22 May 2023

Real Maine Member Q & A: Lavender Farming

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The sky’s the limit for items made from lavender, Steep Falls farmer says

We spoke recently with Tammy Braun of Real Maine member Braun’s Riverside Lavender Farm in Steep Falls about growing the aromatic plant in Maine and its uses.

Tammy and her husband, Retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Mark Braun, established the farm in 2015, with a goal of cultivating the 13-acre property into a retirement retreat. Since then, Riverside Lavender Farm has grown to nearly 8,000 lavender plants.  

When is peak harvesting time for lavender?

Lavender in our little part of Maine begins to pop around the last week of June. The Munstead variety arrives first, then the phenomenal variety chases its heels by one to two weeks. So peak harvest is the last of June through the end of July. At that point, anything left in the fields is still very useful in several products, but not pretty enough to sell as it is. 

What are the properties of lavender that make it as versatile as it is?

If you type lavender into any search engine, the benefits come back at you by the millions – most are medical-based in nature. In a recent article, Dr. Yufang Lin of the Cleveland Clinic shared “lavender’s eclectic list of potential benefits,” including supporting sleep; reducing pain and inflammation; helping with mood, anxiety, and depression; killing viruses and bacteria; reducing colic symptoms; and improving the skin’s ability to produce collagen post-surgery.

What products are made from the lavender harvested on your farm?

Products are at the sole discretion of creativity. We use essential oil in lots of products, and that oil comes from the flowers and stems of plants on this farm. They are harvested, chopped, and put through a distiller. From there, we use the oils for plain essential oil, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, bath products, salts, scrubs, perfumes, and many other things. The flowers themselves are used to make wreaths, extract, and blooms for cooking, liquors, syrups, salts, and stuffing scent for other products like pillows, blankets, quilts, sensory soothing pads for babies, and dog bedding. We have even made ponchos and aprons with lavender blossoms sewn into the hemlines. We stuff felted rabbits for children who are involved in some sort of crisis and have them on hand for police and sheriff’s departments. Pretty much, if we can think it, we can make it. 

What is something Mainers might not know about lavender?

I think the first fact that shocked us was that lavender grows in Maine at all. That it grows so amazingly was a bonus. Due to its versatility and popularity as an herb, and as a spa product, culinary ingredient, and for homeopathic use, it is absolute perfection as a plant. It is an easy plant to maintain and can make an exceptional small business.

Outline some examples of your farm helping the community.

Not only do we have lavender on site, but our property runs along the banks of the Saco River. Mark, being in the US Marine Corps for 26 years, has a special fondness for veterans. We do many things here to support veterans and their families. We hold retreats and offer camping opportunities. We have started a non-profit called “I Am Enough” that offers recreational and therapeutic opportunities to women and children who are victims to domestic violence and/or sexual assault or abuse. One of our greatest joys is working with local school departments and their special needs kids, as it pertains to behavioral issues. On a smaller scale, we have created a neighborhood of friends who help and support each other.

Real Maine is the state’s official agriculture and agritourism promotions program. From lavender and lavender products to berries to ice cream sundaes, plan your Real Maine summer agricultural experience. Visit www.RealMaine.com to connect to farms, food, and agriculture throughout Maine.