|Woodinville Lavender is the place to go for all things lavender|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
ShareSequim 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.