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Will early bloom wow the crowd?
All signs point to perfect lavender-picking weather for the Sequim Lavender Weekend from July 19-21.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Vickie Oen, president of the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association.
She and other farmers saw rain sprinkle on thousands of visitors the past two years, which led to fewer people than expected. Yet, lavender is blooming early or on time at most of the Sequim farms, leading to early crowds.
Paul Jendrucko, media relations coordinator for the Sequim Lavender Festival, said patronage at their farms has been outstanding so far.
“It has a lot to do with the plant being in bloom two to three weeks early,” he said. “The public has responded to it. The pre-festival activities are probably the best that I’ve seen in a decade. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be a festival extravaganza.”
Lavender Weekend is packed with lavender-related activities coordinated by two groups running separate events — the Sequim Lavender Festival hosted by the Sequim Lavender Growers Association and the Sequim Lavender Farm Faire hosted by the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association.
The growers operate a free, self-guided farm tour with seven farms and the free street fair on Fir Street with live music, more than 150 vendors and more.
The farmers run the free Lavender Arts & Crafts Fair in Carrie Blake Park and the Water Reuse Demonstration Park with vendors, live music and 100-plus vendors. They also continue the Heritage Farm Tour with six farms that require paid admission.
Advanced tickets are $10 through Thursday evening online at www.sequimlavender.org and at several local businesses. They are $15 through the weekend with one-day passes $12 and discounts for children 12 and under and active military.
This year the farm faire stopped its tour buses due to cost. Oen said they’ve seen a drop in bus ridership and it would force them to raise ticket prices if they kept it.
“We assume there must be a younger demographic of people coming up and/or people just prefer to stay in their cars to the farms,” she said. “There’s the time factor, too. It takes longer on the buses but now people have GPS and can punch it in and find it easily.”
Jendrucko said they’ve seen a shift in the age of attendees, with more people in their 20s and 30s.
“There is a slice of society interested in the plant and effects the plant has and we’re tapping into that with our food, music and our products,” he said.
To accommodate the growing, traveling crowds, the groups partnered again on a free city shuttle that travels to JCPenney, Sequim Middle School, Lavender Festival Street Fair, Sequim Farmers Market, QFC, North Blake Avenue parking lot, Lavender Arts & Crafts Fair in the Park, and west and eastbound at Second Avenue and Washington Street. Due to the high traffic at Purple Haze Lavender, there will be a shuttle there, too.
The groups went separate ways in early 2011 and partnering on the shuttle went well, presidents of the groups said.
Scott Nagel, executive director for the farm faire, said having two events only means more for tourists to see and do.
“We are moving on and able to produce one of the best festivals in Washington while not dwelling on what happened in the past,” said Mike Greenhaw, president of the growers association and co-owner of Martha Lane Lavender.
The City of Sequim finds in the second year of Sequim Lavender Weekend, the neutral effort to promote all lavender events is going smoothly.
Barbara Hanna, city communications and marketing director, said many of the problems were worked out last year, so implementation has been much easier.
Flow into town
One of the biggest complaints the events receive centers on the stream of traffic into Sequim.
Oen said the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce has received complaints from all kinds of people about traffic, from truckers running behind schedule to people missing weddings and ferry appointments.
Trooper Russ Winger with Washington State Patrol said if traffic backs up to Diamond Point Road from Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm on U.S. Highway 101, troopers will move a barrier into position preventing left turns into the farm.
“Troopers will do manual traffic control until the backup clears then remove the barricade,” he said. “If eastbound traffic backs to Guiles Road, then the same thing applies.”
Winger said Sunshine will only allow cars into its main entrance and exiting vehicles will go on a private road east of the farm as a right turn only.
The U.S. Highway 101 widening project from Kitchen-Dick Road to Shore Road isn’t a hindrance for lavender organizers, they said.
Greenhaw said Martha Lane Lavender has seen an increase in visitors this summer with some traffic detoured down Kitchen-Dick.
Oen said the farmers group typically sends people down Old Olympic Highway when visiting farms like Washington Lavender and now Victor’s Lavender anyway, so traffic should be better this year coming into town.
Changes in 2013
Visitors might notice more changes this year to their popular U-picking stomping grounds.
Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm is no longer part of the farmers association and has opted to open its doors for free through the weekend.
Port Williams Lavender Farm owners Mike and Sue Shirkey retired from farming and are joining Dan and Janet Abbott at Washington Lavender.
Moose Dreams Lavender Farm, operated by Beth Norris and Barbara Landbeck, joins Victor’s Lavender, too.
One of the original founding members of the Sequim Lavender Festival, Mary Borland-Liebsch, said this their last year as a U-pick spot, too.
She and her husband Bruce are likely to close a deal soon with a Dungeness family after putting the farm up for sale 2½ years ago. The local family plans to keep the name and tradition of Olympic Lavender while Borland-Liebsch and her husband plan to stay in the area, too.
“For me, it’s the last hurrah,” Borland-Liebsch said. “We’ll be with them a year mentoring them.”
But for the weekend, she plans to relax and have a good time. “Hopefully, I get to see the people who come back year after year and say goodbye,” she said.
They’ll have a stripped-down version compared to recent years with few vendors, which Borland-Liebsch compares to her first Lavender Festival. “It’s going to be pretty low-key,” she said.
Getting in a groove
A few newer farmers are finding their niche after a couple of years.
Dan and Janet Abbott joined the farm faire three years ago and Dan said he finds there’s still a lot of buzz.
“We’re hoping for the best,” he said.
Leading up to the weekend, they are performing final touches and stocking up on products in the gift shop. But the work never stops as a bed and breakfast, Dan said.
The couple emphasizes culinary lavender items from syrups to peppers to sugar.
Janet said she’s always experimenting and it’s all made locally.
They also are expanding their offerings with live Baroque music from Dewey Ehling and about 20 musicians who play 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Vern Frykholm returns as George Washington to tie the historical theme together. The Abbotts open up their back hall for a high tea while Dan plans to distill lavender with Mike Shirkey, from whom he bought his distiller at Port Williams Lavender.
“I’m learning the process from Mike. He’s well known for his distillation,” Dan said. “He’s done a lot I want to learn.”
Greenhaw recently retired from Boeing to work full time at Martha Lane Lavender, which he and his wife, Julie Ingram Greenhaw, run.
In the past few years, he said they’d come to the farm on weekends to maintain it, which was difficult. It’s still hard work, he said, but now his full-time job is the farm and its 7,000 plants between two fields.
“In the past we could harvest about two-thirds of the plants, but I hope this year it’ll be around 90 percent,” he said.
Two weeks ago was the most dramatic time so far on the farm, Greenhaw said, as he weeded the fields and readied products.
“I want to make sure we have a welcoming reception for visitors and they have a great experience,” he said.
With early blooming, he and most farmers anticipate harvesting plants next week.
In the next year, he anticipates even more changes on the farm as they finish their house and install demonstration gardens with up to 100 different types of lavender.
Nagel said they still find after 17 years the farmers must work hard to get the word out about their events.
“A lot of people who don’t, that once the groups split, the farm tours is still there,” he said.
With the rain gone and attendance down, he is optimistic that ticket sales for the tour will rebound.
Jendrucko said there have been unseasonably warm years where the Red Cross had to help some people, but this seems like a good year.
“We’ve gone back to a typical lavender harvest weekend,” he said.