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Growing Lavender Partnerships
Story by Betty Oppenheimer

Lavender farming has blossomed into working, loving relationships at Angel Farm. When the farm opens each summer, it’s a partnership between owners Cathy and Leeon Angel and Gail Wicklein, owner of Sequim Lavender Farm. The partners agree they are like-minded when it comes to business, and their skills compliment each other.

“We share the same frame of mind. We want to be welcoming, build partnerships, benefit the community,” said Gail, adding that they work with the Sequim Soroptimist International chapter of which Cathy has been a member for 10 years, 4-H youth and Kingston Band Boosters, to name just a few community organizations. They also host a barn dance for the benefit of the Friends of the Fields Foundation, a group whose mission is to save farmland in Eastern Clallam County, during lavender festival.  Gail’s farm is a “working farm, that isn’t geared for visitors,” while Angel Farm’s vintage feel, historic presence and panoramic vistas make it the perfect place for the farm tour. Each farm has its own line of products, and they pool their skills and their lavender for bulk sales.

It was lavender that brought them together as friends and partners.

Gail ventured into lavender when in 1998, her father Don Turner asked her to find him some land for his future retirement in Sequim.

“I bought the land, and sent him a subscription to the Sequim Gazette as a gift,” said Gail. He’s the one who read about lavender and suggested I grow it.”

A stay-at-home Mom from Poulsbo (about 45 minutes southeast of Sequim), Gail was looking for something to do as her daughters grew up. She planted an acre of lavender on the property in Sequim, and went to a Sequim Lavender Growers Association meeting.

“After trying all kinds of over-the-counter weed barriers, I was looking for other people to purchase commercial grade cloth in bulk,” she said, explaining that she’s always been a fan of purchasing in bulk. There she met Cathy Angel.

“We’ve been partners ever since,” said Cathy.

Gail does all of the wholesale marketing and nationwide sales. Her daughters Laura, 11 and Lindsey, 14, help during festival time, Laura in the downtown booth with Gail’s Mom, and Lindsey attending to the animals that people enjoy on the farm.

“In today’s world I believe it’s is important to teach my girls how to work instead of giving them things. I feel like it’s keeping them closer to our family instead of disconnected like a lot of kids we know,” she said.

Gail’s basically a shy person, but finds selling lavender products easy.

“I have found something that I really like, so it’s easy to sell,” she said. “I search for wholesale accounts on-line, by phone, call them and offer to send samples. Once they try our products, they love them!”

Cathy and Leeon process the lavender, pack and ship orders from both farms’ inventories of bundles and blossoms. Together, their skills and ingenuity make their partnership greater than the sum of its separate parts.

Sweethearts since 11th grade, the Cathy and Leeon have never shied away from new adventure, raising llamas and offering charter sailing in addition to their careers in project management and accounting in the Seattle area. Since moving to Sequim, Leeon retired and discovered a passion for flying,

“Our newest adventure is owning our own airplane and traveling all over the Western and Southern U. S.  in it,” said Cathy.. 

After renting Sequim’s old Henry Haller farmhouse in 1998, the couple heard about lavender and bought the farm the following year, promising its former owner that they would keep it a working agricultural property.

Since then, more of Cathy’s family has moved to Sequim. Her dad, age 91, lives in an assisted living facility here, and her sister moved into a new home just behind the farm.

“I love spending time with my Dad, and now all of my new best friends are 90+ years old,” she said, adding that last year, a busload of her Dad’s fellow residents came out to the farm during the harvest. The facility’s director thought they might all sit in the bus and watch, but “they all flowed out of the bus with their walkers scattering through the lavender fields,” said Cathy, who loved seeing her Dad and his peers showing that enthusiasm for her working farm. “It’s changed my focus. Work is just not quite as important to me as it used to be. Family and partnerships matter.”

Her sister moved into a house just behind the farm, offering Cathy a new opportunity to be a bit more “countrified.”

            “In the mornings, I get up, put on my bathrobe and rubber boots, and walk across the pasture to have coffee with my sister,” she said, laughing at the image of herself crossing the field in that attire.

            Leeon, his parents and Gail’s parents are involved, too.

Don, a contractor, comes down from Alaska every spring for several weeks, “to do what needs to be done,” according to Leeon. Early in the lavender venture, Don developed a tool that cuts perfectly round holes through the weed-barrier cloth, into which lavender starts can be planted. He also designed a machine which defoliates lavender bud and cleans lavender stems, and helped hang the hundreds of chains in the Haller barn where thousands of lavender bundles are hung to dry each summer. Gail’s mom comes to Sequim in July to staff the sales booth at the downtown Lavender Street Faire.

Leeon and Don purchased the now famous cleaning machine, dubbed the Jitter Bud (in the 2004 contest to name it).

“It saves a lot of labor for us and many other farmers,” said Leeon. “It used to take hours of manual labor to clean a 30 gallon can of lavender buds. Now the machine cleans this amount of bud in a fraction if the time with little manual labor.”

Each batch is run through the huge machine four times, to remove all of the leaf, stem and hull pieces from the pure bud.

“Leeon has cleaned thousands of pounds of lavender for farms all over the area,” said Cathy.

Both Angel and Sequim Lavender Farms are partners in All Things Lavender, a retail shop with locations in Port Townsend (since 2005) and Seattle’s Pike Place Market (since 2002), in partnership with Willow Farm/The Weary Gardener and Moosedreams Lavender, both local lavender farms as well. Owners from all four farms stock and staff the stores on a rotating basis.

In their latest partnership, Angel and Sequim Lavender Farms have connected with a long-time wholesale customer in New York, who happens to be both a flower farmer and a web designer.

“He’s been impressed by the quality of our product and service, and approached us to setup a web-based business partnership at www.sequimlavenderfarms.com. It will be up by this summer,” said Cathy.

Reprinted from Sequim Lavender Festival
Sequim Lavender Festival, official site

 
 
 
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