One of the main goals of The Lavender Project is to dedicate a percentage of the profit created from the selling of their products back to the community and to the many programs that occur at the community center in La Colorada. The project is not quite reached this point in it maturity.
Currently the programs and the community center are supported through the generosity of the projects main sponsor St. Anthony’s Alliance.
Programs supported include:
Youth breakfast program
Every morning before school approximately 25 liters of a soy based nutritional drink is served to children and family members in La Colorada. The community center has been equipped with the facilities to provide these meals on a daily basis.
After school program
The children and youth of La Colorada are fortunate to have after school programs offered at the community center. The programs offered include help with homework, improvement of reading skills and organized educational activities.
Scholarship (Becas) program
Currently 18 youth receive financial support so they can attend school on a regular basis. Without the financial aide the youth would not be able to attend school or plan for secondary education.
The La Colorada community center houses learning center . The new resource area has been a small library, an area for after school programs and has recently received 5 computers with internet connectivity, and a donation of new monitors and keyboards from St. Anthony’s Alliance.
The Lavender Project (TLP) is located within the community of La Colorada, which is located about 20 minutes from Dolores Hidalgo.
La Colorada community center is the current location for both TLP and a community library and activity center.
During the month of May 2015 the community center received a donation of computers, monitors, keyboards and wireless devices to set up a new computer center.
The monitors, keyboards and mice were a donation from St. Anthony’s Alliance. The computers were donated by La Biblioteca in San Miguel de Allende and refurbished and installed by volunteers.
The computer center has 5 work stations, all with wireless connections, which allows access to the community center’s satellite internet.
The computer center will offer educational programs and computer training for interested members of the community in the fall of 2015.
All unused computer hardware was donated to a local non profit in San Miguel de Allende, Computadoras Pro Jovenes, which builds computers for students within San Miguel and central Mexico.
TLP had a successful harvest this past June. Most of the crop was removed before the major rains arrived. Part of the harvested lavender will be dried for use in our products and the remainder will be distilled to remove the lavender oil.
Each month the TLP continues to increase sales and as the company grows so has the need for additional management and supervisors.
TLP has always tried to promote from within the company and groom employees with potential for management positions.
One of the young and rising employees that has been chosen for management training is Alejandro Morales Enriquez .
Alejandro showed promise very early on at the project. His work ethic, willingness to take on more responsibilities and his proactive attitude were just a few of the qualities that stood out to TLP management.
Part of the management training program involves furthering the employees education with scholarships for courses in business, management and computers. The scholarships are provided by TLP’s main sponsor St. Anthony’s Alliance.
We interviewed Ajejandro for the Fall newsletter.
Q. How long have you been involved in the project?
A. 3 years.
Q. What is your current job at the project?
A. I am currently a field supervisor, in charge of petty cash, and I provide support for collecting raw material.
Q. What is your biggest challenge when working for TLP?
A. Finding ways to make the hectares provide more for us and to discover ways to get more yield from the harvest.
Q. How has the education scholarship helped you in your new position at the Lavender Project?
A. I have been able to better develop my work, because I understand better the activities they ask of me and I can deliver them more quickly and with clarity because they have given me the opportunity to be in control of petty cash.
Q. What did you think when you found out that the farmers were going to grow lavender instead of traditional crops such as corn and beans?
A. It was a good idea, because the community farmers can have another source of income and in time a work resource for more people in the community.
Q. How have you seen the project change since you been working for it?
A.The change is favorable because this year there was the opportunity to involve more people in the Project from the same community, and this year I saw a better harvest yield from last year, and to be able to plant a half hectare more, as well as work more in the reproduction of sweet lavender, grosso and obtaining approximately 500 liters of hydrosol and 6 liters of sweet lavender essential oil. This is the result of the first harvest, as well as keeping the hectares of lavender and rosemary presentable since we are constantly cleaning.
Q. What is your opinion on the Mission of the Lavender Project?
A. It is good, because it is respecting what was proposed at the beginning, to grow crops that help the Community, to gain income for their work, and continue growing to improve all of the conditions we need in our Community.
Q. What impact or effect has the Lavender Project has had in La Colorada Community?
A. It was a big impact because at the beginning there wasn’t security and confidence in the Project, but in a short time there was great satisfaction in attracting visitors to the Community to learn about the Project and the lavender fields, the distilling and drying of the lavender branches, and soap making and sewing.
TLP is pleased to announce the hiring of their thirty third employee. The milestone is significant as it marks the creation of 6 new jobs within the last 6 months at the project.
TLP continues to achieve its goals of job creation and helping sustain the families within the community of La Colorada.
One of St. Anthony’s Alliance’s most important tasks is developing a sustainable model for the Community Center at La Colorada. This year, St. Anthony’s Alliance and the people of La Colorada took an important step towards sustainability by creating a “civil association,” the Mexican legal equivalent of a 501 (C) 3 or not-for-profit organization.
The problem was simple. In order for the Community Center to become self-sustaining without support from St. Anthony’s Alliance, it needed to become a nonprofit organization. It was built during the 1990s with donated funds and donated labor and it has become the heart of the village of La Colorada. It provides a low-cost breakfast program, scholarships, a library and public meeting spaces, but it lacked a legal way to raise funds to support those services. An attorney in San Miguel de Allende who is an expert on forming civil associations helped write the bylaws for the civil association, which is called La Colorada Unida Para Una Vida Mejor (La Colorada United for a Better Life.)
The people voted on a president and secretary both capable women from La Colorada and a local, five-person board of directors who will be responsible for evaluating and maintaining the programs most important to the community. A separate board of directors will be recruited from outside La Colorada to raise money, host events and rally others to support the programs of the Community Center. San Miguel enjoys a large community of retired ex-patriots from the United States and elsewhere who have already served on nonprofit boards or donated money to worthy causes. In the future, a spirit of community service will sustain the Community Center.
With a smooth new road courtesy of a partnership between the City of Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico and St. Anthony’s Alliance the path to prosperity for The Lavender Project and La Colorada’s Community Center is a lot easier. On sunny day in late August, a host of dignitaries were in La Colorada to celebrate the new road with a ribbon cutting followed by a feast in front of the community Center.
The handsome young mayor of Dolores Hidalgo, Adrian Hernandez Alejandri, was on hand for the occasion, as were the heads of several municipal departments in Dolores Hidalgo, including economic development, roads and tourism. Also there were dignitaries from La Colorada itself: Beatriz Torres, executive director of La Colorada Community Center; Aucencio Domenzain, president of The Lavender Project; Isidro Cuellar Alvarez, an official with La Colorado; and Dr. Teresa Balcomb, a founder of St. Anthony’s Alliance.
The city of Dolores Hidalgo spared no expense for the occasion. They provided a backdrop, podium and microphone and spent plenty of time greeting and shaking hands with villagers. Each of the dignitaries spoke about the close relationship between good roads and strong commerce. Two little girls from the village were selected to hold each end of a long red ribbon so Dr. Balcomb and Mayor Hernandez Alejandri could formally cut the ribbon.
After the speeches, everyone walked or drove to the community center. While the Mayor and his associates waited for the feast to be served, they toured The Lavender Project’s sewing cooperative and soap-making facilities. The Mayor was particularly impressed with the embroidered lavender neck pillows the women of the sewing cooperative make for sale to an international resort and spa in San Miguel de Allende.
Later everyone sat outside and enjoyed a feast prepared by the ladies of La Colorada. The delicious meal included roast pork with mole sauce, nopales (leaves from a native species of cactus), potatoes, tortilla and ice-cold beer. Everyone in the village joined in the festivities, sitting in front of the community center under an awning at white-tablecloth covered tables. The event was memorable – and not just because of the food or the speeches. It represented the first time that city officials were on hand to recognize the potential for success and sustainability that The Lavender Project represents for tourism and economic development for the entire Mexican state of Guanajuato. With public support, this private project can truly succeed.
August 2013 was a month of “eureka” moments for the people of La Colorada as they gained a vision of the future for The Lavender Project. The insights were sparked by a four-day visit from Victor Gonzales, the inspiring owner and founder of Victor’s Lavender, one of the largest wholesale producers of lavender in the United States.
Victor was invited as a consultant to The Lavender Project by St. Anthony’s Alliance. Victor, who is originally from the state of Michoacán, Mexico and is now a citizen of the United States, shared his personal story with members of the lavender cooperative, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of lavender. Victor was born into a Mexican farming family, but traveled to the United States to work in the orange groves of Southern California. He worked hard and his work ethic paid off in promotions and higher paying jobs. In 1997, he moved his family to the rural farming community of Sequim, WA (pronounced Squim.) His first job was clearing a dilapidated farm for an absentee owner. He planted a few plots with lavender, which was just beginning to gain the notice of Americans. Within a few years, Victor was growing hundreds of lavender plants and farmers around the region were buying plants for their own lavender operations.
In short order, the little town of Sequim became known as “the Lavender Capital of North America” featuring a summer lavender festival that attracts 300,000 visitors annually and dozens of commercial farms growing lavender. Today, Victor sells lavender around the United States and Canada and consults on lavender projects as far away as China and Morocco. However, this was his first consultation in Mexico.
“It is my greatest pleasure to help my own people in my own language,” Victor said of his visit to Mexico and the days in La Colorada’s lavender fields. He explained there are approximately 450 varieties of lavender and certain plants grow better in the hot, arid conditions of Central Mexico. Some plants in the lavender fields are suited for landscaping purposes; others for culinary products and lavender oil. In La Colorada, we have Sweet Lavender, Grosso, and a few “true lavender” varieties hidden among the others like unrecognized gems. The true lavender plants produce very high quality oil that can be used for cosmetics and culinary dishes, such as sweet lavender tamales.
He also examined the soil and explained to the farmers that high clay levels in the fields require less water for the plants. He showed them some plants that were stunted or showed patches of dead foliage from over watering. “With this kind of soil, once it gets wet, it never dries out,” he explained. Lavender prefers dry soils and only needs significant water when plants are young and becoming established.
Victor also showed them a faster method of propagating plants in the field, rather than the slower way they had been propagating them in the greenhouse. He recommended the farmers plant in an annual rotation, so there would always be sections in the fields growing new plants. In the climate of Mexico, a plant is the most productive between three and five years, though elsewhere lavender plants can live 40 years. Lastly, he recommended the farmers should weed the fields consistently to prevent weeds from robbing nutrients from the lavender plants.
For the “azucenas” who produce the soaps and other projects for The Lavender Project, Victor also provided inspirational words. He showed a slide presentation he compiled with the University of Washington showing a dizzying array of lavender products, including face creams, insect repellents, carpet cleaners and pet deodorizers. The ladies were enchanted by descriptions of lavender festivals that attract thousands of tourists to the fields, taking pictures of the beautiful plants and dining on regional foods. “They come for the peace and tranquility of the fields and they don’t mind spending money,” Victor explained.
For the people of Rancho La Colorada, the next few years will be a test to put Victor’s exciting insights into action. The farmers decided to concentrate on growing four or five varieties that will be best adapted for the Mexican climate, including “grosso,” which grows quickly, has beautiful flowers and is wonderful for soaps and sachets. Other varieties that do well there are true lavenders, or English lavender varieties that produce lovely flowers and a sweet, high-quality oil. Victor agreed to donate plants to the village so they can begin growing better-suited plants. The farmers decided to plant a demonstration garden that won’t be harvested, but which will be a first step toward creating “agro-tourism” for The Lavender Project. Alejandro Torres, who at 27 is one of the youngest members of the lavender cooperative, said Victor’s visit gave him an exciting glimpse into the possibilities that could become realities in the future. Perhaps The Lavender Project will become the “Lavender Capitol of Mexico.” Victor Gonzales is proof it can happen.
Aucencio Domenzain Lavender Project President
This blog entry is an interview with Lavender Project President Aucencio Domenzain. This interview is a translation of the original interview, which was in Spanish
Q. Can you help us understand what kind of business is the Lavender Project?
A. The Lavender Project is not a charity or non profit, rather it operates as a social enterprise
Q. What is a social enterprise and what would be is its obligation towards the Community?
A. Social enterprises are those organizations with a social and economical goal; solidarity should be their main value. We must understand that the main goal of a social enterprise is not to make a profit but to achieve benefits for a larger group of entrepreneurs and the community itself.
Q. In your opinion what is the line between us being a social enterprise who supports the community and being a for profit company?
A. In my very personal opinion, a social enterprise starts with the agreement and understanding of developing a project with a leader who will be responsible for making such project successful, always keeping in mind the particular characteristics of a social enterprise. I think these characteristics should be:
Solidarity, Cooperation, Communication, Democracy, Leadership and to improve the quality of life of the partners, their families and to develop commitments with the community. If these things aren’t part of the vision, a social enterprise of this kind won’t succeed.
Q. What internal and external factors make a social enterprise successful?
A. The internal and external factors to make a social enterprise successful:
a) Organization (Participation from the partners and democracy in making decisions)
b) Entrepreneurial spirit (Change the frame of mind from being a producer to being an entrepreneur)
c) Developing of the products (Diversify an innovative line of products, presentation and the transformation of the raw material)
d) Innovation (New procedures and technology)
e) Environment (Being environmentally friendly)
f) Profitability (Lower operational and production costs)
g) Gender equality (Equal opportunities for men and women)
h) Social Impact (Being a model company to Mexico for creating jobs and benefiting the community)
i) Regional Impact (Alternative crops to promote the stability of the people in the community and to implement mechanisms to regulate process)
Q. What were the challenges of starting the lavender crops in Mexico?
A. I remember the first talk I had with St. Anthony’s Alliance who asked us, would it be possible for us to cultivate a plant we don’t know? From the beginning of the project we have had obstacles that we have cleared one by one. One of our first challenges was that no one had grown lavender before and no one knew where to buy it in Mexico. The second and perhaps most challenging was the lack of water. In the spring of 2006 we were 8 farmers who agreed to collaborate with the Alliance to buy a new pump, since the one we had had been broken for years. In exchange we planted 1 hectare of lavender all for $15,000 U.S. dollars, a few weeks later there was water again, just in time so we could start our crops, corn, beans, alfalfa and soy.
Q. What else did you learn as the project started to grow?
A. I didn’t have any experience in business or computers. As the project started to grow, out of necessity, I began to learn a great deal about business and day to day operations of a for profit business.
In addition I learned about where to find additional funds for the project. I wrote a manual on “How To Grow Lavender and Some of Its Uses”. St. Anthony’s Alliance published this manual as a booklet which served as one of the main tools to apply for a grant that would enable us get help on how to start a small company from the Universidad Tecnologica del Norte de Guanajuato (UTNG). We worked the plan with help from the Principal of this institution Andres Salvador Casillas Barajas, and that is when Azul Lavanda S.P.R.L de R.L. was born. (Operating now as The Lavender Project)
The Project also applied for monetary support from the presidency of Dolores Hidalgo. The presidency of Dolores helped us with 70 % of the funding needed for a drip irrigation system, a warehouse for the harvest, a greenhouse to reproduce the plants and a distiller to extract the lavender oil.
Q. In review, where do you feel you are today as a social enterprise?
A. It has been almost 6 years since we started The Lavender Project and I am still not sure that we have accomplished the main goal of earning the trust and credibility of the people that are part of it, this is another challenge we need to overcome. I think this project gives us a great chance to show Mexico (its government) that creating jobs doesn’t just happen by presidential decrees, but from tenacity, constant work, responsibility, respect, etc.
The Lavender project is a “social enterprise” located in central Mexico in a community called La Colorada. The Lavender Project’s business model is typical of a social enterprise that seeks economic benefits for its business partners as well as social benefits for its employees and for the community-at-large where the enterprise is located.
While the The Lavender Project operates as a for profit business, it contributes a substantial amount of its after tax profit back within the community. The money supports many social services within the community including, funding for the transportation of ill people from the community to city hospitals or clinics, partial or full coverage of prescribed medications not covered by the government-sponsored health insurance system, free meals (as deemed necessary or requested) for the poorest and most indigent neighbors in the community. In the future they will expand to support existing programs, currently funded by St. Anthony’s Alliance, such as a morning nourishment program for youth, after school programs, scholarships, a small library with books and computers with internet access and payment of utilities for the community center such as lights, gas and power.
For many persons who are looking to donate a gift of money or time to a social enterprise such as the Lavender project, it is important not to confuse the project with a charity. The differences between the two are quite different. A charity tends to rely almost solely on donations to subsist, with no intention of trying to becoming self sufficient, while a social enterprise, such as the Lavender Project, uses donor funds to reinvest within the social enterprise. The donations that are invested back within the project help create revenue to produce a self sustaining business that generates profit which allows the project to continue to contribute to social change within the community.
Since the Lavender Project’s inception 5 years ago it has strived to optimize every dollar donated to the project to produce the greatest benefits. Donations have helped fund the fixing of a water pump which allows irrigation to the lavender crops, and other fields within the community which produce, beans, alfalfa and peppers.
In addition donations have helped implement an eco-responsible drip irrigation system, equipment to produce lavender essence oil and materials to help increase soap production. Donations and financial assistance has also provided the opportunity to buy new sewing machines for the sewing division and aided in the development of the Morning Nourishment program, after school activities in the community center and scholarships for deserving students in the community.
The Lavender project wishes to acknowledge the the generous support of St. Anthonys Alliance a registered 501 (c) 3 non profit in the United States. Without St. Anthony’s support and belief in the social enterprise business model, the Lavender Project would not exist today.
The Lavender Project remains grateful to the many persons who have have believed in and supported the project with donations of gifts of money, time and resources.
We still need your support. Your donations to the project make a significant difference in the future of the of the project, the community and will help reduce the time to self sustainability.
We appreciate that funding for philanthropic purposes can be extremely limited and invite you to visit the project to understand how your donations are being utilized.
If you prefer you can also designate how you prefer your donations are used, such as support for scholarships, purchase of equipment for the project or support of the programs in the community center.
Currently we are only able to offer tax receipts in U.S. funds. The receipts are issued by St. Anthony’s Alliance on behalf of the Lavender Project.
Should you wish to donate in Pesos or another currency please contact The Lavender Project Manager by email at email@example.com, by phone at 415-111-1234.
In addition we are also happy to accept your gift of time and resources.