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Lavender a blooming business opportunity

Rosemary Litz harvests blooms from a lavender bush in her backyard in Grand Junction. Litz is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in Western Colorado who use the fragrant herb in a variety of products. Litz creates sachets, eye and neck pillows and purse liners filled with lavender. (Business Times photos by Phil Castle)

Rosemary Litz steps into her meticulously landscaped backyard and bends over a rounded bush. Like a barber wielding scissors, she trims off a handful of long stalks with purple blooms. The fragrance of lavender fills the air.

For a growing number of entrepreneurs like Litz, it’s the smell of money.

Litz uses the lavender she harvests from plants around her Grand Junction home and the home of her daughter to fill a variety of hand-crafted products: among them sachets, eye and neck pillows and purse liners. The scent is not only pleasing, but soothing.

“To me, it’s the most wonderful aroma in the world,” said Litz, founder of a business named, aptly enough, All About Lavender.

Others involved in the fledgling, but quickly growing, lavender industry in Western Colorado harvest the versatile herb to use in other products: soaps, lotions, teas and even spices for cooking.

Kathy Kimbrough, president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado,  envisions a day in the not-too-distant future when lavender becomes another important agricultural component of the regional economy. “I can see it as being every bit as big as peaches and wine.”

In the 16 months since the association was formed, nearly 40 members have joined, a diverse group that includes everyone from crafters to commercial growers. More impressive still, a total of 16,000 lavender plants have gone into the ground in Delta, Mesa and Montrose counties. Kimbrough expects that number to keep rising.

In addition, the association has scheduled its first lavender festival for next year, an event the group expects to bring up to 3,000 people to the Grand Valley.

“It’s turning into an amazing opportunity for people to earn income,” Kimbrough said.

A master gardener who runs a garden design and coaching business called Garden Scentsations, Kimbrough long has included lavender in her landscape layouts because of the beauty and fragrance of the plants. Lavender retains its foliage year-round and blooms twice a year.

Equally important, Kimbrough said, lavender is ideally suited to the growing conditions in Western Colorado with its hot and dry climate and alkaline soils.

Litz said she first planted lavender about four years ago as part of the landscaping around her home.

Litz said she encountered lavender during a vacation to Oregon and fell in love with its fragrance.

About a year ago, Litz decided to capitalize on that fragrance in starting her business.

Litz has put in a total of nearly 80 lavender plants around her home and the home of her daughter. Litz harvests bunches of blooms and hangs them upside down in her closet to dry. She then rolls the dried stalks over a screen to separate the blooms from unwanted bits of plant and dust.

The dried and cleaned blooms go into the products Litz creates herself at her sewing machine: sachets for closets and drawers, liners for pillows and purses and eye pillows and neck wraps that relieve tension.

Lavender has been used for millennia for medicinal purposes — as an antiseptic, a skin treatment and tension reliever. Based on her personal experiences, Litz said the fragrance relieves her headaches and enhances her mood. “It makes me feel better.”

Litz sells her products through a number of venues, including in-home parties she calls lavender sachet salons. She plans to sell her products at an upcoming women’s conference at the Keystone resort in Colorado as well as at Christmas craft fairs.

For now, Litz is the owner, operator and sole employee of All About Lavender. But she hopes to ultimately expand her home-based business by creating more products, hiring a seamstress to help her with production and launching a Web site to offer online sales.

Kimbrough said All Abound Lavender is among a growing number of businesses using lavender in products. Other members of the association craft soaps and lotions, distill lavender into essential oils and grow lavender as ingredients in cooking. A store in Palisade carries locally made Lavender products and a shop in downtown Grand Junction sells Italian ice cream flavored with lavender.

A lavender festival planned for next year will showcase the industry as well as the many uses of lavender, Kimbrough said.

A two-day festival is scheduled for July 16 and 17 in the Grand Valley. The first day will include booths selling lavender-related products and foods. Demonstrations will cover such topics as growing lavender, making crafts with lavender and cooking with lavender. The second day will offer tours of area farms that grow lavender.

Kimbrough said such an event could draw up to 3,000 people from a five-state area.

An annual lavender festival in Sequim, Wash., draws 40,000 people, Kimbrough said. A festival in the Grand Valley eventually could become just as popular, she said, because of other attractions in the region, including the scenery, outdoor recreational opportunities and wineries.

The ultimate success of the lavender industry in Western Colorado will depend on the ongoing efforts of growers and the businesses that use the herb, Kimbrough said. Moreover, research is needed to determine what varieties of lavender perform best for a particular use.

But given the nearly ideal growing conditions in the region and fast start for the industry, Kimbrough said she’s optimistic.

“It is very exciting.”

Litz said she’s also excited about the future of the lavender industry in Western Colorado as well as her own venture. “To me, it’s quite a wonderful herb. I’m so glad I found it.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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