What do you do when lavender is the only plant your mom can’t kill? You buy property and start a lavender farm, of course.
Justin Claibourn laughs as he tells that his mom’s love of lavender – and her lack of a green thumb – were the basis for starting a lavender farm. She attended lavender festivals “religiously” according to Claibourn, so he and his wife, Jordann, and his parents, Debbie and Tim, thought, “What if we grew lavender?” They looked into it and that began Cowlitz Falls Lavender Company.
Deciding where to locate their farm was easy. “We’re from Pierce County and came to Lewis County for hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping for longer than I can remember. We knew we wanted land here.” The land they purchased with his parents has taken a bit of work. “It was overrun with weeds,” Claibourn says. But it seems to love lavender. They bought some test plants and just left them alone, not watering or fertilizing them – and they survived and thrived.
In 2015 the family bought 2,600 Grosso variety lavender plants because of their ability to grow quickly. Prepared to lose 5% of the plants over the winter they were pleasantly surprised to only lose 1.4%. They were also prepared not to have any yield their first year, but perhaps due to the long hot summer, they ended up with an astounding 10% yield. They were able to harvest lavender for lotions, soaps, and the ever-popular essential oils.
Claibourn’s goals are not only having fields for commercial production, but that they be aesthetically pleasing as well. “One thing we noticed traveling in Washington is that there is not really a place you can go and walk through a field that has any depth to it. It’s mostly small plots and people like to walk through long rows of lavender, look, and take photos,” he explains.
To achieve this they plan to add one acre per year, starting with road frontage property so people can see the farm. Claibourn explains that plants last 10-15 years depending on weather and maintenance. They intend to plant 9-10 acres in total, but Claibourn admits, “You never know – we have 47 acres.”
A few things have surprised Claibourn. “We’re first generation farmers so everything is new. I’ve also learned that farming involves a lot more skills than a lot of people give it credit for. You use more math than you can believe. That whole ‘measure twice, cut once’ adage sure comes into play. Plus I never had to worry about the weather before, with just a small lawn or a few plants. Now I have to worry about how it will affect our 2,600 plants. Will they get root rot? Will they get bugs? I have more worries than I thought I would have.”
But he still maintains that it truly is a labor of love. “Like most business, it’s a personal investment,” he admits.
Claibourn’s ultimate goal is for the farm to be big enough for them to work on it full-time. Right now, both he and his dad are working as diesel mechanics. “It’s very helpful on the farm because we can fix anything. We use a lot of older equipment because that’s all you can afford starting out.”
Claibourn says the local community is excited about the lavender farm. “People stop by all the time to chat and find out what is going on.” He loves being in Lewis County and he is getting to meet a lot of new people and make new friends. He even joined the local fire department.
As far as Claibourn knows, they are the only Lewis County farm that distills their own lavender oil. They have a 50 gallon still that can create 750 ml in a batch. The process involves taking harvested flowers, putting them in the kettle, and injecting steam to release the oils from the flower heads. The oils bind with the steam which is condensed and separated. The oil is then placed in the essential oil bottles for sale, and the leftover water product, known as hydrosol, is bottled for use like spraying on pillows to help with sleep. The procedure takes about one hour. When they are ready to process the lavender this year, they will set it up on the farm where people can watch. Dates will be posted on the Cowlitz Falls Lavendar Company website and Facebook page.
Claibourn encourages people to call if they want to visit, otherwise feel free to drive by to see the lavender grow until it reaches full bloom in late July.
Cowlitz Falls Lavender Company
136 Falls Road in Randle
Farm stand open Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends
Products available online or at the Packwood Farmers Market on Saturdays