When Karen Wheeler-Lockwood wanted to grow some lavender for her wedding bouquet in 2003, she never knew it would turn into a business idea. Her long-time dreams of owning her own business found the perfect match in lavandula and the fertile fields along Skaneateles Lake.
Karen’s husband Gary Lockwood is a fifth-generation farmer, with crops of wheat, rye, corn and soy beans as well as wool from Corriedale sheep on 120-acres of bucolic pastureland. In 2004, the Lockwoods went to Sequim, Washington to attend the city’s world famous lavender festival and returned to the farm inspired by the versatility of lavender and the idea of agri-tourism. More than just a pretty plant to pick, lavender buds are filled with essential oils that can be extracted for soaps, lotions, candles and cosmetic uses or dried for everlasting sachets, garlands and wreaths.
“We thought “Why couldn’t we do this?” and the next year, we ordered the first 200 plants, a variety called grosso. After planting more and more, in 2005 we started to add u-picking to help harvest all the lavender,” explained Karen.
Each year, the Lockwoods added more lavender plants and today there are over 2,000 plants of 20 varieties of white, purple and blue lavender. Besides u-picking, weekend visitors can purchase items from the farm stand stocked with over 30 different lavender products. Karen’s creative side and attention to detail show in every product that she packages and labels by hand. Lockwood Farm products can also be purchased online at Etsy.com and at Skaneateles small businesses including bookstores, hotels and spas.
In 2008, Lockwood Farm hosted its first weekend festival where artists came to paint pictures of the lavender fields and sell their work on location. In 2011, over 3,000 people attended the Lockwood Lavender Festival. This year, the fifth annual celebration will be held on July 14 and 15 with 30 vendors, artists, presentations, and lavender-themed foods. For the adventurous palates, there will even be lavender ice-cream made with Lockwood lavender buds.
Customers can find more than just lavender products at the Lockwood Farm. When a local beekeeper was ready to retire in 2010, the Lockwood lavender fields became home to seven hives of honeybees and a honey product line was quickly added to the business. Karen has also started growing rosemary and created a rosemary product line of candles and soaps. Positioning the farm as a destination along the popular winery trails in the Finger Lakes region allows the Lockwoods to attract tourists looking for an aromatic and educational experience.
Karen found invaluable support after connecting with WISE Women’s Business Center director Joanne Lenweaver in 2009. As a regular member of the Creative Business Roundtable hosted by the WISE Center, Karen views the meetings as “business therapy”.
“It can be a challenge to leave the farm, especially during the growing season, but it’s so worthwhile. Being able to network with other women entrepreneurs, listen to their successes and failures, and find a lot of common ground between us is so great,” said Karen.
The latest addition to Lockwood Farm is an 864-square-foot barn. Planned for drying bunches of lavender, the barn is only part of the farm’s expansion plans, which include dedicating additional pasture for 2,000 more lavender plants. Besides her busy schedule on the farm, Karen will complete her Apprentice Beekeeper course at Cornell University this fall and take a well-deserved vacation after another long season of 18 hour days.
Karen’s work ethic and passion for what she does show as the business reaches full bloom: “I always wanted to own my own business, but I never knew it would be this. When you’re sitting in an office working for someone else, you always think you could do better, do different. To be able to develop a product from something you’ve grown in the ground, that is so rewarding to me.”