• Monday, August 20, 2018

A Collage of Color

Everything about Tumalo Lavender Farms is beautiful. The stoic mountain ranges present a 360-degree backdrop, and the many varieties of lavender fields paint the foreground in distinct shades of purple and green. It’s the best kind of sensory overload. If you visit you might find yourself thinking, “Can I live here, please?” while walking the 10-acre lavender farm. Gordon Knight, who owns Tumalo Lavender Farms with his wife Judy, gives us a tour demonstrating the visual beauty of the place as well as the incredible aromas.

In the midst of Gordon’s inspired and condensed version of the grand tour, describing how he built his own farm store from the ground up, a quacking duck sound comes from Gordon’s front shirt pocket. After silencing the quacking—coming from his mobile phone—he looks up, smiles, and says, “I’m a Duck. What can I say?”

Gordon was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, home of the University of Oregon Ducks, where he graduated from U of O. Amazingly, had it not been for his awful allergy symptoms—part of life for many living in the Willamette Valley—he would have stayed in Eugene his entire life. After years and years of suffering, Gordon made the leap and moved 126 miles east to the dry, high desert of Tumalo, 30 miles north of Bend. Sad as he was to leave Eugene, the move was just the beginning of a new story.

Gordon and Judy began their 10-acre farm over 10 years ago, though their professional backgrounds are a bit atypical for the agriculture industry. Judy had previously worked in medical billing and Gordon owned a travel agency. Before that, he that was a commercial real estate agent. Jumping from careers in the real estate, travel, and medical industries to the agricultural industry may not be intuitive to some, but Judy and Gordon both knew that ditching the corporate environment was exactly what they wanted to do.

After spending a long weekend at the Sequim Lavender Festival in Washington state, they both left the festivities with a new vision for their farm. For three years, they researched everything about lavender plants, how to run a lavender farm, and what they could do with the lavender once it had matured. In 2005, they planted 1,000 lavender plants. Seeing these plants thrive and grow delightfully fragrant, they decided in the following year to plant another 6,000. Today, Gordon and Judy manage a farm that grows more than 23 varieties of 10,000-plus lavender plants in less than five acres of their 10-acre plot of land.

Some people may think that cultivating over 23 different lavender plants may be redundant, but Gordon knows better. Everything in his garden has a reason for being there. Some types of lavender are better for oil production because of their mellow aroma, and other varieties are better for propagating because of their incredible durability during the replanting process.

On average, it takes three years for a three-inch lavender “start” to grow to full size (one to three feet wide or more). The lengthy growing process is just one of the many reasons why Judy and Gordon are thankful that they took their time during the research process. Before they began, they had no idea how temperamental lavender is, or how taxing it could be to run a lavender farm.

Lavender, while beautiful, is very susceptible to weather and can often end up with root rot without the proper drainage. Knowing the difference between the many varieties of lavender, and knowing how they will respond to harsh or temperate climates, can make or break a new lavender farm venture.

Now that they have been in the business for over 10 years, Gordon spends a lot of time consulting for potential future lavender growers and passing on his hard-earned knowledge. He makes a point to correct the notion that there is such a thing as an “instant lavender farm,” because it just doesn’t work that way.

The consulting service that Gordon provides is a great way for people looking to start a lavender farm to learn from Gordon’s three years of research and 10 years of experience. His knowledge and assistance includes consulting on topics like soil analysis, ensuring good drainage, avoiding root rot, and what specific land irrigation options are available to each grower. “There are pockets of good soil and pockets of bad soil. Depends on where you are,” Gordon notes. Luckily enough for Gordon, the high desert conditions in the Bend area seem to be an almost ideal place for growing lavender—though he does note the exception of 2017’s late May freeze that pushed back their season by a couple of months this year.

The long-standing joke on the farm is that Gordon and Judy work eight days a week. Not only do they cultivate over 10,000 plants every year, they also make all the lavender products they sell from scratch. The list of items includes, but isn’t limited to, neck wraps, soap, dryer bags, aromatherapy oils, lavender tea, lavender cake mix, lavender lemonade, lavender jelly…you get the picture. The products are all sold in the quaint storefront that Gordon built himself.

The farm is a testament to the considerable time, sweat, and heart that Gordon and Judy have invested in it. Gordon points to the fields and explains that in full bloom, everything will be “a collage of color” of deep blues, purples, and even pinks. As he looks out over the land, perhaps he is thinking about these colorful collages of the past and present, and murmurs, “Beautiful, just beautiful.”

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