Between opening a new book store and the end of the lavender season, Mike Reichner, co-owner of Purple Haze Lavender, earned some new notoriety for his Purple Haze Lavender Farm.
As one of the guest speakers at the inaugural United States Lavender Conference in Richmond, Vir., on Oct. 18-20, Reichner spoke to a crowd of 200 lavender farmers from the Midwest to the East Coast.
He told the Purple Haze story leading up to today, and discovered Sequim’s impact goes nationwide.
“I asked how many people had seen the farm before and two-thirds of the room raised their hands. It was very flattering,” he said.
Purple Haze also entered three contests and won Best in Show for best dried lavender flower, most unique use of lavender – its salad dressing, and cutest child in a lavender field – of Reichner’s granddaughter Ashton.
Overall, Reichner said the event was a nice networking experience.
As the average American farmer’s age hovers around age 60, Reichner said it was encouraging to see the average attendee around 40 years of age to help continue the trade. He said they could replicate Sequim’s success elsewhere but it’d be difficult because there are so many farms in one area here, whereas in other areas the farms are spread out.
“We’re lucky we were in it at the beginning,” he said. “Now there are hundreds of farms but then there wasn’t one public farm in the U.S. Agritourism wasn’t ever done then.”
Looking back at Purple Haze’s first few years, Reichner said they had to make constant adjustments.
“It’s a learning process and not something you can start and expect people to come in droves at first,” he said. “When we started it was a lot of tweaking, tweaking and tweaking.”
As farmers continue to follow Reichner’s lead, these days he’s not prepping the lavender like the old days as much but taking care of the farmhouse and its garden.
“It’s the best way we find to meet people,” he said. “We find the No. 1 referral, about 80 percent, is friends’ or family’s personal references.”
One key, he said is giving people a unique, positive experience.
Using methods from his days as a park ranger, the farm’s signs don’t read “stay off the grass,” but direct visitors to new sights and smells. As the farm enters its 19th year, Reichner said his staff isn’t complacent with success and finds that one area his farm can grow is in wholesale.
“We probably had one of our best summers we’ve ever had, but I don’t see us packing more people in (during Lavender Weekend),” he said. “But everyday we’re getting more inquiries for wholesale.”
It’s not uncommon for the farm and its downtown store to sell out of certain product by late winter, he said.
“You can only grow so much on 12 acres but then you get creative with your product,” Reichner said.
A few years ago, bad weather wiped out many plants on the peninsula, but Purple Haze is planning to redo its Helichrysum, the curry plant, which did well on the farm before.
Purple Haze also has joined in the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association’s expanded activities like the Tour de Lavender bike tour and Distillation Weekend.
They’ll also participate in the association’s first bazaar, The Lavender Mercantile Winter Faire from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Pioneer Park., 387 E. Washington St.
It features all of the association’s farms’ products and a gingerbread house competition. For more information on the bazaar, call 582-1185.
For more on Purple Haze Lavender Farm, 180 Bell Bottom Road, or the store at 127 W. Washington St., call 683-1714, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.purplehazelavender.com.
To read about the U.S. Lavender Growers Association, visit www.uslavender.org.