Meet the Grower: Victor's Lavender
I continue to be amazed at the amount of work and expertise that is required for me to have the things that I have without taking them for granted every day. Ever since starting the Embrew project began, I’ve been focused on understanding where the food I eat, the clothes I wear and in general, where the products I consume, originate. Discovering the hidden processes, countries of origin, along with the number of hands and machines that touch the goods we buy everyday can be cumbersome and depressing at times. There are a lot of documentaries out there that show you some of the terrible parts of product manufacturing and farming practices, which has solidified our stance as a company to be as transparent as possible about what goes into our products. Even after learning the complexities of tea growing and processing over the past few years, I was still surprised at the nuances of farming the lavender that goes into our tea.
Embrew is dedicated to shortening the supply chain and being as knowledgeable as we can about the source of our products so that we can share the stories of the people who have a hand in helping grow and process them. So, it was my pleasure to interview the man at the source of one main ingredient in our Lavender Chamomile Kick, Mr. Victor Gonzalez, the owner of Victor’s Lavender in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley of Washington State. Sequim is known as the "Lavender Capitol of North America" because of its perfect micro-climate and there are more than a dozen farms within a few miles of each other. Victor opened my eyes to the difficulty in growing, propagating and building a business out of the lavender plant, which was never actually supposed to be his livelihood or occupation.
How Victor Ended Up In Washington
He is originally from Mexico where he grew up on a family farm and as a young boy moved to California with them to work in the fields. It didn’t take long for them to realize that it was too hot, so they picked up and went to live in Washington. Fast forward a few years and he moved on to landscaping for farms and soon linked up with a network of farmers who began traveling to Europe to bring back plants for local agricultural programs.
A fellow farmer brought back some lavender plants and asked Victor if he could grow lavender. His response: “What is lavender? Oh, sure, I can grow tomatoes so, yeah, I can grow lavender.” Spoken like a true entrepreneur. But when it came down to it, lavender wasn’t like tomatoes at all, it turned out. He sought help from universities and other growers, but with a fairly new industry, he was embarking on new territory. Thousands of mistakes and an immeasurable amount of trial and error later, Victor started to get it right. After a steep learning curve, he began to understand the best conditions to grow, how to propagate and develop new varieties of lavender in a fairly new industry for this country. Every variety is different. Some take longer to root, each type grows and flowers in different times of the year, but with every mistake was a critical piece of information that shaped his expertise.
Eventually, he began selling his plants to other farmers, building what is now a thriving wholesale and retail industry. However, with each plant he sold, he was creating competition so he had to differentiate himself somehow. This is when he began to follow the plants after he sold them so he could study them, work with new varieties that grew better in those specific conditions and be the expert in the plant no matter the location. After propagating more than 100 types of lavender, he’s moved beyond just growing and now also has an education series on DVD and earns a living coaching and mentoring other lavender farmers. Victor has sold more than 1,000,000 plants all over North America and travels throughout the world teaching farmers, including those just starting a farm, how to grow lavender and make it a profitable crop.
When I asked Victor if he keeps record of all that he’s learned over the years and catalog the studies and findings, he said most is really just in his head. I laughed at that and totally understood.
Is The Lavender Organic?
What he continued to tell me was that lavender is grown organically even without the certification. It doesn’t require any special pesticides, herbicides or fungicides because the plans are not prone to these common agriculture problems. He confirmed that he and most other lavender farmers don’t use any chemicals at all because they aren’t necessary. The land is naturally prepped beforehand with nutrient rich crops and then the lavender is planted and essentially untouched for 10-15 years except for harvesting. If you grow the plants in the right conditions in the proper soil, there is no need for any chemicals or fertilizers.
Victor is a true master of his trade and I found him to be endearing, truly devoted to his plants and am proud to source our lavender from him knowing the dedication he has to the land, his plants and the Gonzalez family business.