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Smell of success fragrant for West Slope lavender growers

Lavender Association Grand Junction CO

Rosemary Litz, left, and Kathy Kimbrough look over the lavender growing in Litz’ back yard in Grand Junction. Litz grows lavender to fill sachets, neck wraps and other products she makes. Kimbrough runs a garden design and consulting firm and also serves as president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado. About 50 growers, including Litz, belong to the group that soon will host its second annual lavender festival in Palisade. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Rosemary Litz grows nearly 50 lavender plants as part of the meticulous landscaping surrounding her Grand Junction home. The rounded bushes with purple blooms add color and fragrance to the serene setting.

But for Litz, lavender constitutes a growing enterprise in another sense. She harvests blooms from the plants to fill sachets, neck pillows and other products she crafts from luxurious fabrics and sells through a company named, aptly enough, All About Lavender.

Business, Litz said, has been good. “It’s been doing very well.”

Litz is just one example of the growing number of entrepreneurs involved in the lavender industry on the Western Slope.

“It’s perfect for the small entrepreneur and the small home business,” said Kathy Kimbrough, president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado.

But lavender also can become big business. Out of the 50 members of the association, 20 run farms, including one operation with more than 6,000 plants, Kimbrough said.

A versatile herb, lavender can be used in a range of products: essential oils, lotions, soaps, even spices for cooking. Moreover, lavender farms and festivals constitute tourism attractions.

The associated hosted its first Colorado Lavender Festival in Palisade last year, an event that brought in about 3,500 people. Kimbrough expects attendance at the second annual festival, scheduled for July 6 to 8, to top 4,000. The festival will include vendors showcasing lavender products, demonstrations, workshops and tours of local growing operations.

A two-day conference scheduled for September in Grand Junction will focus on  developing products that add value to lavender. The association also expects to receive a specialty crop grant to help fund research into quantifying the qualities of essential oils extracted from lavender grown in Western Colorado, Kimbrough said.

While lavender doesn’t yet rival fruit and wine as an agricultural industry in the region, she believes all the conditions are in place for that prospect. “It’s the perfect storm for lavender.”

A master gardener who runs a garden design and consulting company called Garden Scentsations, Kimbrough long has incorporated lavender into her layouts. “It’s an amazing landscaping plant, and I use it in all my designs.”

In addition to its color and fragrance, lavender retains its foliage year around. Equally important, lavender is ideally suited to the growing conditions in Western Colorado with its arid climate and alkaline soils, Kimbrough said.

The same characteristics that make lavender a good plant for Western Slope landscapes also make it a good choice for commercial production, she said. Lavender can be grown as an alternative crop or potentially even grown alongside other crops, such as the rows between grapevines.

Moreover, there’s evidence lavender grown at higher elevations tends to produce higher quality essential oils than plants grown at lower elevations, she said.

Membership in the association has grown to 50 and includes everyone from crafters to commercial growers, Kimbrough said. Membership has expanded geographically as well and includes Delta, Garfield, Mesa and Montrose counties. “It’s a regional thing.”

The ultimate success of the lavender industry will depend on the ongoing efforts of those who grow and use the plant. But everything points to a growth industry, Kimbrough said. “I am so passionate about the prospects.”

So is Litz, who markets her lavender-filled products as a luxurious remedy for stress for her customers. “I want them to have a spa-type experience.”

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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