by Aliya Hall
It was a random encounter with a patch of lavender from a Craigslist exchange that started Marilyn Kosel of Wayward Winds Lavender on a 20-year relationship with the plant.
“I got out of the car and there was this overwhelming aroma that was just beautiful,” she said. “It turns out they had a patch of lavender, and it was in full bloom and so fragrant and so pretty, and I just thought, ‘I could do that.’”
Although lavender is a valued commodity in its own right, many lavender farmers have expanded their operations beyond the fresh and dried floral trade or event venue to produce value-added products. For Kosel, value-added creations came quickly because they had more material to work with as plants grew. The Newberg, OR, farm sold at farmers markets and the floral route, but even drying the plants to sell in bouquets and wreaths wasn’t enough. Beyond finding another use for the product, it would also give Wayward Winds Lavender an extended market season.
“I’m an inherently curious person, and I like to figure things out,” Kosel said, adding that she started with the simpler products, like soap, and continued to add more products to her repertoire as she expanded her knowledge.
“It wasn’t long until it outgrew the house,” she said. It took a lot of space to make and package the products as well as balance the compliance procedures for what farms can and cannot make on site. Now their items are sold online at their website and Etsy store, as well as wholesale.
Ginger Bates of Bates Lavender Farm in Corbett, OR, decided to create value-added products from lavender because of her son’s eczema. She had always made things for his skin and afterward decided to branch out to get other feedback on the product, receiving a lot of return customers. “It was a journey worth taking and it’s fun,” she said. “It’s exciting to see it grow.”
The land on Bates Lavender Farm has been farmed since 1880. They started planting lavender in 2016. They pride themselves on not spraying their flowers, so babies and children can feel comfortable running around the fields.
Keri Roid of Growing Miracles Lavender Garden in Roseburg, OR, also focuses on bath and aromatic products. She knew she wanted to sell her products at farmers markets, and that she would need a display to bring people in. First, she started making lotion and lavender essential oil before branching out to Epsom bath salts and eye pillows. “I want to encourage people to do self-care and relaxation or meditation,” she said.
One of the biggest hits for her is a diffuser bracelet that has beads and lava stone. Customers can put Roid’s oil on the beads and it will stay for days. “It was a great product to add,” she said. “It’s always a big seller.”
Growing Miracles Lavender Garden also produces hazelnuts, which Roid sells alongside the lavender. She bakes hazelnut-lavender cookies, which are always popular.
Distilling the oil and propagating the lavender is Roid’s favorite part of the business. “Both are really relaxing to me and it’s rewarding that people want those products,” she explained, adding that she even sells her lavender to other lavender farms who have run out of product or are new and need products. “It feels really good to sell plants for the farm or essential oil by the gallon.”
Lavender is more than just a job for Roid, however. She had the dream of growing her own lavender field for 30 years. Her background was in corporate real estate, but when she had the opportunity for a career change, a childhood friend reached out to her about moving back to their hometown in Roseburg and offered to have Roid start her field on his farm. It took her just four days to make the decision to go for it. Then, she said, “it turned into a beautiful love story.”
Growing Miracles Lavender Garden is now up to 4,000 lavender plants. Along with products, Roid extends the value of lavender to the field itself. She’s hosting her fourth annual Lavender Fest July 9 – 11, where she has artisan vendors of all mediums, as well as yoga classes in the lavender field.
“I said from day one that I want our area to become a lavender destination,” she said, adding that she has helped other lavender farms start up their fields.
At Wayward Winds Lavender, Kosel’s value-added products cross all categories, from aromatherapy and bath products to culinary items, like syrups, honey, tea, herbal blends, chocolate sauce and extract.
Starting out she said it was easy to find recipes, but as the business grew and they scaled up, she wanted to put her own spin on the products. “I had to become a cosmetic chemist to figure out the formulas we have now,” she said.
The biggest challenge was scaling up to meet demand. She had to find bulk ingredient supplies, a bigger space and had to manage the funding to pay for it. Another challenge was the switch from selling primarily retail to wholesale.
“It’s a different kind of business model,” she explained. “It’s challenging because it depends on volume. You need to sell a whole lot more product for the math to still work.”
Kosel considers herself a farmer first, which has been difficult now that she’s spending most of her time behind a desk managing the farm. She grew up on a farm and owned a rare plant nursery before she started the lavender operation.
“Anything grown in mass is work,” she said. “Lavender is lower maintenance than a lot of crops, but it’s work.”
With COVID-19, Wayward Winds had to adjust their model. Kosel laid off workers in the beginning because she expected the worst, but after a month, she started to get online orders from customers. After another month she was able to hire back her whole team.
Now, Kosel is at a time in her life where she’s looking to retire and is trying to put plans in place for the farm and value-added business. She’s willing to sell the farm and business separately because they can run independently from one another, but her big concern is her employees. She said her employees love their jobs and she would want to make the business employee-owned; however, they are all around the same ages, which makes that transition less likely. “I hope someone will buy the farm that loves it as much as we did,” she said.
When the lavender business started, Kosel said she didn’t have a plan, but the intention has always been to “create something beautiful and share it,” which extends beyond customers into other lavender farms. Wayward Winds also offers private labeling, which she was told she was “crazy” to do.
“That’s where I really feel we’ve been successful,” she said. “People are enjoying the farm and same with the products. I always felt strongly the more we work together, the better off we’ll all be. It’s synergy from cooperation instead of competition. I only think of it as a positive. I want to share it.”