Bulletin #2023, Why Growing Lavender in Maine Might Be a Suitable Enterprise for Persons with Disabilities

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By Richard Brzozowski, Food System Program Administrator, Lily Calderwood, Wild Blueberry Specialist and Assistant Professor of Horticulture, Anne Devin, Veteran Outreach Professional for Maine’s AgrAbility Program, and Leilani Carlson, Maine AgrAbility Coordinator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Reviewed by Tammy Braun, Darla Phillips, and Marcia Lyons, lavender growers.

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
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Disabilities and Farmingfield of lavender crop

Having a disability or chronic illness might prevent or limit opportunities for employment. With appropriate planning, assistive tools, and safety measures, farming could be a way to generate income for a person with limitations.

In farming, you are your own boss. For many farm enterprises, you can set your own schedule and plan necessary tasks around your abilities and availability. Many tasks in farming can be performed with special tools, machinery, adaptive technologies, or can be automated. These work modifications can save time, reduce physical stresses, and allow the farmer to work more efficiently and safely. In addition, farming can be therapeutic; the experiences allow you to be outdoors, growing and caring for animals or plants, be a good steward for the land and provide food or fiber for yourself, your family, or others.  Well managed farming enterprises can also generate an income.

Disabilities may limit the type and kind of farming enterprises in which to be involved, however, some enterprises might present better opportunities and fewer physical and financial risks than others. Most farming enterprises are seasonal with productive times and off-season times.  The seasonal aspect of farming can allow for resting, regrouping and planning.  The seasonal aspect can also be advantageous in managing and reducing risk.

This fact sheet is designed as an informational and exploratory tool to help you determine if growing lavender might be a good fit for you.  As you read this fact sheet, make notes or highlight the sections you see as important or that you want to learn more about.

Growing Lavender with a Purpose

As with any farming enterprise, determine what product(s) or service(s) you would like to provide for sale and identify reliable markets for your products or services before making monetary investments in plant material, fabric mulch, and equipment. In general, growing and selling lavender and its products may be an appropriate choice for you because:

  • The scent of lavender is soothing to most people.
  • The work can be compartmentalized. Specific tasks can be managed by season and broken up throughout the day or week. You can also control how you lay out the growing area and workspace. By compartmentalizing your work area, the tasks you want to accomplish can be focused and sized to your abilities.
  • As a perennial plant, lavender takes some time to establish before a crop is harvested for sale or processing. It will be at least two years before there are products to sell.  Depending on your goals these characteristics may allow for a quicker return on investment than some other farming enterprises.
  • Some tasks in growing and harvesting can be automated such as watering. Sensors can be used to monitor soil moisture and an automatic irrigation system can be triggered by the sensor or by a set time.  A strategically placed video camera may be used to view the growing area remotely.
  • Because lavender is a perennial crop, once the plants are established the main focus is to maintain their growth from year to year – protecting them from pests during the growing season and the elements of cold weather and winds in the offseason.  There are a few months in Maine winters when nothing is done with the plantings.
  • Managing lavender is performed from the ground. This allows increased access for a person with mobility issues or one who uses a wheelchair.

In contrast, lavender may not be an appropriate fit as an enterprise for you because:

  • The learning curve to lavender can be steep for some individuals.
  • Growing, harvesting, and processing is not cost-free. Currently, individual plants cost between $8 and $20.
  • With lavender, there is an increased need for good organization and management skills to maintain healthy plants that will produce cuttings for sale or for processing flowers into oil which are then made into ointments, salves, soaps, mist, sachets.
  • Lavender requires physical tasks such as site preparation, mulching, planting, pruning, weeding, harvesting, and processing.  You’ll need adequate strength and endurance to perform some or all of these types of tasks.
  • Lavender likely will require a suitable storage area for crop yields.  Lavender must be stored properly (at a suitable temperature and humidity) until it is processed into a value-added product.
  • There is no guaranteed yield.  Climate, soil type, water availability, sunshine, disease, and pests may limit the yields your lavender plants are able to produce.

Pre-Planning Considerations

Think about these factors before you obtain lavender plant material:

  • Take a class to learn about lavender. This could be an in-person class or an online class.
  • Learn about lavender production and processing through reading.
  • Learn about lavender production by visiting a reputable producer.
  • Start to develop a business plan or a purpose-driven plan for growing lavender; within this plan, identify specific products and markets to determine the feasibility of such an enterprise.
  • Identify possible adequate funds or obtain a loan.
  • Consider the site location for growing the crop:
    • Access to the site by foot, truck, van, 4-wheeler, or tractor in all seasons
    • The slope of the land (and compass direction of slope)
    • The orientation of the site to the sun and from prevailing winds through every season of the year
    • Access of the site to a water source
  • Develop a plan for entry.  Spring or early summer is typically when plantings are established. However, site selection and preparation are typically performed at least 1 year in advance of planting.
  • There are different cultivars of lavender that are better suited for different products or management goals so it is important to determine what types of lavender you want.
  • Identify reputable source(s) to purchase plant material.  In Maine, businesses that sell lavender plants require a license to sell live plants.
  • Determine if you are going to process part or all of your lavender crop and what the processing will involve in relation to space, equipment, supplies, etc.

Typical Operational Tasks and Chores

Physical tasks are typically necessary for any successful farming enterprise. At a minimum, a lavender grower will have to be able to lift 10 pounds – this physical aspect of the process might be modified.  Depending on your specific setup and goals, some chores listed below may not apply. As you view the list, consider each chore and how it might be performed or if the chore is necessary for your situation. Add chores that are missing.  Look at a possible lavender enterprise critically, considering your own strengths and limitations.

One Year Before Planting

  • Select an appropriate site (consider slope, soil type, hardiness growing zone, etc.).
  • Sample soil for analysis.
  • Identify reputable sources of plant material.
  • Identify probable markets for your product(s).
  • Identify sources of fabric mulch, irrigation system, and other equipment.
  • Develop a map of your property and a plan for access, establishment, and possible expansion.

Spring of Establishment Year

  • Prepare soil for planting.
  • Cover area with fabric mulch, mark, and cut planting holes at the proper spacing.  Allow access between rows with a tractor, utility vehicle, or other farm implements.
  • Inspect plants (monitoring for health, vigor, pests, and diseases).
  • Collect specimens for disease testing.
  • Set up an irrigation system.
  • Maintain water sources.
  • Eliminate weeds or control weeds that grow up through the fabric.

Summer

  • Inspect plants (monitoring for health, vigor, pests, and diseases).
  • Collect specimens for disease testing.
  • Maintain water sources.
  • Apply necessary pest or disease treatments.
  • Harvest crop.
  • Transport cuttings for processing (to storage).
  • Store crop yield in a dry location.
  • Weigh and label batches.
  • Prune plants to keep them in a tight ball for several years of production.

Fall/Winter

  • Inspect plants (monitoring for health, vigor, pests, and diseases).
  • Collect specimens for disease testing.
  • Mulch plants for winter protection just before killing freeze.
  • Look back and make adjustments to prepare for next season.

Multi Seasonal

  • Keep records (sale of products or services, pest management actions, inspections, harvest yields, and sales).
  • Sell lavender (or its products).

Lavender Enterprise Opportunities

The production and marketing of lavender cuttings is the most common lavender-related enterprise for U.S. farmers. Other lavender enterprises include:

  • Processed lavender into salves and ointments

These alternative lavender enterprises may require additional knowledge and skills but could be a suitable opportunity for persons with physical or developmental limitations.

Adaptive Tools and Technologies

Adaptive tools and assistive technology can make tasks easier and safer for the lavender grower.  Some technologies can also be used to help in managing an operation and farm business. Planning ahead with site location, access and pre-design can enable a farmer, with or without a disability, to work safely and successfully. Here are a few suggested tools and equipment.

  • A planting auger might be helpful. Manufacturers typically have different versions and different lengths available. Some augers can be powered by a cordless drill.
  • A riding cart with wide wheels and rolls easily is helpful for those individuals with mobility or strength issues. A cart should sit low enough to make harvest less of a strain on one’s back.
  • Seating options can be built-in or located near the field(s) for those individuals with endurance issues (as a rest station).
  • An electric wheel barrel or battery-powered wagon could be useful for some tasks that demand transport of plant material, tools, soil amendments, prunings, products, etc.
  • Smaller hand tools or telescoping tools can be used if strength is an issue.
  • A pneumatic pruner (air-powered) might be appropriate for some pruning tasks.
  • A far-reach grasper could be useful for some tasks for individuals who have trouble bending and reaching.
  • Wireless video cameras can be used to monitor fields remotely. This technology reduces the need to be ever-present. However, this technology does not eliminate the need to open and inspect the plants.
  • Production and financial records can be kept using voice recognition software. This allows someone with sight or hand use limitations to be actively involved in the recordkeeping aspect of the enterprise.

Consider using Universal Design and ergonomic concepts when planning your apiary and inside work area. Universal design is a method of designing tools, buildings, and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. For more information, see Principles of Universal Design.

  • Ease of access to and from the field.
  • Pathways should be firm, smooth, and level with adequate drainage.
  • Use contrasting colors and texture for pathways.
  • For wheelchair or walker users, the pathway should be wide enough and sloped no more than 1:12.
  • For the mobility impaired users, be sure to have clear pathways, no overhead obstacles, and all tools should have a suitable storage spot.
  • For the visually impaired, use contrasting colors and textures and use wind chimes to provide location cues.
  • When deciding on the layout of the field, consider hours of sunlight in the growing season, prevailing winter winds, windbreaks, plant spacing, and fencing (to prevent damage by wildlife).

“I have helped get at least 11 lavender farms up and running for disabled vets all over the country.  There is always a way to work around a disability.  . . . Don’t let a hurdle hold you back.”    T. B. Maine lavender grower

Conclusion

Growing lavender might fit you and your situation. Invest adequate time in the exploration process and in considering the advantages and drawbacks. Speak with others who grow and sell lavender and its products.  Visit a successful grower during different seasons of the year. For more information on lavender, contact your local UMaine Extension county office, or Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist.

Additional Lavender Resources

This material is supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under sponsored project number 2018-41590-28715. Maine AgrAbility assists farmers, fishermen, and forest workers to overcome disabilities, injuries, or other barriers so they can continue to work safely and productively in agriculture.

Maine AgrAbility assists farmers, fishermen, and forest workers to overcome disabilities, injuries or other barriers so they can continue to work safely and productively in agriculture. This material is supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under sponsored project number 2018-41590-28715. For more information visit Maine AgrAbility at extension.umaine.edu/agrability or email maine.agrability@maine.edu.


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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