by Jessie Ammons
It’s almost an hour-long drive north from Raleigh to Sunshine Lavender Farm in Hurdle Mills, outside of Hillsborough. But arriving to a cheerful red barn atop a hillside teeming with purple blossoms is well worth the drive. “It’s a retreat we built to enjoy and relax,” Annie Baggett says of the property she lives on with husband Dale and their daughters Abigail, 24, and Sylvie, 18. The Baggetts grow and sell lavender year-round online and at farmers’ markets, but only twice a year do they open the farm to the public: in winter for a holiday soiree, and in June for a harvest celebration. “It’s a special event for those who are truly lavender lovers.”
As it turns out, true lavender lovers are not hard to come by. “Dale calls it a lavender cult,” Baggett says, “Folks really love lavender. It ranks as one of the most popular fragrances in the world.” From 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, you can stop by to see the farm, try lavender ice cream and sorbet, create crafts with fresh lavender, and learn how to grow it yourself.
Baggett didn’t set out to become a lavender farmer, although she has an admittedly green thumb. When the family first moved to their property 15 years ago, “I planted a gigantic vegetable garden to share with the community.” Deer ended up eating more of the produce than the community did. “A friend from the west coast mentioned that I should add lavender, since fragrant, oily herbs are not a deer favorite … (it) grew beautifully. It was intentional to plant something in that field and to share it.”
Twelve years later, lavender is their only crop, which they harvest to sell fresh and dried, as well as turn into other items, including lip balm and eye pillows. Sunshine is the state’s first farm of its kind. “I made the conscious decision to show others how to be a farm business by doing it and through sharing. Our thinking is to hand off the farm to our daughters, to have a legacy plan. Yet only time will tell that.”
While both Baggetts work full-time away from the farm (Annie is, fittingly, the agritourism marketing specialist for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services), it’s coming home that keeps them going. “We have chosen to be good stewards of the land,” Baggett says. “One of the reasons why I fell in love with this plot of land was the sunshine here. It’s amazing. The sunsets thrill me while perched on the porch or strolling the field.”
They’ve developed a love affair of their own with their plants, too. “It’s by far the most versatile herb around. It will pretty much cure whatever ails you.” Baggett cites it as a remedy for insomnia, nervousness, itchy bug bites, and bad moods; or, she says to put a few drops of lavender oil in your HVAC filters when you change them, and keep sachets of dried lavender florets in your car. But her favorite? “Lavender in food,” she says. “This has been my message for years. This is why we offer lavender ice cream and sorbet made by Maple View Farm at our celebrations. Lavender in chocolate. Lavender lemonade. Any produce or protein skewered with lavender stems, then grilled. Delish.”
The summer harvest celebration is open house-style, but you do need to RSVP in advance online. “Most folks come on Saturday,” Baggett says, “so I’m pulling together a small farmers’ market for Sunday, to add value to that day. Sunday is my favorite!”