The Claibourn family didn’t spend years looking for Lewis County land east of Morton with the notion of starting a lavender farm. Father and son didn’t have an inkling they would wind up buying adjoining parcels until coming across a total of 49 acres on Falls Road in Randle that had been logged by the previous owner.
A failed tree replanting effort led to the two parcels becoming overgrown with weeds and unruly vegetation that rose well above the heads of Tim and Justin Claibourn — it took them nearly an hour to slice their way from one side of the property line to the other. They wound up purchasing the pair in 2014 as a retirement property for Tim and his wife Debbie, while Justin and wife Jordann hope to someday move their family out to the peaceful confines of 136 Falls Road.
Fast forward 5 years, and the Claibourns are the owners and operators of the Cowlitz Falls Lavender Farm. They’ve cleared about eight acres of frontage off Falls Road and have planted more than 2,600 lavender plants, covering more than two acres on the western edge of the farm. They sell wholesale lavender and lavender-based products such as soap and lotion out of a barn while continuing to make improvements to the land. About two dozen vendors will occupy much of the additional six acres this weekend for a public celebration of all things lavender from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“We decided to go all-in together on this with no plans,” Justin Claibourn said. “It’s all new to us — we’re first generation farmers. It’s kind of odd to think about the what-ifs that come with that, and it’s always a sigh of relief when we see the plants start to turn green each spring. We’ve gotten lots of local help and support and it’s been amazing to watch it all grow.”
Preparations for the summer season have been more rushed than usual this year. Debbie Claibourn died last month following a brief illness; her memorial service was held on the property, her ashes spread over her favorite spot at the back of the farm. Justin and his 5-year-old son Mason built a pergola near that location, something she had asked for shortly before her passing.
Her love of lavender was one of the inspirations for starting the farm. The land would need to earn some level of income to support those who retired there. Annual trips to the lavender festival in Sequim each summer led to a half-joking suggestion that they should raise the fragrant flowers in Randle. Soil samples and test plantings confirmed the location would be a good fit for the purple crop.
“It was either this or beef,” Tim Claibourn said. “I’ve done that, and it’s much harder than growing lavender. (Debbie) and I had looked at probably every piece of land available out here for 20 years before we bought these. It was something we joked about at first, but after doing some research, it turned out to be a good idea.”
Justin and Tim both work as diesel mechanics — Justin for Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, Tim for Caterpillar. Working together, they’ve adjusted or created just about every piece of machinery on the property to suit their needs. They built their own harvesting machine for dried lavender, which they bag and sell wholesale to companies across the country.
Jordann creates the majority of the handmade products available for sale at the farm and online. She took classes on social media to learn how to better market their wares. Justin has taken classes on accounting and webpage design. The whole family takes the better part of two weeks off work each fall to harvest the lavender, though they hope to soon be able to afford to hire temporary help for that task.
Even Mason and 7-year-old Deven pitch in where they can, using scissors instead of scythes to cut bunches of lavender and by pulling weeds out of the bee-filled plants.
“To see pictures of what we started with is amazing when you consider where we are now,” Jordann Claibourn said. “It’s surreal at times to see our products in local stores. We’re just trying to live in the moment right now, as a family.”
The Claibourns hope to eventually fill all eight acres along Falls Road with rows of lavender and maybe a little rosemary. They use the latter in a number of their products, including essential oils, so it makes sense to grow their own, Justin Claibourn said.
Tim is aiming for retirement next year and will be able to devote his full attention to the farm. There are still business-related improvements to make out front, such as replacing a battered, inhabitable structure with a farm stand, but he’ll eventually begin work on his own small abode somewhere on the property.
For more information on the Cowlitz Falls Lavender Farm, visit cowlitzfallslavender.com or call 253-318-2317.