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Woodinville Lavender is the place to go for all things lavender

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Lavender 2Sequim is the lavender capital of the Northwest. The town is well-known for its annual festival that celebrates the aromatic plant and pays homage to it in a myriad of ways.

But, getting to Sequim from Woodinville can be a bit of a journey.

Now, local residents have a more accessible option when it comes to finding this alluring and fragrant flower, in the field and in product form.

Woodinville Lavender opened to the public last year and is slowly beginning to make a name for itself with locals and visitors alike.

Owners Tom and Brenda Frei bought the three-acre property off Woodinville-Redmond Road back in 2008. The local couple had been looking for suitable land to start a lavender farm when they spotted the space.

“It was ideal,” says Tom. “We knocked on the door to tell the people that if they ever wanted to sell, we would be interested in buying. It turns out they were a week away from calling a real estate agent.” He adds, “It was truly meant to be.”

Frei is no stranger to farms, as he grew up on one in Idaho and has always been an avid gardener. For several years, he had been searching for a business of his own. After visiting Sequim with his wife, he had an epiphany and upon his return, he began to plan how to make his idea into reality.

“Lavender is such a practical and hardy plant,” explains Frei. “You plant it once and you can get 15 years from it. It’s low maintenance and drought tolerant, and it also has no real pest or disease problem. And, of course, it’s beautiful, smells incredible and you can make thousands of products from it.”

In regards to the location of the farm, Frei comments that the growing conditions for lavender are optimal in the Sammamish Valley. Equally important is the fact that the property is right in the heart of the wine country.

He adds, “This gives it an agritourism component, which is really appealing to me.”

Though primarily Frei’s “baby,” Woodinville Lavender is a family effort, but one in which members (wife Brenda, sons Justin and Josh, daughter Nicole and daughter-in-law Brooke) help out when their “day jobs” permit them.

That includes Frei, too, who is a mechanical engineer for Aerojet in Redmond.

After spending the first couple years planting test beds of lavender and amending the soil, the local man was ready to take the next step and market the crop. He began selling bundles of lavender at local farmers markets and the response from customers was overwhelmingly positive.

Then came an assortment of value-added products, including lotions, bath salts, oils and soaps. Today, Frei sells over 100 items made with lavender, ranging from spice mixes, sugars and tea blends to candles, diffusers and eye and neck pillows.

“We keep adding more products, but it’s been a gradual process,” he explains. “Quality control is important. We need to make sure that each item we make meets a high standard before we put it on the market.”

Last year, Frei decided to stop selling at farmers markets due to the time commitment. Now, the farm is open to the public (weekends in winter and Wednesday-Sunday during the summer), along with a store featuring the various products available.

Come June, the fields will bloom and visitors can pick their own lavender or purchase it ready-to-go. Or, they can simply revel in the ooh and aah-worthy spectacle.

“I have about one acre that’s planted with 3,000 plants,” says Frei. “It’s less of an agricultural setting and more of a landscaped garden — more intimate.” He adds, “It lends itself to being a really nice wedding and special event venue, especially because we have both indoor and outdoor space. That’s what we’re working on marketing now, and actually, we have our first event here coming up in May.”

Although the business is steadily progressing, it has not been without challenges. One of the main problems is time.

Frei explains that there is a ton of opportunity, but not enough time.

He will be taking three months off of his job this summer and hopes to find someone to hire to help him with the farm.

Another issue is marketing. He says, “Right now, people learn about us via word-of-mouth or they pass by and see our sign up on the road. I need to decide how to spend my money wisely in order to market most effectively.”

And finally, Frei must determine how he can build the business to become sustainable. He adds, “My dream is to be big enough so I can do this full time. In five years, I’d like it to pay for itself and slowly replace my income.”

In the meantime, the local man is enjoying the response he gets each time someone visits the farm.

“The reward for me is seeing how excited people are when they see the lavender,” he says. “They’re so happy to find us and that feedback feels good. It makes me proud of what we’ve done here, what we’ve successfully started.”

For more information about Woodinville Lavender: (425) 398-3785 or www.WoodinvilleLavender.com.

New location, new name and new owner for Studio I

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Studio I
Photo courtesy of Studio I Sue Warter (front) and Beth Ith
Studio I Dance has been a fixture in the community for 26 years.

Most of that time, it has been housed at the same location, on the backside of the Woodgate shopping center.

Come next fall, however, the school will have new digs, along with a new director/owner and a new name.

Sue Warter, who has been at the helm of the studio since its inception, is passing the torch to her daughter, Beth Ith.

“I’ve basically grown up with the studio,” comments Ith. “My mom opened it when I was in fourth grade and I took classes for years and eventually became a teacher. I’ve always been passionate about dance.”

She adds, “My mom is ready at this point in life to hand the business over to me. She will still teach a few classes and help out at the front desk and I will, of course, look to her for advice. But, she feels that it’s time to take more of a back seat.”

As to the studio’s new location, Ith notes it will still be in Woodinville.

She says, “We’re moving into a place off of the Woodinville-Redmond Road in a more industrial area of town.”

Ith explains that the motivation for the change of venue stems from a need for more space, as well as a desire to be in a different area of the city with other businesses that are more appropriately suited to a dance school’s younger clientele. She points out that at the current location, there is a bar in close proximity to the studio. At 6,700 square-feet, the new facility will be almost double the size of the current studio. There will be three dance rooms, upgraded flooring and a better sound system, as well as a study area for students to do their homework and a more spacious waiting/observation lobby for parents.

“We feel that all these things will help to attract more students to Studio I and allow it to continue growing,” comments Ith.

With three young boys of her own, the local woman knows that her plate will be very full when she assumes responsibility for the dance school.

“It’s a big step for my family,” she says. “It’s a big journey and I’m nervous and excited at the same time. But, I have a wonderful husband and family who are very supportive of me, not to mention all of my great students and their families.”

She adds, “It’s still a bit scary when I think about it though.”

In regards to a name change, Ith decided she wanted a fresh start.

She notes that Studio I will always be associated with her mom who founded the school years ago.

“But, now it’s mine,” she says, “and I wanted it to have a new identity. It’s going to be called Rhythm & Soul Dance Studio.”

She emphasizes that though the name is changing, the heart of the studio will still be the same and Studio I will always remain a piece of the new school.

Ith attributes the success and longevity of Studio I to its environment, quality of instructors and the variety of classes offered.

“We are all about the personal connection here,” she explains. “We take the time to get to know our students. My students are like my kids. We’re a family here. I think this is a different type of experience than you might get at other studios.” Ith adds, “Our teachers are very skilled and they are constantly taking workshops and getting more training from well-known dance professionals. Because we have a dance competition team here, they know they need to keep up with the trends, techniques and choreography.”

A grand opening is planned for the new facility at the end of August/early September. Meanwhile, business is as usual at the current Studio I location.

“We’ll have our six-week summer session here while we do the build-out over at the new place,” says Ith. “And then we’ll open the doors in September.”

Local landscaping company makes significant changes to reduce its carbon footprint

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Propane Mower Clip courtesy
Courtesy photo Propane mower
Jeff and Linda Carroll, owners of Jefferson Landscaping in Woodinville, are proud to tell clients that their company is the first landscaping establishment in the state that has made a full conversion from gasoline to propane mowers.

It’s been a gradual process involving several years of research, motivated by the couple’s desire to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Initially, they converted two of their midsize mowers to propane to see how they would perform.

Impressed with the results, they proceeded to convert their entire fleet of mowers; a goal they recently achieved.

“Linda and I hope that Jefferson Landscaping can do its part in leaving this planet in better shape for generations to come, for our children and their children,” says Carroll.

He notes that by converting to propane, the company is able to meet or exceed state EPA Clean Air requirements; reduce toxic emissions up to 80 percent; decrease ozone and particulate emissions up to 60 percent; provide customers with a cleaner environment; conduct safer operations than with gasoline; and lessen fuel spillage and theft.

Carroll explains that propane is a non-toxic, colorless and odorless gas produced from natural gas processing and crude oil refining.

It’s clean, efficient and has long been recognized as an environmentally friendly energy that is safe for use at home and in business environments.

Propane is an approved alternate fuel listed in both the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the Natural Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The benefits of using propane lawn mowers are numerous according to Carroll.

He says, “There’s less exhaust, less fumes and less noise. And the emission results to our planet are immediate.”

He adds, “Propane doesn’t contaminate the environment like gasoline and diesel. One gasoline-powered mower, for example, pollutes as much in one hour as 40 late- model cars. The propane mowers, on the other hand, produce significantly less hydrocarbons than gasoline and diesel mowers. Hydrocarbons are a precursor to ground-level ozone, a serious air pollutant and component of smog.”

As for cost savings, Carroll comments that he should be able to recoup his investment in three years.

Now that the company’s mowers are all converted, the couple is in the process of converting all of the two-cycle, hand-held equipment, including blowers, weed eaters and hedge trimmers, to battery power.

This will also help to decrease pollution and noise levels.

“When our clients are having meetings at their home office, it will mean less noise while our team is there,” explains Carroll. “It will make for a less disruptive meeting. The same goes for the few commercial accounts we have. I have been in several meetings where the blowers and line trimmers were so loud we had to stop the session for the landscape technician to pass by because of the noise.”

The local man notes that making these types of changes involves challenges.

He says, “The products are so new, it’s all a learning curve for everyone involved from manufacturer to the contractor. You really have to make sure you are receiving the correct information. And, of course, new technology means the products are expensive.”

In Carroll’s opinion, it’s these factors – cost and learning curve – that are at the root of why the majority of companies are hesitant to make conversions.

He adds, “With new technology, there are always a few problems. We think, though, that the small problems we run into are worth a cleaner environment.”

Message from Leota students: ‘Be Kind’

  • Written by Deborah Stone
photo for Be Kind campaign
Courtesy Photo Leota students who spearheaded the campaign are left to right: Front row: Abi Burnett, Rachel Rosenbaum, Shailey Harris, Brenna Woods, Hannah McKenney; Back row: Christian Cline, Seth Hunt, Maddy Walker, Skylar Hein.
Bullying exists in our schools, some more than others.

At each building, administrators and teachers deal with the problem in a variety of different ways from giving large scale presentations to holding more intimate classroom conversations and discussions on the subject.

Sometimes students get in on the act, helping to spread an anti-bullying message throughout their school.

At Leota Jr. High, for example, a group of 8th and 9th grade kids stepped up to the plate and designed and implemented a “Be Kind” campaign to help improve school climate and culture.

The leaders who spearheaded the work – Shailey Harris, Maddy Walker, Skylar Hein, Rachel Rosenbaum, Christian Cline, Hannah McKenney, Seth Hunt, Brenna Woods and Abi Burnett – received mentorship assistance from Adam Zitzmann, Leota social studies and leadership teacher, and school counselors Michael Sauer and Heather Warme-Stead.

“The idea for the campaign came from discussions in my leadership class,” says Zitzmann. “Students identified the need to address the problem of ‘not being kind’ — not just bullying, but the general behaviors that exclude others such as rumors and gossip, as well as being mean on Facebook, etc. They created a committee to start a school wide ‘Be Kind’ movement at school and kicked off the campaign with a student-led assembly, which included a series of student made videos and a presentation by a guest speaker from Leota’s faculty.”

Zitzmann explains that during the course of the weeklong campaign, students received announcements about the specific theme for the day, which involved such actions as smiling at someone new, paying a compliment to a fellow student or giving high fives to others.

Additionally, counselors made visits to all social studies classes and led seminars on the importance of treating people with kindness.

At lunchtime, students could sign the Leota pledge to be kind, which involved promising to participate in the solution to stop bullying and to help make changes for the better, as well as to take steps to include others and encourage positive behavior.

Over 500 kids signed the pledge.

“Students were wonderful in their participation, from signing the pledge to reinforcing our theme by participating in holding doors for people, smiling and saying hi to people in the halls, to delivering compliments and high fives,” says Zitzmann. “Students know that being kind is a huge issue that impacts how people feel about themselves, their friends and their school.”

Eighth grader Skylar Hein, one of the leaders of the campaign, feels the campaign was a success.

She notes that almost everyone at the school signed a pledge and many did so independently and not as part of a group, commenting,

“We asked that kids make the decision to sign on their own as a way to make sure that it was something they truly wanted to do, and not because they felt pressured by their group.”

The 14-year-old student feels there is a real need for this type of message at her school. Although she emphasizes that the bullying problem is not pervasive at Leota, it still exists in less obvious forms.

“People think bullying is only physical because maybe that’s all they hear about or see on TV,” she explains. “But, it’s all the other little behaviors that are also bullying, like exclusion or gossiping and saying negative things about other people. We want students to be aware that these things are bullying, too, and that they can be just as damaging.”

Skylar knows about bullying personally as she was a victim of it in elementary school.

She describes the feeling of being excluded by two girls in her class, saying, “I felt like I didn’t belong and it made me very sad.”

Thankfully, the teen talked about what was happening with some other kids who went to her aid by confronting the bullies.

The girls apologized for their behavior and later even became friends with Skylar.

Although Seth Hunt hasn’t been a victim of bullying, he has seen it happen to others.

The Leota ninth grader explains: “I’ve heard comments made about other kids’ appearances, for example, comments that were very negative and insulting. Kids sometimes think they’re joking when they say these things, but I know these kind of comments can really hurt.”

The teen, who also helped to spearhead the “Be Kind” campaign, notes that being kind is something students at his school need to work on, adding, “Kids want to feel cool and be a part of the ‘in’ group. They think smiling isn’t cool. It’s not part of our culture. We need to change this. If smiling and trying to make others feel good about themselves are a part of our culture, then more people will do these things automatically.”

Though the official campaign only lasted for a week, there will be follow-ups throughout the remainder of the year to help perpetuate the message.

Seth explains that the “Be Kind” signs will remain up in the school and all those students that signed a pledge will receive special “Be Kind” wristbands when their pledges are later returned to them.

He says, “We’re going to wrap up the pledges with the wristbands so everyone will have something to remind them of the campaign.”

He adds, “We need to continue with the message because if we stop, everything will stop.”

Zitzmann hopes to build on the themes of kindness in order to lower the number of students who feel disconnected to school because of bullying, as well as to empower others to keep up the momentum of the movement.

Leota principal Obadiah Dunham was very impressed by the campaign, noting that the ideas, planning and work were all carried out by students.

He says, “Messages always seem to have the greatest impact when they are created by students.”

He adds: “The students’ ability to recognize the impact of how they treat each other and wanting to remind everyone how to be positive was the power of the entire week.”

Though it’s too early to know if the campaign will have lasting impact, Dunham believes that anytime there is a positive student-focused message, it has a positive impact on school climate.

“Both students and staff benefitted from the reminder regarding the impact their actions have on others,” he comments. “The students delivered the message in a manner that resonated with everyone. Because Leota has a culture of a kind and caring school, an activity like this is more an outgrowth of that culture rather than an attempt to affect the culture.”

In step with WHS’s foreign exchange students

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Lisa Witzel
Courtesy Photo. Lisa Witzel
There are two foreign exchange students enrolled at WHS this year, Lisa Witzel and Rasmus Jorgensen.

Witzel hails from Cologne, Germany and is currently a sophomore. She arrived last August and has been staying in the home of host parents, Kim and Kirk Eldred.

The teen’s interest in other cultures, combined with a desire to improve her English speaking abilities, were motivating reasons behind her decision to study abroad.

“I had done weeklong exchanges before in France, England and Israel,” she explains, “but I really wanted to spend a year someplace and get to know the culture. As I had never been to the U.S., I thought it would be cool to come here.”

The Eldreds chose Witzel based on her Aspect Foundation application, which is how she ended up in Woodinville. And she’s glad she did. “It’s a really nice place,” she says. “People are very friendly and I like the scenery here.”

Jorgensen Seattle marathon courtesy
Courtesy Photo Rasmus Jorgensen after finishing the Seattle Marathon
As to the rain, she notes that Cologne can be damp, too, but not quite as gray as this area. Though it’s been many months since that first day of school back in fall, Witzel still remembers her emotions vividly. “I was very nervous,” she comments. “I thought no one would like me or that no one would be able to understand me.”

It was a relief for her to discover that the students were friendly and that her English was more than passable. “I adjusted easily,” she adds, “because everyone was helpful, both students and teachers. They made me feel very comfortable.”

During the course of the school year, Witzel has taken an array of classes including Spanish, English, tech drama, math, history, ceramics and aerobics. She has also served as a teaching assistant in a German class. Her favorite courses have been Spanish and tech drama.

“I like learning languages and I especially like the sound of Spanish,” says the multi-lingual teen, who also speaks German, English and French. “Tech drama has been very interesting,” she adds, “because it’s shown me that there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Culturally, Witzel notes that there are a few differences between the two countries. She points out that Americans are more open than their German counterparts and friendlier at the first encounter. They also don’t mind sharing personal information; whereas, Germans tend to keep such facts to themselves until the relationship has had time to solidify. As for education, she says, “We have more required classes in high school in Germany. Also, the schools are more separated. After fourth grade, your teacher advises you about the next school you should enter, where you will then stay until you graduate high school. High level academic students go to a university bound program.

Then there are those who go to a secondary school and then there’s another choice for others who are less academic-minded.” Witzel also notes that teachers here take more time and effort to ensure that students understand the material.

“That’s not the case in Germany,” she adds. The teen feels that her study abroad experience has been very valuable on many levels. “I’m much more confident speaking English,” she says. “I’ve made good friends. And I’ve learned a lot about American culture, which makes me understand it better.”

When she leaves the U.S. in late June, Witzel explains that she will truly miss the people she has met here, especially her host family. “They’ve been great,” she says. “They treat me like I’m one of their kids and have made me feel a part of their family.”

Rasmus Jorgensen, the other foreign exchange student at WHS, is from Thyboron, Denmark, a small fishing village with a population of about 3,000.

Originally, he was supposed to attend Aviation High School in Seattle, but an issue arose with his host family situation that altered these plans. “My host family had cats and I found out that I was very allergic to them,” explains Jorgensen. “I was temporarily sent to Bellingham where I stayed with two different families for two weeks before I was sent to Woodinville to live with the Berkey family. At first, the school wasn’t going to let me in because I was starting late, but they did.”

Jorgensen wasn’t too disappointed to learn that he would not be going to Aviation High School, despite his career plans to be an airline pilot.

“Woodinville offered lots of sports and activities that Aviation doesn’t,” he comments, “and I like sports and wanted to be involved in them while I was here.”

The teen adapted to his new surroundings relatively easily, but he admits that hearing English nonstop was like “being smacked in the face” in the beginning. After a while, though, his language skills improved and he no longer felt communication overload. His course load at school has included a variety of subjects including French, drama, English, U.S. history, precalculus and aerobics. Most challenging have been English and precalculus, but both have gotten more manageable during the course of the school year.

Drama has been one of his favorite classes, primarily because of the people involved in the acting program. “I have a ton of friends there, and it’s like being a part of a family,” he comments.

As for the teachers, Jorgensen notes that most are very passionate about teaching and care about their students. He adds, “But, they have a lot of control in the classroom, compared to teachers in Denmark. Here, the environment is more restricted and teachers have a lot of power. In Denmark, teachers are more on an even level with students.”

As for the students, the teen says that everyone has been friendly and outgoing, though he points to the tendency of people to stay on the “surface.” He explains: “They say ‘hi’ and ‘how are you?’ but then that’s it.”

He has also noticed that American teens are more modest about their bodies than their counterparts in Denmark. Playing sports has been one of the highlights of Jorgensen’s experience at WHS. He has been involved with both the cross-country and soccer teams. “We don’t have school sports in Denmark. If you want to play, you have to find a team outside of school. Here, there are tryouts and cuts and it’s very competitive, but I like it. I also like all the school spirit that the students show for their teams.”

Life in the U.S. has basically agreed with the teen, with the exception of Seattle’s rain and American food. He thinks there is too much fast food in this country and all of it is “awful!” Since he’s been here, Jorgensen has done some traveling around the state, as well as to California and Las Vegas. This isn’t his first time to the U.S., as five years ago, he and his family took a trip to the East Coast and Canada. Visiting a country as a tourist, though, provides a very different experience than actually living in it. “You really get to know the culture when you live in a place for a while,” comments Jorgensen. “You can understand why people do things, why they think and believe certain things. That’s why I feel that being a foreign exchange student is such a good opportunity. It’s a chance to see the world and open your mind.”