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Lavender festival kicks off this weekend

by: JOSH KULLA - The lavender fields at Barn Owl Nursery in Stafford are shown here during a recent sunset. Similar sights will abound at local farms and nurseries during this weekends Oregon Lavender Festival.Everyone loves lavender.

And why not? The plant’s purple flowers and sweet aroma combine with the hum of swarms of bumblebees to mark the start of July in the Willamette Valley. And right now is the best time of the year to head out to any of the dozens of local farms and nurseries growing lavender and find the perfect plant or product.

The 12th annual Oregon Lavender Destinations Tour and Festival, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14, provides that opportunity in one easy package. There are 22 participating farms and nurseries in the festival, which is essentially a self-guided tour for the public all wrapped together under the aegis of the Oregon Lavender Association. by: JOSH KULLA - Barn Owl Nursery owner Chris Mulder dries freshly harvested lavendar in a special room.

“It’s nice because we’ve joined forces,” said Chris Mulder, co-owner of Barn Owl Nursery in the unincorporated Stafford area northeast of Wilsonville. “We each have our own talents and we each have our own offerings. Some of us do alpacas; one is a winery. It’s people looking for a secondary crop in a lot of cases if they’re growing something else, like wine grapes. Some even want people to come u-pick. It’s such a wide range.”

Mulder has grown lavender in Stafford for more than 30 years, following in the footsteps of her father, a longtime Stafford farmer. At Barn Owl Nursery, named for the owls that still inhabit the family’s old barn and keep the rodents at bay, the Mulders grow not just lavender but a host of culinary herbs good for cooking, eating or even medicinal use.

“Because I do herbs, I’m into educating people about it,” Mulder said. “I have my own recipes.”

Mulder also likes to educate her customers, many of whom also are hobbyist growers, through her own meticulous gardens of lavender, which surround the family’s house and driveway, as well as the small gift shop and drying room in back where shoppers will find lavender in an astounding array of forms, some for decoration, some edible and some for a range of household uses.

“My father did that too at his nursery,” she said. “He convinced me years ago with herbs, that you show people what they look like full grown. And for most of my customers, it’s people who have just a yard rather than a field, or even those in apartments or condos, they want to grow lavender in a pot.”

Those are exactly the people Mulder and other festival organizers hope to draw to participating farms and nurseries this weekend.

Many sites feature lavender plants and products, while some, including Barn Owl, also will host artisan booths, crafts, demonstrations and activities. Other participating businesses include the Helvetia Lavender Farm, Jackson School Lavender, Lavender at Stonegate, Liberty Natural Products/The Oregon Lavender Farm and Mountainside Lavender.

Photographers even have the opportunity to take part by submitting lavender- themed images to the fourth annual OLA photo contest.

“It’s great, because when I joined it six years ago I had been doing my own little lavender festival since 1998,” Mulder said.

When two existing events in Portland and Yamhill County decided to merge and form a single comprehensive event, she said, the Oregon Lavender Association was born. A nonprofit organization, it meets four times a year and features different levels of membership for different types of growers ranging from commercial to countertop.

“There’s so many different people interested in lavender we decided we’d open it up to lavender lovers,” Mulder said. “They can come to our meetings and learn from us. The next step up would be someone who wants to be in business, but not at the market or festival level.”

Like each event before it, this year’s festival features some turnover in those who are taking part. So plan a day out by visiting OregonLavenderDestinations.com for a complete list of destinations, activities and maps. For details, visit OregonLavenderFestival.org.

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