A Lavender Wind Wafts Over Whidbey

Posted in Farming, More Stories

This article is from the Spring/Summer print issue of Whidbey Life Magazine. You can find out where to get a copy of your own at the end of the article.

BY SHAWN BERIT
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
August 2, 2017

There is a place on Whidbey Island whose very name evokes opposing images: rustic and elegant, tranquil and stimulating, delicate and forceful. From this place, one can see the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and a landscape of pines and prairies. Some consider this one place to be the essence of Whidbey Island. This place is Lavender Wind Farm.

The fields of Lavender Wind Farm coming into bloom. (Photo by Sarah Richards)

The farm shop and café in Coupeville is where the unique art and craft of owner and farmer Sarah Richards is fully displayed. Shelves hold an assortment of lavender products: soaps, hand creams, bath salts, essential oils, shampoo—and a natural cleaner, a byproduct of the distilling process. Less expected are culinary lavenders and delicious baked goods that can be enjoyed in the café. (The scones are outstanding.)

Sarah Richards’ story begins on a windswept island of rocky beaches, beautiful villages, and summer tourists. Much as this describes Whidbey, it is almost as far away from the island as one can get and still be in the continental United States. Richards grew up on Martha’s Vineyard. The experience of living there, a place with few public beaches, would directly influence her future choices.

Owner Sarah Richards in the Lavender Wind Farm shop. The display case holds lavender soaps, shampoos, and other personal care products. (Photo by Marsha Morgan)

After stints in France and Oregon, Richards went searching for the home that had somehow eluded her. During a visit to Port Angeles, she discovered Whidbey Island. Like so many who call the island home, and so many who return to visit again and again, the island called to her.

In 1998, Richards purchased a five-acre farm within the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The memory of the private beaches of Martha’s Vineyard compelled her to create a place that could be shared with the public. The beauty of her new farm reinforced that vision. “Lavender and sharing grew into the farm,” she recalls.

Lavender is bundled as it is harvested. (Photo by Sarah Richards)

Why lavender? “It was an accident,” Richards says with a laugh. While searching for a crop that would do well during the dry summers of Whidbey but be able to survive its damp winters, she learned that lavender could do both.

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, parts of Africa, southwest Asia, and southeast India. It’s found on farms throughout France, where it’s used in the perfume industry. There are 47 known species of lavender (a member of the mint family) and hundreds of cultivars. While most humans love lavender, most animals do not. In fact, it repels deer, rabbits, and other grazers. Lavender thrives in sandy, well-drained soil with full sun exposure. The middle of Whidbey Island is the perfect climate for this lovely plant.

Richards distills oil from up to 25 pounds of lavender at once in a copper rotating-column still made in Portugal. (Photo by Sarah Richards)

Though passionate about starting a lavender farm, Richards had no background in farming. According to her, “learning how to farm and then to sell the crop” were among her biggest challenges. Yet, in typical Whidbey Island style, she found help from her fellow farmers. She opened the farm in 2000. Since then, her crop size has increased, but not beyond what is manageable. Richards says she “always wanted to keep it at a human scale.”

Today, Lavender Wind Farm is a summer destination and a favorite place for photographers and painters. During blooming season, visitors delight in a waving sea of purple. The Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca make a postcard backdrop as winds come in off the Sound carrying the scent of lavender.

A lot of lavender blossom is required to extract a small amount of essential oil. Two of Richards’ oils recently won awards from the prestigious Lavender Sommelier. (Photo by Sarah Richards)

Throughout the summer, visitors enjoy the lavender labyrinth, you-pick areas, picnicking, and views, as well as the chance to observe the distilling process used to capture lavender’s essential oils. Many also enjoy the opportunity to stroll the grounds: gazebo, ponds, flower gardens, scenery, and fields. Over the years, Lavender Wind Farm has played host to a variety of events, and this year is no exception. A Saturday afternoon concert series is planned for the summer season.

Richards counts as one of her greatest achievements the opening of the store and café in Coupeville, describing it as “a center of happiness.”

Bright umbrellas and shades of purple enliven a corner in Coupeville. Customers are invited to sit and contemplate which of the many varieties of potted lavender they plan to take home. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Richards)

In 2012, Richards and her team purchased a 1916 Craftsman house in the historic waterfront district for the purpose of opening a shop. Only a block off Front Street, the shop has become an extension of the farm. Coupeville residents were delighted by the restoration of both house and property. Several people have come into the store who used to work at a previous business located there or who lived in the house years ago. “We are a part of the story of the house,” Richards says.

All those who visit Lavender Wind Farm, whether at the farm or the Coupeville store, are also a part of that story. Richards says, “The relationship between us and the customers and fans is the source of inspiration for what we do.”

The interior of the shop features lavender products of every kind; the air is scented by lavender drying on the wall. (Photo by Marsha Morgan)

The shop at the corner of Coveland and Alexander streets in Coupeville is open year-round. The farm, located northwest of Coupeville at 2530 Darst Road, is open during the summer.

Stop in to meet Sarah Richards and her team for a breath of fresh air—and a gust of lavender wind.

For hours, directions, and a schedule of events, visit the Lavender Wind Farm website.

Shawn Berit lives near Maxwelton Beach on the south end of Whidbey Island. He freelances as a social media manager and marketing consultant for churches and spiritual groups, organizations, artists and musicians, and occasionally small businesses. He is a father of three and an all-around creative. Berit is a painter and drawer (acrylics and pastels) of mystical scenery, story illustrations, and science fiction concept art; a nature photographer; a vocalist wanting to start a band; a science fiction writer working on his first novel; and a television and voice-over actor wishing the island had a radio station. Follow him and learn more on Facebook.

Read the other stories published this week

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