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Lavender farms offer fragrant adventures


Heide Brandes June 17th, 2010

Row upon row of the busy plant " spiking up with spears of flowers that range from dark purple to hot pink to white " create a scent on the Oklahoma winds that remind you more of France than Middle Am...

JagLavenderFarm_7-06x10-69cm
Row upon row of the busy plant " spiking up with spears of flowers that range from dark purple to hot pink to white " create a scent on the Oklahoma winds that remind you more of France than Middle America.

For fans of "u-pick" farms and farmers' markets, state lavender farms offer not only a chance to harvest the versatile plant, but an experience steeped in aroma and taste, not to mention a vast array of products.

"I think our agritourism base and the amazing diversity of farms here in Oklahoma surprise people," said Lindsay Vidrine, director of travel communications for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. "Lavender is so beautiful and fragrant, yet people seem to be surprised that we grow it here. It's a great way to reconnect with the land, and it's a different experience than going to a museum or attraction."

Summer is the best time to harvest the flower, and Oklahomans have a choice of several farms that are open to the public.

"We grow 10 varieties of lavender, and we explored which varieties do well in Oklahoma soil," said Jag Sodhi, owner of Lavender Valley Acres in Apache.

A professor and software engineer who once worked for the Department of Defense, Sodhi was gifted with a lavender plant by a student and began growing the flower as a hobby.

When told by Washington lavender farmers that the bloom wouldn't grow in Oklahoma's tough climate, he worked to prove them wrong.

"I took a challenge when I was told I couldn't grow it here," Sodhi said. "I said to my wife, 'If we can grow everything else in Oklahoma, why not lavender?' So we started experimenting and researching."

With 10 different varieties of lavender, Lavender Valley Acres became a full business at the urging of the friends, neighbors and customers.

"They loved to come see the different colors, and they loved the smell," Sodhi said. "So we started making oils and shipping oils and holding festivals."

The sixth annual Lavender Festival will be held there June 26, featuring lavender products like soap, oils and cookies cooked by Sodhi's wife, plus Indian cuisine and entertainment. The festival attracts 1,500 visitors annually.

"People come from all over, even from other countries, to see the lavender we grow in Oklahoma," said Sodhi. "The festival is always just a fun time."

A little closer to home, Country Cottage Primitives Lavender Farm outside of Shawnee also offers a hands-on experience with the delicate spikes of flowers.

Lavender is widely used in fragrant products like potpourri and bath salts. However, it can be used to flavor foods and teas, too.

According to Country Cottage Primitives, the flowers can be candied, used to flavor sugar or made into tea. Although the plant smells sweet, its taste is quite bitter.

The dried buds can sometimes be used to replace traditional herbs, like rosemary.

"You can use the lavender flowers like an herb," said Debi Seaton, owner of Country Cottage Primitives. "It was used for centuries by royals, kind of like salt and pepper is used today."

She said that it needs to be ground very fine if used for food.

"You can make lavender cookies, lavender bread and butters, lavender cheesecake," Seaton said. "It's very versatile and very subtle to cook with."

The best time to visit lavender farms is during May through the end of summer. Although the plants begin blooming in April, full harvest doesn't begin until June.

"We open our doors at the end of March when two varieties of lavender " Spanish and French " start blooming," Sodhi said. "All of the varieties start budding in May."

At Country Cottage Primitives, the most popular variety of lavender, Grosso, blooms in June and July. Other varieties, like Blue Hidcote and Pink Hidcote, continue blooming until the first frost.

"We're a picking garden, which means you can come in and harvest your own bundles," Seaton said. "The busiest time is during the summer months, and we stay pretty busy all summer long."

At most farms in Oklahoma, visitors can pick their own bundle for as little as $5. Countless lavender products are also available for sale at most state farms.

Lavender Hill Farm, a 60-acre farm in Stone Bluff, is Oklahoma's largest commercial lavender farm. The acreage contains approximately 1,700 Grosso and Hidcote plants, and visitors can even step into the winery next door.

photo top Jag Sodhi is owner of Lavender Valley Acres in Apache.
photo bottom
Lavender. Photos/Shannon Cornman
 
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