Today's spotlight starts on a 100-acre farm in East Central Wisconsin. This family-owned
farm was brought to life 50 years ago - but not as a lavender farm. I'll let Mindy Kearney, co-owner of Purple Thumb Lavender, tell us the story - it's a good one!
Mindy, tell us about your father and the beautiful history behind your family farm.
My dad was a hard worker who loved the outdoors. I have so many fond memories of him from my early childhood, of feeding our beef cattle, of picking up our chicks at the post office, of taking tractor rides to the back of the farm and cutting down our Christmas tree. He just loved the land and being in nature. After he passed away, the hobby farm was too much for my mom to take care of by herself, and we sold the cattle and chickens and rented the fields. But every time my sister and I were together as adults, we would dream about what the farm could become. One day my sister called me and said, "I'm starting a lavender farm. You can join me if you'd like, but I've already talked to mom. " And that was the beginning of our business!
Where did the name Purple Thumb come from?
One of the biggest influences on our business was our grandma's love for gardening. In the summer we found our grandma in her huge garden every time we drove by her house! We wanted to remember her green thumb somehow in our business name, and when I mentioned that to my daughter, her response was, "How about Purple Thumb?" We loved it! And our logo, the old farm truck, is in memory of our grandpa. He had an old truck and we have many memories of riding in that beat up thing!
What do you love most about lavender? What are its benefits and uses?
This is a hard one because there are SO many uses for lavender! It's one of the most versatile herbs. Of course the first thing people recognize about lavender is it's amazing smell, which makes it great to use dried in sachets and bath salts. We use lavender essential oil in just about every product that we make because it has many healing properties as well as its ability to help with relaxation. Probably my favorite use of lavender is in cooking and baking. We have a delicious lemon lavender shortbread cookie that is to die for!
What does a day (or a season) on the farm look like for you?
One of the reasons lavender works well for us (me living a few hours away, and both of us busy with kids and other jobs) is that it's not too time consuming for the size farm that we are. We have really busy weeks in the spring when we are prepping and planting our fields. Then it gets busy for about two weeks mid-summer for harvest, again for a few weeks in the fall when we are pruning and preparing the plants for winter, and then right before the snow falls when we cover our fields. In between those busy weeks, there is mowing and weeding to be done, but it's pretty manageable for us at this point.
It is my understanding that you're hoping to allow visitors on your farm in the next few years. What are you envisioning?
There are so many possibilities! We love going to farms where everything is experiential... imagine sitting near the lavender fields with a microbrew in your hands, eating wood fired pizza and listening to some indie music! We would love to partner with other food tourism places in our area and do a culinary bike tour. And a lavender festival with a farm-to-table meal is probably not that far off in the future either.
What advice or encouragement would you give someone who wants to start a business in farming?
Farming is a tough business. Last year, we had to replant 80% of our plants because of the 60 below zero weather we got. Many farms were in the same boat as us. What helped us is that we have diversified a little bit in that we are making lavender products using other farms' lavender while we wait for ours to grow large enough. We're also in the process of adding other herbs so we have more to offer if we have another bad lavender year. Meet other farmers. Ask for advice. It's been really encouraging to connect with others in the same "field" as we are.
Thanks for sharing, Mindy!
Who wants to take a road trip to visit Purple Thumb Lavender with us? We hope you're inspired by the family history represented in Mindy's story and her business. Despite the hardships that go along with running a farm, they are finding ways to diversify their offerings and have created a thriving business with exciting hopes for the future. Follow them on Facebook for fun lavender photos and updates on what they're up to at the farm!