By William Woody of The Daily Sentinel Grand Junction
Lavender, for many people throughout the West, is simply a decorative bush used in landscape designs.
For Palisade peach farmer Ron Rish, it’s another source of income.
At his Cloud Terrace Farm on Friday, hundreds of pounds of lavender grown and harvested by Rish were placed into a large still owned by Olathe farmers Roxi and Bob Lane, who brought it to Palisade on a flatbed trailer.
The distillation process is relatively simple. Heat the purple bloom for two hours in the cooking container and listen as steam loaded with aromatic oils is transformed back into water and drained into jars.
The resulting essential oils are sold throughout the Grand Valley, which is a prime location for growing the plant.
Lavender thrives in hot dry climates such as in western Colorado, and demand for the plant’s healing properties and cooking applications have turned many farmers such as Rish into commercial growers. He has been growing lavender for two years.
“I did some research and found that lavender grows well in areas where vineyards are,” Rish said.
He then threw up his hands and proclaimed, “This area seems like a good fit to me.”
When the lavender is harvested, it means business for the Lanes, who travel from grower to grower, from Palisade to the North Fork Valley, distilling lavender. They say it’s become a booming industry.
Kathy Kimbrough, president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado, sees huge potential in lavender as a cash crop in Western Colorado.
“You see places like California and Washington producing large quantities of lavender, and I thought: ‘Why not here, why not us?’ ” she said.
According to Kimbrough, there are 16,000 commercial lavender plants in Western Colorado and 20 commercial growers from Palisade to Paonia, numbers she hopes will grow in the coming years.
Palisade, known for its peach orchards and grape vineyards, stands to benefit from an influx of lavender farms, she said.
“There’s huge potential for agritourism with this type of operation,” Kimbrough said.
The lavender association teamed up with the Colorado State University extension office in Grand Junction to study the sustainability of lavender in the area. The plant is a perennial, which means it grows back each year, and it can have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. It’s harvested in July, the peak growth of the plant.
The Lavender Association of Western Colorado, a nonprofit organization created in 2009, works to sell the lavender oils, salves and other products at farmers markets in the area.
“It’s a way to create jobs,” Kimbrough said.
Next year, Kimbrough and the association will look at hosting a lavender festival in Palisade as a way to promote the crop.
“We hope to make Palisade the lavender capital of ... the world,” she said with a laugh.
About a dozen or so members of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado were on hand to help in the distillation process Friday at Cloud Terrace Farm.
Anybody interested in viewing the association’s next distillery operation is invited to the Redlands home of Linda Arnos on Aug. 28 at 2102 South Broadway.