A labyrinth of lavender
La PORTE — All things lavender. And then some.
That sums up Lakeside Lavender and Herbs, 273 W. Johnson Road in La Porte, described as “a company dedicated to honoring the tradition of wholesale living” on their website, www.lakesidelavenderandherbs.com.
A series of unexpected events led Mike and Doreen King to launch their agricultural enterprise. Before their youngest son, Dusty, and bride-to-be, Courtney’s upcoming wedding in 2012, Doreen went on a quest to find fresh lavender for a special bridal shower keepsake.
“We didn’t know that we couldn’t get fresh lavender in September,” she explained, as its short season runs from mid-June to mid-August.
Through her nation-wide search, Doreen discovered a network of lavender growers among healthy retirees.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that is the answer.’ That’s how it got planted in my head – that it would be a loving endeavor (in our retirement years). We had the ability to grow things and the space to grow it in,” she went on.
Unfortunately, Mike, 50 years old at the time, suffered a stroke before the wedding. He had previously served his community through a career in law enforcement with the La Porte Police Department, and later worked in retail sales and management of lawn and garden equipment.
Doreen was introduced first hand to the world of business through her father, but also came from a family of farmers. She and Mike had past experience with large vegetable gardens on their two-acre property and had even built a barn out back, complete with a canning kitchen. Add in her career as a lab professional and “all these things combined and one thing flowed into the next thing,” she said.
“We’re not promised anything,” Doreen remembers thinking at the time. “We’re definitely not promised tomorrow. Let’s dig up our backyard and plant lavender.”
They did just that in 2013. Two years later they became vendors at the La Porte Farmer’s Market, and the next year ventured farther to the South Bend Farmer’s Market, where you will still find them year-round on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
“Most (customers) come from our interactions at the market,” Mike said. “We’ve found a good customer base to the east of us, but also get customers who visit La Porte for agri-businesses. We are unique in every market that we go to. We’re the hybrid of the farmer and the artisan.”
“We are truly a business – not a farm or a hobbyist. They (customers) want to come back. We build that relationship,” added Doreen.
Lavender, their first love and anchor of their farm, is sold fresh or as u-pick and available in eight varieties. With such a short season, “we have to extend our product to be year-round through ingenuity and value-added product,” said Doreen.
Much of the lavender is dried and hand-debudded to create such products as microwavable heating pads, eye masks, yoga masks, the Snuggle Bunny with dried lavender inside, and quilted fabric Dream Pillows with sewn pockets of dried lavender or other herbs. Lakeside Lavender and Herb even offers a class on how to make a Lavender Wand, an old-fashioned, all-natural sachet.
“Everything that we make stems from our own lifestyle,” she explained.
“Lavender, mostly for medicinal and fragrant purposes, is becoming a Midwest phenomenon. It’s really a loving endeavor. I’m really glad that we did it now,” she continued.
Culinary blends made from lavender and the many other herbs on the farm are also popular with customers. There’s Rib Rub made from smoked salts, hot and spicy oregano, brown sugar, onion, garlic and cayenne pepper. There’s Lavender Lemon Salt which contains white kosher salt, zest of lemon and pink Himalayan salt, which is not as sodium-dominant as most salts, mixed with white culinary lavender.
The Kings try to grow as much of their ingredients on their farm as possible.
“If we can grow it in Northwest Indiana, we do our best to do that,” said Doreen.
Customers will find medicinal blends at Lakeside Lavender and Herbs as well. This includes the pleasant-tasting Lemon Balm Tea, which sooths anxiety. The skin-healer and pain reliever Cramp Bark Salve is made from cramp bark and cinnamon. Baby Bummie is made from calendula, comfrey root and St. John’s Wort (oil from the flower rather than the leaf as used in other products). Honey Healing Salve, created to treat Mike’s eczema, is an all-purpose product suitable for all ages.
“All of our products have a purpose for good health,” she said.
Doreen has received her certification as an herbalist and is working towards becoming certified as an aromatherapist. Through a herbal consultation, she offers a personalized evaluation, comprehensive plan for course of treatment, herbal recommendations as appropriate, individualized preps formulated for your specific needs, referrals to qualified practitioners of complimentary modalities and educational materials.
“She creates a path for them for a more natural approach back to health,” Mike said.
“I do not intend to replace the relationship you have with your primary care clinician,” Doreen stated on their website. “However, I do believe that the addition of time-tested herbal remedies are an excellent compliment to what your qualified health care provider(s) are hoping to achieve. Whether your goal is return to health, or achieving the highest quality of life possible, for as long as possible, herbs can make a powerful impact.”
Their best-sellers are bath and body items such as Lavender Lotions, Body Butter or Facial Scrubs made from rose petals and Rose Hip Facial Oil.
All the items are hand-made, without preservatives, in small batches. A local beekeeper, Apple Bee Farms of La Porte, tends to beehives kept on the King’s farm for pollination purposes; some of their own honey is used in their products.
The Kings are excited about the addition of a five-circuit Lavender Labyrinth on their property to give visitors “something to see and do while the lavender isn’t in season on the property.”
Those who enter follow the winding path back and forth until they reach the center, which is a place for respite and quiet meditation complete with benches. If they are interested, visitors can also opt to turn on the burning station, which will smudge-burn (a herbal burning method used in ceremonies) lavender stems.
“It’s a spiritual place that’s a metaphor for life. The only decision is to enter or not enter,” explained Doreen, adding that the second half of the labyrinth is a metaphor for the second half of life.
Lakeside Lavender and Herbs’ Farm Shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call 324-4930, go to www.lakesidelavenderandherbs.com, or look up “Lakeside Lavender and Herbs.”