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Edwardsville farming sisters prove ‘yes, you can grow lavender in Illinois’

Kim Hansen and Kris Straub, sisters and co-owners of Tenderloin Farms in Edwardsville, pull weeds by hand at their lavender farm. Before opening their u-pick lavender patch to visitors, they inspect several varieties that are in full bloom. (Photo by Katie Zelechowski of Illinois Farm Bureau)

 

By KATIE ZELECHOWSKI, Illinois Farm Bureau

Two sisters’ passion for agriculture and willingness to try new things led them to grow a crop not commonly found in Illinois: lavender.

As the owners and operators of Tenderloin Farms in Edwardsville, Kim Hansen and Kris Straub have learned a lot about growing lavender on their family farm. And for the first time, they will open their farm this year for the public to learn more about the specialty crop.

“We took over our farm when our parents died in 2016 and we decided to add our own little touch to the farm,” said Hansen. “It seems like every generation has added something new.”

The farm dates back more than 100 years. And its name is a nod to the farm’s history. When Hansen and Straub were growing up, their father raised hogs and the girls showed the animals at county and state fairs. Before that, their great-grandfather owned dairy cows.

Today, Hansen and Straub grow corn, soybeans and 1,000 lavender plants on the non-tillable portion of the farm.

Straub said the sisters decided to add lavender to their operation because they enjoy working with flowers. “It was something we could do in our retirement years and have some fun with,” she said.

“The farm is still in your blood,” Straub said. “It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it.”

Growing the crop has required experimentation. A test plot on the property helps the sisters determine which lavender varieties grow best.

With more than 400 varieties of lavender to choose from, Hansen and Straub pay special attention to how the plants respond to differences in soil, moisture and access to shade. They typically plant 10 to 15 varieties each year.

“There is no one around to talk to (or) get experience from,” Hansen said. “We’re still learning every day when we work with the lavender.”

Over time, they have learned that location is everything when it comes to growing the purple plants. While Illinois soils are rich with nutrients, lavender doesn’t do well during the hot, humid summer months.

So, the growing season is focused to June. Many lavender varieties flower multiple times throughout the month, offering visitors the chance to pick their own stems while the farm is open each weekend from Friday to Sunday.

“We’re sure not France; They can’t grow corn like we can and we can’t grow lavender like they can. But (growing lavender) is very unique and, yes, you can grow lavender in Illinois. It just takes a little bit — or a lot a bit — of trial and error,” Hansen said.

See for yourself

Visitors are invited to learn more about lavender as they walk through the U-pick fields and wildflower patches at Tenderloin Farms. Plot maps help guide people through more than 12 lavender varieties.

Lavender plants that have been propagated from other locations on the property are available for purchase in the greenhouse.

The old barn, once used for livestock, has been transformed into a farm store where visitors can purchase homemade, handcrafted lavender soaps, scrubs, candles and more.

“There’s something for everybody to see here,” Straub said.

While admission is free, reservations are encouraged. Register online at www.tfilavender.com and use the free coupon code “FREEVISIT.”

For farm updates and information, visit their website at {tenderloinfarms.com} or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association.

The Tenderloin Farms store is filled with lavender products made by Kim Hansen and Kris Straub. Soaps, scrubs, sprays, candles and other goodies are made with oil from lavender grown on the farm. (Photo by Katie Zelechowski of Illinois Farm Bureau)

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