At the moment, the land owned by Elder Pyatt in Beattie, Oregon is covered by juniper trees and rocks. But it won’t be for long. Pyatt, a Student Conversation Association alum and Iraq War veteran, has big dreams for his 40 acres: to turn them into a flourishing lavender farm.
Good for Bees, Low on Water
“I combined the factors of Mediterranean climate, the agricultural zone the property is located in, and the soil type – and it all added up to lavender,” Pyatt says. “If you look up cash crops on the internet, lavender is one of the first ones to come up. But what’s really nice about it is that it’s also a great honey bee food. The area has a number of wild honey bee hives already, so once we get the lavender established, we plan to add a bee apiary, as well.”
As opposed to the water-intensive beef and hay industries prevalent in neighboring areas of Klamath County – an area where droughts and wildfires have become increasing problems – lavender has the great advantage of being a low-water crop. In fact, it only needs to be watered twice a year. “They’re using up the aquifers around here, to the point that in twenty to thirty years the county is going to run out of water,” Pyatt says. “We’re hoping that what we do here can be a model for another kind of agriculture. The goal is to show you can have both economic stability and sustainability without ripping off the natural resources of the area.”
Efficiency in Eco-Farming
Pyatt’s farm is 100% off the grid. That means a well for water and a combination of solar panels (Klamath County has an average of 273 sunny days a year) and wind turbines (sustained ten mile-per-hour winds blow through the region, especially in winter) for electricity. The next steps are to remove the rocks and finish “limbing” the juniper trees, a technique that consists of pruning branches up to four to five feet, which protects the habitats of the owls, eagles, and hawks that nest in them while also helping with wildfire prevention. Then comes the exciting part: planting the lavender plugs in linear north-south lines.
(Solar panels on Pyatt’s farm.)
Lavender is sold in stick bundles, but also has a series of derivative products, such as cooking products, deer repellant, and essential oils – Pyatt’s plan is to use a solar-powered water heater to create a still that will harvest the oils without the use of fossil fuels. The oils can then be used for anything from beauty care to aromatherapy to natural medicine treatments.
Experience (and a Scholarship) Through the SCA
When it comes to fire prevention and water conservation, Pyatt has plenty of hands-on knowledge from his time with the Student Conservation Association. In 2013, he served as an SCA volunteer as a fire fighter in the Arapaho National Forest after seeing a poster at his college recruiting veterans.
“I was using my GI Bill for college and needed some help to continue with my education. I decided that it would be good opportunity to get both a scholarship and some positive experience, so I jumped on it.” Through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the program allows SCA interns to become Americorps members and receive an educational award upon completion of their service.
Following a training in South Dakota and at the Colorado Firecamp, Pyatt’s group engaged in campground restoration and formed a reserve group for fire suppression. “What I learned is that if people in rural areas take better care of the lands, there won’t be as many fires running rampant as there are now,” he says. “On my farm, I apply what I learned on my training, for example, the limbing process. After you limb, if there is a fire, it can run right through and not affect the trees themselves.” The juniper trees on Pyatt’s farm are very happy to hear it.
(Juniper trees on Pyatt’s farm that have been “limbed.”)
Pyatt, together with his partner and artist Nora Seller, have set up a GoFundMe drive to help launch their project. Donors will receive lavender directly from the farm, a personalized thank-you letter, a drawing from Nora, and a selection of other goodies. Over and above the gifts, you’ll have the satisfaction of supporting sustainable eco-farming.
Creating Your Own Pollinator’s Paradise
Bees love lavender, and Pyatt and Seller have found a way to provide critical bee habitat while also embracing a sustainable and potentially lucrative business. As bee populations decline throughout the United States, they need more advocates who are willing to make pollinator-friendly additions to complementary projects and properties. And while most of us may not have 40 acres to contribute to the effort, there are small steps we can all take to bring back the bees.
For some great tips on turning your own backyard into a pollinator’s paradise, click here.