For centuries, lavender was revered. Throughout history, this purple flowering plant was used for healing, disinfecting, seasoning and the making of perfume.
Although the largest lavender farms are on either coast of the United States, two men in Kansas are trying hard to increase the presence of lavender in the Sunflower State – one is a retired minister and the other is retired from the U.S. Navy.
Along with being president and vice president of the United States Lavender Growers Association, Mike Neustrom and Jim Morford run lavender farms and produce soaps, lotions and culinary items made from the lavender they grow. The national association, which Neustrom helped found, has more than 500 members. But for Neustrom and Morford, propagating the plant to fellow Kansans is part of their mission.
Morford, who runs both a retail and wholesale lavender business, Morford Lavender Farm in Kanopolis sells both retail and wholesale. Neustrom, who sticks to retail, raises 14 varieties on Lavender Prairie Farm in Bennington, just north of Salina.
According to Neustrom, many small lavender farms use less than two acres of land, making this crop affordable for entry-level farmers.
There are more than 450 varieties of the plant, but Neustrom said, "We can’t grow most of it here because it can’t take the cold."
In addition to raising the plants, holding festivals and selling the dried herbs, most producers manufacture and market products made from the herb and sell these creams and tinctures on their property or through other retailers. Morford, who is also a beekeeper, combines honey products with his lavender.
Due to COVID-19, this year, lavender farms in Kansas are not hosting lavender festivals, but several are still open to the public. The Lavender Patch in Scott City is hosting special events. Prairie Lavender Farm is open every Saturday and by appointment and Morford Lavender Farm is open by appointment.
Betsy and David Reichard started their Fort Scott farm more than one decade ago. David Reichard, who grew up on a conventional farm in Williamsburg, Kansas was surprised at the difficulty of growing lavender. Their Lavender Patch grows 22 varieties of the plant.
"I found out conventional farming was simple," David Reichard said. "Lavender is much more complex and interesting."
Because of the work of Morford and Neustrom, others around the state are starting their patches. Last year, Deb Hagen started a patch in Buhler – on Owl’s Lavender Patch. Next year, she hopes to be able to harvest the lavender and sell her products at local farmers markets.
"I have several ideas," Hagen said. "I’m hoping it’s a little more than an experiment next year."
Like Hagen, others across the state, including locations in Anthony, El Dorado, Council Grove, Douglas and Hays, have planted at least 500 bushes and started their patches, hoping to start some sort of a lavender business in the coming years.
"Today we are doing significant research and testing to determine what varieties we can grow in our climate," Morford said.
Morford, who wholesales more than 15,000 plants of more than 30 varieties to growers from New Jersey to Illinois to Texas, is also working with Clemson University on research to make sure that only high-quality lavender is sold and exported. Business is brisk, but he always has time to help a Kansas lavender farmer.
"We try to get people to start small," Morford said. "As they learn, they can expand and grow."