The Lavender Project Gets Boost With Expert Consultation

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.