By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
ROME CITY, Ind. — For Dawn McCreery, her lavender farm seems to mean more than just a way to provide her extra income in retirement, which was a reason she started the venture several years ago.
McCreery’s farm, The Lavender Lane, is set on the property in Noble County she and her husband, Steve, have owned for 35 years. The peaceful setting is perfect, Dawn McCreery said, for the growing of a plant known for its soothing properties.
“I like aromatherapy and the healing power of lavender,” she said. “It can be used in alternative healing. Lavender has always been of interest to me that way.”
Lavender oil has a calming effect on the nerves, reduces blood pressure, helps in sleeping, boosts the immune system and is a natural antidepressant, McCreery said. In a store adjacent to her lavender field, she sells a variety of lavender-related items, including plants, fresh and dried bundles, essential oil, homemade soaps, sachet bags and potpourri.
She has close to 700 lavender plants and about 20 varieties in the roughly three-acre field. The field is hand-weeded and the plants are also pruned by hand.
Before she planted her first lavender, the field previously had been used for such crops as sweet corn and hay. She asked her husband what he thought of planting lavender.
“I had been reading about it for a couple of years and I had planted some lavender plants before, but just as a hobby,” McCreery explained. “I had to go with a strength I had. I wanted to plant it and see what happened.
“It wasn’t just an instant decision. I thought it through. I didn’t want to start something and have it fizzle out. We thought we would start something we could go into retirement in. It was going to be supplemental income after retirement.”
The first year – 2008 – she seeded 90 lavender plants. Most were the hybrid Grosso and the rest were Angustifolia, which is like English lavender. The winter after that first planting was “brutal,” McCreery said. None of the Grosso plants survived, but the Angustifolia lived because it’s a bit more winter-hardy, she said.
In 2009, she and Steve spent time learning more about growing lavender when they visited Sequim, Wash., the lavender capital of North America. She said she has also learned more about chemistry than she ever thought she would.
“For what I want to do, I want to know what I’m doing,” she noted. “I love knowledge. My husband and I both care about education. We want to teach and educate people about things.”
For the last two years, the couple have been working to propagate the lavender on a large commercial scale. McCreery recalled they had no success the first year they tried and limited success last winter.
“You have to propagate from a stem cutting,” she said. “The growing and propagating didn’t quite go as we had hoped, but we’re getting there slowly.”
Because some varieties of lavender may be used in cooking, The Lavender Lane has become involved in Noble County’s Farm to Fork program, which gives the public the opportunity to learn about locally grown foods. As part of the program, McCreery offers tours in which guests learn how to harvest, dry, de-bud and clean bundles of culinary lavender.
“The Farm to Fork tours were not even a direction we were thinking about,” she said. “But it’s really developed and that was a surprise. Once people start tasting it, they want to learn how to use it.”
Each May, The Lavender Lane hosts its Hors d’oeuvres in the Field, which affords the couple the opportunity to share foods made with lavender. McCreery said she gives tours to people of all ages, especially in June when the lavender is in full bloom.
The couple also have 15 beehives with the goal of eventually selling honey in the store. Steve does woodworking and several of his chairs, benches and shelving are on display around the farm.
While McCreery does some online sales, she said the bulk of purchases are made when people visit their store at the farm. They’ve had visitors from Ohio, Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit who came specifically to see the farm and store.
She processes lavender buds for the sachets, neck pillows and culinary lavender she sells in the store. She supplies lavender for a couple of wholesale places and also takes pre-orders for wreaths and lavender bundles. For more information, visit www.TheLavender Lane.com
“A lavender farm is not your typical kind of farming,” she explained. “You have to develop your market. I grew up in a family business and I know you have to like it to do it. I have to keep remembering it’s a business, and it’s not a hobby anymore.”