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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 2nd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 17

Oil harvest

A family business blooms with each purple season of lavender buds

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


IN BLOOM
Clairmont Farms is in full swing with the summer heat; workers are watching lavender bloom, distilling oil, and beginning the harvest season.
PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

It’s hot, and the buzz of nature’s busy pollinators hangs low over a dry field of purple flowers while lizards dart in and out of the foliage. Wind carries the scent of sweet sleep from the long stems, and a wine country tour van pulls down the driveway.

“Here we go,” Cole Eubanks says as he gets up from a faded picnic table under a huge oak tree.

Eubanks heads toward the small shop next to the 4 1/2-acre field of Grosso lavender—known for the quality of the oil it produces—at Clairmont Farms in Santa Ynez Valley.

The shop’s carpeted entrance leads customers into a tiny space filled with lotions, salves, sachets, oils, salts, honey, and sprays. Each bottle, jar, or tub contains just the right amount of Clairmont Farms’ organic, home-distilled lavender essential oil. It perfumes the shop with an intense, almost spearminty smell.

Eubanks will do his best to coax the customers into a purchase by spritzing some of the linen spray into the air and telling them about a few of the herb’s 157 uses—like scaring away pests, helping with sleep, and alleviating headaches or nausea. Sales from customer visits are one of the primary ways of keeping the farm afloat.

Those visits are also a big reason why Clairmont maintains its lavender bloom as long as possible. The buds started popping color at the end of June, and the farm began harvesting on July 2. Harvesting will continue through Labor Day weekend.


Looking for local lavender?
Clairmont Farms is at 2840 Roblar Avenue in Los Olivos. The farm is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 688-7505 or visit clairmontfarms.com.

While it takes 25 people a span of two months to hand-harvest and cut back the lavender, Eubanks and other family friends help Sean Crowder and his mother, Meryl Tanz, with the farm on a regular basis. Another friend who lends a hand is Sam Lyon. Eubanks and he have known Crowder since before the farm came into existence in 1999.

Lyon and Crowder sold the first batch of lavender products from a roadside stand, where the property’s driveway meets Roblar Avenue, about a mile south of Los Olivos.

The pair was in high school. Crowder said they dragged the now faded picnic table to the road, sat under an oak tree, and sold $46 worth of items that first day

“Our first customer was this shirtless jogging guy,” Crowder said with a chuckle. “He bought our shampoo because it lathered well.”

That was in 2002. Crowder is now 25, and after a brief lapse, he recently committed his life back to the farm. In 2012, Crowder’s stepfather Glen passed away in his sleep after a second heart attack.

“It was surreal,” Crowder said. “We had to reassemble everything. It was really difficult to put everything back together.”

The death spurred changes at the farm, especially because Glen had handled a lot of the business side, such as recipes, sales, booths, and website work. Crowder and his mother, Tanz, pulled the business back together a person at a time and added where they could.

They built the small shop that houses their lavender store, introduced new products, changed some of their recipes, and scaled back on farmers markets and festival visits. Tanz said they have plans to bring in at least 800 more lavender plants in the next year, 300 of which will be a new variety called blue velvet. It’s more fragrant and blooms a couple of months earlier than the Grosso variety.

Tanz said her son has always been really involved in the farm, and helped plant the first 12,000 plants when he was 10 or 11. Before planting, they rototilled two feet of topsoil that had been trampled down from years of horse ranching. Tanz said they tilled up old seeds and remnants of Chumash tobacco.

So when the time came to pull together after Glen died, she said the only option was to put their heads down and plow forward.

“We just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘It’s just the two of us and we’ve got to keep going,’” Tanz explained. “I don’t know that he’ll be a lavender farmer in 25 years, but he likes it for now.”

She said they maintain a good local presence in stores from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach, but are hoping to gain on the wholesale side of things. What’s kept the business going is definitely visits to the farm and, now, website sales.

“We have a very faithful lavender-following group of people; you could calls them the little lavender club,” Tanz said. “They’ve been very good to us.”

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.