Places & Faces
For the Love of Lavender
5/3/2018 9:12:20 PM
Lavender Falls

What does a couple of optimistic lavender lovers do when the LSU AgCenter tells them they’ll never successfully grow lavender in Louisiana? If they are Bonnie and Kurt Brochhausen, they plant it anyway! In 2014, these fledgling farmers experimented with three lavender varieties in their initial attempts to determine which types would indeed grow on their 122 acres, situated in the tiny hamlet of Hornbeck, near Leesville, La. Since that time, this determined duo has planted thousands of plants and dozens of different varieties . . . and their determination is paying off.

Originally from Houston, the Brochhausens bought their little piece of Louisiana paradise nearly 30 years ago. They both worked jobs in corporate America, their two children were young at the time, and they traveled back and forth to the farm on weekends to relax. In 2000, they were ready for a slower pace. "We decided to take the plunge and move to Louisiana,” said Bonnie. "Everyone thought we were crazy, to give up good jobs to move to Louisiana, but we wanted a change, so we moved to the farm.” Bonnie and Kurt found new, lower-stress jobs and continued raising their children. 

Fast forward to 2013. Bonnie, who has always loved lavender, got the idea to grow the fragrant herb on their farm and turn it into a business venture. "We wanted to do something with the land that we could do together as a family and all enjoy,” she said. It took some serious convincing, but her husband eventually agreed to the plan. Now Kurt focuses on growing the lavender and Bonnie is responsible for product development, production, packaging, and promotion. But as in many business partnerships, their roles often overlap.

Getting their business, called Lavender Falls LLC, up and running was not without its challenges! Louisiana weather has been their greatest obstacle. Lavender grows best in very dry, even drought, conditions. Though the Brochhausens have planted thousands of plants, LSU AgCenter was correct in that most do not thrive in the hot wet climate of Southwest Louisiana. But the pair has discovered a few varieties (called cultivars, in the farming business) that do better here than others. Yet even the hearty ones don’t grow as well here as they would in, for example, the Pacific Northwest, where the plants live longer and produce more. For that reason, Bonnie and Kurt knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain a lavender farm for the crop alone. So they researched and experimented with making products from their lavender and other herbs they grow on the farm, such as patchouli, rosemary, and lemongrass. They learned that different varieties of lavender are better suited to different types of products. Bonnie said, "Some smell great, others looks great. Some are grown for their pleasant-scented oil, some for their attractive bundles, and some because they taste good.”  

Marketing, too, was initially a challenge. They take their products on the road and attend approximately 20 fairs, festivals, and other events across the South each year. Allowing customers to sample the products first, for example, with their popular hand-washing station, increases sales. They also sell their products through their website. They do very little advertising, but the business has grown through word-of-mouth promotion and social media. "There’s something about buying local, knowing the product is made by individuals and not a factory somewhere in China, and personalized service that appeals to some people,” said Kurt.

Another challenge they face is their current limited production capability. Their son and daughter, now adults, help out, but Bonnie is primarily responsible for making all the products. "Everything we do is hand-crafted in small batches. We don’t use big machines – it’s truly all done by hand.”

The Brochhausens now have a thriving business selling approximately 75 different products such as soaps, candles, moisturizers, lip balm, sachets, and decorative lavender bundles that imbue a calming fragrance in a home. Their best sellers include body butter, sugar scrubs, men’s products and, interestingly, their popular Skeeter Guard, to ward off those pesky mosquitoes. They also sell a lovely lavender syrup perfect for flavoring mixed drinks, lemonades, tea, cupcake icing, and salad dressings.

What’s next for the Brochhausens? They hope to open the farm to visitors and school field trips in the near future. "Education on-site is our goal,” said Kurt. But there are challenges to opening to the public. Insurance, for example. Louisiana laws and safety regulations are complicated. 

They are also starting a line of products for pets. "We make a spray that smells great, helps their fur, and repels insects like ticks and fleas,” said Bonnie.

You can find Lavender Falls products on their website, or look for them at local events later this year, such as the Women’s Commission Fall Conference and Mistletoe and Moss.
Posted by: Angie Kay Dilmore | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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