By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ)
(Oracle, Arizona) Women in colorful hats streamed into Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm to celebrate Mother's Day as flowery scents whisked by on a mountain breeze.
Inside, a pair of musicians regaled guests, who sipped lavender earl grey tea while munching on finger sandwiches and scones, also including the light purple flower as an ingredient.
The giant old oak trees cast mottled shadows on a very different Mother’s Day scene two years ago.
Carolyn Blair and her husband John Blair — the farm’s founders and owners — had only recently purchased the North Rancho Robles Road property and were still running Life Under the Oaks out of their home, also in Oracle. COVID-19 threw a wrench in their plans.
“We were going to have a big planting party, and then the pandemic hit,” Carolyn Blair said. “My husband and I were like, ‘okay, it's going to be us and our two daughters planting 3000 plants,’ and then I had the idea of doing shifts over Mother's Day weekend. We had 10 people at a time coming out in shifts. Everybody wore their masks, and each person had their own row. It worked out perfectly.”
Many of those same volunteers and workers, including Carolyn’s 23-year-old daughter Rachel Blair, were back on the farm for the field's second anniversary, as they are often.
However, Life Under the Oaks isn’t just a lavender farm. It’s also a community space busy with artistic, wellness, and culinary events ten months of the year.
Sun salutations, bloom season, and beyond
Oracle perches at a little over 4,500 feet elevation, making it significantly cooler than much of the surrounding region. As a result, outside events are possible when they would be unthinkable in Phoenix or Tucson. Thus, the farm's busy calendar of events is just kicking into high gear as lower desert communities begin to hunker down.
If you missed Mother’s Day this year, the farm offers a mulligan with a second tea party on Sunday, May 15 at 11 a.m.
The farm hosts Yoga in the Lavender with Nicole Gale, an instructor based out of Oracle, on Sunday, May 22nd starting at 3:00 p.m. Open to people of all experience levels and ages, registrants also receive lavender bundles, treats and lavender lemonade.
Kevin Torres, a flute player and one of the two musicians at the Mother’s Day event, will also perform at the yoga event. His flute's dulcet tones harmonize well with the farm's chill vibe.
“We’re celebrating for all moms, the earth mother too,” Torres said. “It’s a special day, and that's my intent here: to bring relaxation to all, to everyone here, when they're surrounded and hugged by the trees, the plants, the nature, and one another.”
On Friday, May 27th, open farm hours start, running from 8:00 a.m. to Noon, Thursday through Sunday, until the bloom season ends. Visitors can tour the property, including its pleasantly pungent fields, drying room, art installations, kids' play area and the small menagerie of donkeys and ducks.
For fifteen dollars, a car of four people can park and explore the farm, with kids under 12 allowed in for free. Tables and chairs dot the property, nestled under Emory oaks or mesquite trees. Meals packed in picnic baskets are available for $30.
The farm offers a growing range of other dining options as well. A Breakfast on the Farm event, including lavender mimosas, will be held on Sunday, June 27th.
Soon, they’ll begin hosting Romantic Dinner Nights, where guests can share a charcuterie board over sunset. Diners can pick between bistro tables, teepees or the farm's metal Cinderella-style carriage.
From kicking and screaming to kicking back serenely
When Carolyn first told John, a retired Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, about her idea to start a lavender farm in Oracle, he was more than a little skeptical.
“You're familiar with the expression kicking and screaming?” John asked and then answered. “Yeah, that was me. For five years, she researches lavender, where it could grow, and she would try to convince me every month.”
They visited lavender farms across the state and country, including the lavender capital of North America: Sequim, Washington. Carolyn studied it all, noting surprising climatic similarities between Sequim and Oracle. Over time, her persistent logic won him over.
“This is a Mediterranean S climate — not too hot, not too cold — well-draining soil to decomposed granite from Mount Lemmon in the Catalinas,” John explained. “For lavender, it’s like the little Goldilocks zone, and it was hard to argue against it.”
Carolyn also taught John about the many lavender products, like essential oils, aromatic buds, culinary buds, soaps and skin creams. Now, they strive to use every part of their plants, with even their leftover stalks sold as sweet-smelling fire starters.
In 2018, Carolyn and John founded Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm. Initially, it lived at their family home, where it grew and prospered. Then, a couple of years ago, traffic from the blossoming business led to what Carolyn called "a little drama with the neighbors," spurring her and John to acquire a secondary property, 1221 N Rancho Robles Rd, which now hosts most farm events.
A blossoming future
With Pinal County farms facing surface water supply cutbacks, drought-tolerant lavender may weather extended dry years better than thirstier crops. The purple plant also doesn't require much fertilizer, contributing to its popularity in soil regeneration and remediation efforts.
Carolyn and John work to tread lightly on their land. The only planned buildings are a roadside boutique store, a barn and a greenhouse, though a pergola in an English garden is also in the offing. Someday soon, John hopes to bring in goats to help control undergrowth, just one example of their efforts to reduce environmental impact.
Though unable to reach Mother Nature for comment on the farm, one of the moms visiting did share her opinion.
“I am really enjoying the day,” Vicki Walker said. “It was a wonderful surprise that my daughter's invited me out here today. It's very relaxing, and I'm really enjoying the music.”
To learn more about upcoming events or to reserve tickets, visit Living Under the Oaks Lavender Farm’s website.
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