Lavender is branching out

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Victor Gonzales is serious about lavender. He grows it year-round and ships lavender all over the United States and Canada.

He is so well-known that last year he spent two weeks in Lebanon helping farmers find the perfect land and climate to produce lavender in that country by the Mediterranean Sea.

Gonzales says he met good people and trained about 150 to work with lavender.

His first task was finding the correct soil and temperatures. The land around the capital of Beirut was not right for lavender but he found some good lavender soil in the mountains with the right climate for the plant.

"Beautiful country (but a) different culture, different food, different people," Gonzales says.

Next he had to help the farmers find the correct varieties for their land. This fall he will return to help with planting and share tips on growing and harvesting.

"I started a long time ago and made lots of mistakes until I got it right. It is nice to share my experience," he says.

Gonzales was contacted to do this by the Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance. This group uses long-term help from volunteers to foster economic growth in agribusiness, food security, enterprise development, financial services and community development in 130 developing countries.

Gonzales is part of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program that uses successful growers to help others. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and looks forward to returning.

Other volunteers with the organization will help the Lebanese farmers make extractors to get the essential oil from the lavender and find markets for it.

Canada, East Coast sales stay strong

Gonzales says 80 percent of his sales come directly from the Internet. More than half of his plants are being shipped to Canada and the East Coast.

Despite a down economy, lavender sales have remained steady or increased, at least for this Sequim farmer.

A problem he sees in his line of lavender business is with so many start-up lavender sellers, customers aren't sure what they're getting

until years later, when the plants are fully grown.

"They find out three years later, it's not what they wanted," he says. But, he adds without a hint of overdeveloped pride, his customers know exactly what they're getting: quality plants and expert advice.

Gonzales now grows more than 60 varieties of lavender and says most of his work with growing and harvesting is during the fall and winter.

He also does professional consulting at his farm.

"My one-on-one consulting services are really more like a personalized eight-hour workshop," Gonzales says. "It is not for people who just have a few questions. When I go into a consulting session, I literally start from the ground up to find ways to make their lavender and business healthier."

Gonzales is a member of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association and will have a booth called Victor's Lavender at the Lavender Festival from July 16-18.

Any new customers he gets now, however, may be disappointed. Gonzales says he's sold out of most of his plants, save a few for the festival.

"I have to tell new customers to wait for fall or next spring. They say, 'What?' (But) I can't propagate now. They are blooming."


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