There are a number of agricultural activities and destinations that surround the D.C. area. But one budding industry is becoming popular among those who would rather unwind than taste wine.
WASHINGTON — From vineyards to farm breweries to pick-your-own orchards, there are a number of agricultural activities and destinations that surround the D.C. area. But one budding industry is becoming popular among those who would rather unwind than taste wine.
Julie Haushalter was first introduced to lavender while working in a profession where she helped students manage their stress and anxiety. She decided to plant a few bushes on her own property, “just to see how it would do.” Surprised by its success, Haushalter kept planting.
That was more than 10 years ago. Now, Haushalter has between 8,000 and 9,000 lavender bushes, which she grows at White Oak Lavender Farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“I didn’t go out looking to be a lavender farmer. Lavender found me,” Haushalter said.
Over the past eight years, Haushalter has expanded her business beyond fields of bright purple flowers to accommodate her growing visitor base. Hammocks, lawn games and gardens are scattered throughout the manicured grounds. There’s a distillery, a duck pond and a labyrinth to explore. There’s even an area where visitors can interact with farm animals.
“We had determined that our mission was going to be to help people figure out the connection between lavender and chronic anxiety, and the fact that just getting out on a farm would help some people with managing anxiety … all of the things that we offer on our farm have something to do with that,” Haushalter said.
While at the farm, visitors can pick their own lavender or buy products at White Oak’s shop, which sells everything from lavender oils to soaps and sugars. Haushalter says in the summer, the most popular item is the lavender ice cream.
“People are amazed that you can eat lavender — that’s probably the most common question we get,” she said.
They may be even more surprised to learn you can drink it. At White Oak, visitors can get a taste of Haushalter’s latest project: winemaking. In partnership with her daughter, who has experience in the wine industry, Haushalter planted a vineyard and opened a tasting room called Purple WOLF.
Of the seven wines the tasting room features, two are infused with lavender.
“It actually cuts through and neutralizes some of the acid in the wine and gives it sort of a smooth finish. It’s very interesting,” Haushalter said.
In Catlett, Virginia — just outside of Gainesville — Deborah Williamson recently wrapped up her busiest time of year at Seven Oaks Lavender Farm.
From June to mid-July, the plants on her 3-acre operation reach peak bloom and people from all over flock to her farm to relax in the fields and pick a stem or two.
Similar to Haushalter, Williamson did not set out with plans to become a lavender farmer. But after living in New York City for 10 years, she moved home to Fairfax, Virginia, with the desire to start some sort of farm project with her mother.
After a little research, the two business partners decided on lavender. Williamson put her first plant in the ground in 2002, and Seven Oaks opened to the public four years later.
Similar to Haushalter, Williamson has a year-round shop where she sells lavender soaps, candles and oils. However, she says the bulk of her business stems from those who come to Seven Oaks to pick their own.
“[People] bring a picnic, hang out, cut some lavender … just enjoy the experience,” she said.
When Williamson started her business, there weren’t many lavender farms on the East Coast.
“It seemed like it had been pretty popular out west for a while, and I thought with the D.C. area, I’d have the kind of clientele that would be somewhat familiar with it and interested in it,” she said.
In the past 10 years, more have opened, but the market is still small — she estimates no more than 20. However, Williamson says lavender’s appeal spans generations and demographics, and it’s becoming increasingly popular in cooking, personal care and even alternative medicine.
“I’d say lavender is the most useful herb/flower in nature because it has so many different properties.”
WTOP’s Omama Altaleb recently visited Seven Oaks Lavender Farm. Watch her video below: