Last time Art & Ag visited Sherri Wood’s Capay Valley Lavender Farm we were just coming out of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. What a difference three years makes.
Shortly after our last visit, the English lavender fell victim to a virulent fungus and Sherri lost 80% of her crop—3,000 plants. She was devastated. “I had three days where I didn’t know what to do,” but she got some sage advice from a farm counselor. “Sherri you’re a farmer! And this is just part of farming. Let’s start coming up with solutions and move on.” And that’s exactly what she did, spending the last three years removing infected plants, and organically remediating the soil by growing broccoli and then tilling it into the ground for nutrients.
In April of 2022, Sherri planted a new variety of lavender called Riverina Thomas, a triploid lavender with large flowers that yield three times more essential oil than other species. In anticipation, Sherri purchased 2 additional copper stills to process the lavender on site to create her own essential oils. “I just fell in love with distillation – it’s such a magical process.” Also, in October of 2022 Sherri planted the “replacement” crop of French lavender which she will tend to by hand – at least for the first year.
Visiting artists enjoyed painting and photographing the lavender fields that were just starting to bloom. They also saw the recently planted10-acre olive orchard, the new greenhouse (now holding milkweed plants as part of the Xerces Foundation Project to support the Monarch butterfly population), the distillery, and of course the farm store which was filled will lavender infused items from baking mixes and chocolate bars to lotions and sachets.
This farm visit also reminded us of an important, often overlooked truth that farming, to put it simply, is hard. A constant struggle against the forces of weather, disease and pests that are beyond the farmer’s control and that can, almost overnight, decide the fate of a crop or an entire farm. Sherri has chosen to stick it out, to put in the extra effort and investment, and make a go of it. She has fallen in love with her land in Capay Valley and is determined to be a success. Perhaps that’s why her farm is featured in the May issue of “California Bountiful” the Farm Bureau’s quarterly publication – a remarkable validation of her grit and determination.
Top: Photo by Charles Vincent McDonald
Cover image Courtesy California Bountiful Magazine, CA Farm Bureau