed into our gift shop and presentation area. My brothers, who have done construction for years, poured the cement for the floor. Our sons helped in all aspects from cement work to framing and running electrical. Nephews helped finish the electrical and friends helped paint and finish the shop. By the summer of 2011, we had a lovely little gift shop, a kitchen for making balm and lotion, and small presentation area where I could host tour groups and arts and crafts events including lavender wand making and American High Tea.
We opened the gift shop in the summer of 2011. Some of our friends were artists and provided arts and crafts to help make it look like an actual retail location. With a new gift shop, visitors started streaming in at a healthy pace. We were impressed that we got so much attention. Several evening news and newspaper reporters published stories about our farm. As word got out, we had more artisans drop by to see if we wanted to sell their work. Over the few years in business our artisans have refined their craft pushing their creativity and craftsmanship to a special level. As of Summer 2014 we display the work of over 40 local artisans. On display we have photos, paintings, barbwire sculptures, jewelry, woodwork, linens, and wonderful seasonal crafts too numerous to mention. Please check out our artisan gallery to browse their wonderful work, all of which is available for purchase at the gift shop.
Since 2011 we have added several new landscape features to the farm and the tractor you see Tim driving (above). In front of the shop is our lavender showcase area. We installed a gravel path leading to the lavender field.
In 2012, we constructed a circular drive around our large oak tree and fairy garden and added a unique "mulchwork quilt".
In 2013, we built our hoop house to help get the young lavender plants growing earlier in the spring. After the severe drought, Tim got tired of trucking drip irrigation hoses up to the field to keep things alive. As a result, we erected a windmill and dug a well for drip irrigation independent of the windmill. The windmill is beautiful and I love it.
In 2014 we added in a pergola. We wanted a place where people could sit and enjoy the farm from a different angle. We had visions of hosting weddings, and the pergola is a big step toward making a farm wedding special. However, we don't expect to be prepared to host large events (like weddings) for a couple more years. We also extended the cement floor in our Morton Shed. I expanded my presentation area and now host bus tours of almost 100 people. My old presentation area is now retail space, which we needed desperately. Now or great artwork has the necessary space to let visitors browse.
Next year we plan to line our pond and extend the walking path that will allow visitors to see all 13 acres of the farm.
Our first 5 years required a lot of hard work, and 2014 was comparatively brutal. A very harsh winter killed over 90% of our crop inventory. Therefore our 2014 mission was all about replanting. We transplanted most of our lavender from the hoop house to replace our lavender in our showcase area and bought over 4000 Phenomenal varietal lavender plants. Phenomenal is a varietal that is much heartier and can withstand very cold winters.
In our first six years of business we have had so many positive reviews. We appreciate all of your support, and are very happy that so many of you are able to enjoy the farm. Our bloom was very disappointing this year due to the harsh winter and losing so many plants. We will be dedicating much more of our hoop house to lavender plants and experimenting with row covers to protect the lavender.
More and more of you are hearing about our little slice of heaven and visiting in larger groups from farther distances. In 2013 we estimated over 25,000 visitors to the farm, and despite poor bloom in 2014 you kept coming. We sincerely hope you return in 2015 when we expect our bloom will be back to normal.
We remain a small venture deriving most of our support from family, neighbors, and friends. All of our landscaping has been designed and built by Tim and our boys. Any current or new event on the farm, from wand making classes to American High Teas, are the inspiration of our wonderful "staff" consisting of neighbors and friends. My Facebook page, newsletters, and this webpage are made possible by our boys and their families. I could never keep up with balm and lotion production on my own, and again rely heavily on the help of friends and family.
Finally, thank you to all of our visitors. We try very hard to treat every one of you like family. If you have the time to ask questions, you will be treated to a healthy stable of stories about the Loess Hills Lavender Farm. We hope you have a chance to come visit.