Lovin' the Lavender

Deep in the fields of lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Lovin' the lavender...

If you attended the Lavender Festival last weekend at the six-acre Araceli Farms at 7389 Pitt School Road, Dixon, you were in for a real treat.

Planted in April 2017, the fields glowed with seven varieties of lavender: Grosso, Provence, White Spike, Royal Velvet, Violet Intrigue, Folgate, and Melissa. 

This is a family-owned business: parents Robert and Araceli and daughter Justina grow pesticide-free lavender and produce handmade, all natural products. They also host lavender festivals, lavender U-Pick, events, and workshops. (See the family's website and Facebook page.)

Last Saturday the lavender fields buzzed with honey bees from  "Clay's Bees," belonging to Clay Ford, who owns the Pleasants Valley Honey Company.  He and his wife, Karen, sell their honey at Farmers' Markets in Vacaville and Fairfield and other venues. Soon they'll be adding lavender honey.

But back to the fields: visitors delighted in wreathing lavender around their heads and necks, purchasing lavender products, and photographing one another in the fields. They came with tripods, professional cameras, and cell phones. But most of all, with smiles!

A day in the country with rows and rows of aromatic lavender definitely yields lots of smiles, joy and laughter.

Virtually unnoticed were the insects: Cordovan honey bees, the color of pure gold, rushed to gather the pollen and nectar, as if they knew the fields would be harvested Monday, June 24. We spotted a few yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii),  cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae), and scores of migratory painted ladies (Vanessa cardui). "This is the second post-desert generation (Vanessa cardui), so altogether three generations have been involved," butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, told us Sunday, June 23. "The flight began here March 17--so today is the 98th day!"

We also spotted two species of dragonflies: a variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) and a Western pondhawk (Erythemis collocate), as identified by Greg Kareofelas, associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis. They were in Predatory Heaven.

Visitors browsed the vendor booths, all offering products or information. Drawing bee enthusiasts was Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse, a Bay Area-based organization that she and Terry Smith founded in Oakland in 2013 to create pollinator-friendly landscaping in urban settings and to foster appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action. Rocha, a retired Oakland parks supervisor, says that eco-friendly landscape techniques are at the heart of their work. They envision a day "when life-enhancing, thought-inspiring green spaces will grace every corner of the city and the world beyond." And spaces filled with bee condos for native bees!  They make and sell AirBeeNBees for leafcutter bees and mason bees. (Check out their Facebook page.)

As for the Araceli Farms, "We are committed to providing you with entirely pure products — ones you can pronounce and recognize," lavender farmer Justina Araceli writes on her website blog. "We source all of our raw materials and plants from people we know, love, and trust. We never use chemicals or pesticides in our production process, from the field to our products." In 2018, the family began opening the farm to visitors "to enjoy the lavender fields and harvest your own fresh bundles."

The owners of Araceli Farms love being lavender farmers. "Like anything in life, there wasn't a linear path to this,"  Justina relates on her blog. "Looking back on it now, I see how I was being prepped for this role, but I had no idea. After college, I landed a highly-sought after job with tons of prestige; it was incredible and I was so excited, but after some time I knew it wasn't my future. It didn't spark passion nor fuel my envisioned."

The lavender farm does.

One of the Araceli Farms employees, Maria Gonzalez of Dixon, sporting a curved harvesting knife, a wide-brimmed hat and an even wider smile, said she's been working the fields for two years.

And lovin' the lavender.

It's easy to love.

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

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