OLA Hosts First Ever Ontario Lavender Conference

By Sean Westerveld,
Ginseng and Medicinal Herbs Specialist, OMAFRA

Recently I had the pleasure, along with a team of lavender enthusiasts, to organize the largest lavender conference ever held in Canada. The Conference was held November 14 and 15, 2012 in Woodstock, Ontario. Over 70 existing and potential growers and industry representatives from across Canada and the United States attended the event.

The conference explored practical approaches to help lavender growers successfully run and market their agri-tourism business. Our goal in hosting the conference was to ensure the agenda was packed with a wide range of content appealing to lavender growers at all stages in the development of their business from concept to expansion. Based on comments from attendees, we certainly met that objective.

Dr. Tim Upson

Dr. Tim Upson, Curator and Acting Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens provided an overview of the origins and identification of lavender varieties. He talked about the importance of knowing the basics of lavender identification to ensure varieties are labelled correctly. In a post-conference tour, Dr. Upson was impressed with the provincial lavender variety trials, and expressed interest in returning to Ontario when the lavender is in full bloom.

Kathy Gehrt

Kathy Gehrt, author and culinary expert, spoke on two different topics. In her first talk during the banquet she provided her personal experiences visiting five different lavender farms from around the world, and gave insights into how each provided unique experiences to the visitor. The next morning, she provided the basics of cooking with lavender, and described how growers can turn classic recipes into new lavender-themed creations. Kathy wrote about the conference and the Ontario industry in her blog:

http://discoverlavender.wordpress.com/2012/12/

Growers were also provided the basics of lavender propagation by Victor Gonzales from Victor’s Lavender in Sequim, Washington. Connie Kehler, Executive Director of the Canadian Herb, Spice and Natural Health Product Coalition talked about the importance of traceability and risk management for lavender growers. Donna Fleury from the Alberta Agriculture Centre highlighted the cosmetic regulations and barriers to market. A wealth of additional speakers from Ontario spoke on a range of topics including food and health product regulations, soap-making, oil distillation, marketing, HST, lavender propagation, agronomics and understanding liabilities on the farm.

At the conference – Mary Tate Bergstrom representing the United States Lavender Growers Association and OLA Chair Anita Buehner

Attendees were also treated to a lavender-themed banquet, which included a lavender salad dressing, herbs-de-Provence mashed potatoes, and a lavender trifle. Special thanks go to Pat Earls from Lavenders of Norfolk who provided the lavender recipes for the banquet, worked with the chef at the hotel, and organized the lavender decorations.

The attendees provided many positive comments to the organizers including:

“Thank-you for hosting such a well-organized and informative event.”

“I found this an extremely well-organized conference – Kudos to the team!”

“Thank-you so much. It was fantastic.”

From left to right: Dr. Sean Westerveld, Kathy Gehrt, Anita Buehner, Dr. Tim Upson, Victor Gonzales, Jan Schooley, Harold Schooley, Mary Tate Bergstrom, Shelley Imbeault

The conference organizing team consisted of myself, my co-chair Jan Schooley from Apple Hill Lavender, Shelley Imbeault from Erie Innovation and Commercialization, Pat Earls from Lavenders of Norfolk, Cathy Bakker from the University of Guelph, Barb Gillies from The Lavender Farm, Anita Buehner from Bonnieheath Lavender, and Kevin Beagle from Weir’s Lane Lavender. It would not have been possible without the support of Erie Innovation and Commercialization.

Financial support for this conference was provided by the Agricultural Management Institute and the OMAFRA New Directions program. The event was sponsored by Dubois Agrinovation, the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association, Good Redden Klosler, and OMAFRA.

Growers are already looking forward to the next lavender conference. I think I can speak on behalf of the organizing committee, it would be our pleasure to do this again – but give us a few years to rest!

If you were unable to attend the conference in person, and are interested in the knowledge presented by the variety of expert guest speakers, the “Business of Lavender Conference Video” is now available for you on this very practical USB key.

The USB key contains visual presentations and Power Point presentations from the speakers at the conference. For non-OLA members, the price is $100 per USB key, OLA members pay only $80.

To order please visit the OLA website here, or send a cheque to the Ontario Lavender Association, 1283 Blueline Rd. PO Box 587 Simcoe, Ontario, N3Y 4N5 Canada.