Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vashon Island: Lavender Fields Forever

Today’s post is a detour from my trip along the Cascade Loop; I’m off to Vashon Island just south of Seattle in Puget Sound. Any trip to Vashon feels like a trip back to the more bucolic, less populated Northwest I remember as a kid growing up east of Portland. So I relish my annual trips over to “the Rock” to help the Lavender Sisters harvest their organically grown lavender.

Northwest + Lavender = Festivals
Although many people think rain when they think of the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascade Mountains we’re technically in a classic Mediterranean climate with mild, temperate winters and generally warm and dry summers. Perfect conditions for growing lavender, which has become increasingly popular in our region. Lavender festivals draw thousands of visitors each summer to the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, and Vashon, which celebrates its seventh annual Lavender Farm Tour July 11 and 12 this year.

Heading Over
Julie, Felicity, and I head over for the Lavender Sisters’ first harvest of the season just a week ahead of the farm tour. Summer blesses us with a perfect day—clear blue skies and 75 degrees. We hop on the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry for the quick 15-minute ride across the Sound.

We couldn’t have asked for a more lovely setting to harvest. Crescent Falls Organic Farm lies on a slope above Colvos Passage, a blue ribbon of sea that separates Vashon from the Kitsap Peninsula to the west. As we coast down the long driveway to the farm, we pass rows of lavender that resemble giant fuzzy purple caterpillars lying side by side.

Coming Together
This is my fifth season harvesting for the Sisters, and I always enjoy coming back for more. As we pile out of the car and gather outside the beautiful craftsman-style “farmhouse,” it’s an annual reunion as I exchange hugs with the Lavender Sisters—Katy Jo, Merrilee, and Dana. “Welcome!” cries Katy Jo as she embraces us, “So nice to see you again!”

About 15 or 20 of us, young and old, ranging in age from about 7 to 87, walk to the upper field to harvest today. “Okay, everybody into a circle,” says Katy Jo as we grasp hands, “and introduce yourself.” And we begin, as the Lavender Sisters call it, our community in the field.

Cut, Strip, Bundle, and Run
Although I came with a couple girlfriends, I team up with gorgeous fortysomething sisters Renee and Sheila, tall and robust farm assistant Camille, and Lavender Sister Dana. We form an assembly line between lush rows of royal velvet lavender. I’m a buncher today and take my position next to the stripper. (No, it’s not naked in the fields.) Our stripper grabs a hunk of freshly cut lavender from our cutter, shakes loose the “scunge” or “shamba” (that’s Dana-speak for withered or too-short stalks), runs her hands quickly down the stems to loosen and strip stray leaves, then hands it off to me. I check for uniform bundle size, loop a rubber band around the bottom of the bundle, and place it atop a freshly shorn lavender shrub, ready for the runner to come take it away.

"Don’t worry about the bees, they’re too drunk on lavender to bother you,” shouts Dana across the field. After the first few bundles, the pace picks up and our assembly line scrambles to keep up.
Soon we find our groove and conversation springs up naturally. We learn what each other does for a living. We figure out our six degrees of separation, although usually it’s just one or two degrees. In our little group today we discover that four out of five of us grew up in Portland. Three of us even went to the same high school. Our community is taking shape.

Good Food and Friends
This afternoon’s harvest went quickly, and soon we’re heading down to the house for our reward—a fabulous dinner of a mostly island-grown green salad, fresh salmon caught by Katy Jo’s husband Steve, hunks of whole grain artisan bread, and a rich, flavorful potato-fennel gratin. And of course good wine. Everybody is happy. Like the bumble bees, we’re all drunk on the heady, complex scent of lavender, fresh air, and plenty of sunshine. Unlike the bees, we’ve also got fun conversations with interesting new friends. IMO, life doesn’t get much better. Oh yea, there’s also that gorgeous sunset over the Olympic Mountains as our backdrop on the ferry ride home. Like I said….

When You Go
Click here for information on the 2009 Vashon Lavender Farm Tour. Don’t bother driving on the ferries and fighting traffic and long weekend lines. This year there will be a free shuttle running between farms. If you’d like to join a harvest with the Lavender Sisters, email them at In the Seattle area you can buy their lovely lavender at Metropolitan Markets through most of July.


Barry said...

Great post, Jill. Indeed, life doesn't get much better than working with others on a sunny day!

Dana said...

Beautiful! thank you! Best, dana

Karen said...

Thanks for writing this! I grew up in East Portland (Madison High
School). Your blog was very nostalgic, since we did Sunday drives out
to Crown Point for popcorn, later spent spring/summers hiking in the
Columbia Gorge and winters skiing at Timberline. I do the train-ride
to Portland often, starting with a bus-ride I catch at the foot of
Wesleyan Way where I live on Vashon and ending with a walk downhill
from the Burnside MAX drop-off down to my mom's house by Glendoveer
golf course. Talk about walkability...

Karen Dale
2009 promoter for the Lavender Farm Tour

Susan said...

This was a beautiful description--I harvested the other morning and always look forward to my time spent with such an eclectic, interesting, positive group of people. The weekend should be glorious.

Sharia said...

Ahhh, what a glorious day you describe, Jill. Bees drunk on lavender, giant fuzzy purple caterpillars... a delight for all senses. I've always loved the color purple in nature, especially against the backdrop of our lush northwest green. Thanks for the marvelous sojourn!

Anonymous said...

just had time to catch up on back postings - love your stuff, in a better world you would be paid for this beautiful writing. Miss you kiddo


Katy Jo said...

Dear Jill,

I just had time to read your blog. Thank you so much for helping us to relive the first harvest of the season. I really love coming togeather in the fields. Last nite was the final evening harvest, so your blog bookened it for me. We still have to clear the lavender for oil and drying, but this a a different harvest, done in the mornings.


Katy Jo

Kathy O. said...

I want lavender lemonade.

Ok Jill, this blog is gorgeous--everything about it, from writing to photography to layout. It makes you want to do, see and taste!

And yes, it'd be a great book!