GTPulse: Soothing The Senses with Harbor View Nursery and Lavender Farm
Old Mission is known for its beauty, incredible views, and wineries. It’s a place that Sonja Richards cherishes. The home she and her husband Bret Richards own on Old Mission is where they’ve run Harbor View Lavender Farm for the past 27 years, initially as a nursery, and adding lavender 12 years ago.
“It was really Bret’s idea, I just got sucked in.” she said.
She went into business with him after the two moved to the 12-acre farm together. They met in college where Bret was studying plant nursery operations, and Sonja was studying to be a teacher. Together they have turned their home into a thriving plant nursery and business.
Lavender is popular for a variety of reasons. It has antibacterial, stress-relieving, and fragrant properties. Studies have shown that lavender reduces anxiousness and sleeplessness and that it could be beneficial for skin health too. These qualities make it a favorite natural ingredient for skin care, cleaning, and culinary products. Though the Richards’ love the perennial herb for those reasons they began growing it as a way to grow with the ever-expanding tourist season. Sonja grew up in Elk Rapids and has seen the season slowly get longer in her time as a businesswoman.
“When I grew up tourist season here was from May to September. Now, people are coming up as early as they can. Typically though, in early spring we’re catering mostly to our locals. We had always sold lavender as a perennial herb. When we started our nursery, there were not any wineries open yet on Old Mission Peninsula. They’ve really bumped up tourism and traffic. We always had a little bit of tourist traffic, but nothing like what we have now. Our season was really short, we were done around the Fourth of July. So, this was a way that we could offer a family-oriented thing, or something for couples or ladies.”
The lavender season runs from May to around October, and this year even stretched into November. With the first frost behind us, the remaining lavender was harvested and approximately 50,000 bushels of sprigs hang in a barn on the property. I was able to go a few weeks ago. Cool, shady cross-breezes carries the soothing sent around you, and seeing that many bushels of lavender is pretty cool.
“All of the culinary products use dried bud. That lavender we dry goes into that, we use it in our food products, we use it in our neck wrap, eye pillows, sachets, anything that like that. If you’re going to use essential oil, then you can extract fresh or dried, and it goes into a copper still. It takes about five pounds of lavender to get an ounce of oil.”
When they decided to grow lavender it was important to them to be authentic and use what they grew in their products they make. They’ve been loyal to that philosophy, and in turn, customers have been loyal to them.
“I feel like if I change the body butter recipe or the lip balm, people would hunt me down and be very angry,” she laughed.
12 fields of lavender stretch over five acres of the farm. They won’t begin to bloom again until sometime in May or June.
“The biggest bang for your buck is the first week or two of July. If you want to see purple, that’s the best time to come.”
It’s become a tradition for locals, and a delight to tourists to explore the farm and farm store. Although both are closed for the season, their Harbor View Lavender Farm store is open in downtown Traverse City at 121 E Front St STE 200, inside of Front Row Centre, as well as their online shop too. The holiday rush will keep them busy until the start of next season where Sonja will get to do what she loves most; giving customers a wonderful experience.
“I really enjoy talking to people at the farm. I like finding out where they’re from and what they’re doing here and where they’ve gone out to eat. I like telling them where they should take their kids. Making the products is fun too. When everything falls into place, it’s really fun.”
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