I love the soothing earthy scent of lavender.
So do Mike and Kelly Binns, who six years ago combined their names and created their business, MiKel’s Lavender Oasis.
I recently discovered MiKel’s Lavender Oasis at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market when I surprised my wife with a hand-made purple neck wrap filled with lavender and flax seed.
Curious to learn about lavender farming, I took a tour of the their five- acre farm in Binbrook, a beautifully quiet community south east of Hamilton.
Driving onto their property, the fresh floral fragrance of lavender filled the air as butterflies gracefully flew from one flower to another collecting pollen.
“Welcome to our farm,” said Kelly, greeting me with a smile.
I told her I’ve heard that farming lavender takes a lot of patience.
“You have to wait for everything,” she said. “Mike came from a factory background where everything is done in the moment, but with farming you have to plant your plants, then wait for them to grow, and when they’re ready you harvest them and then hang them to dry before you can do something with them, so its all about waiting and relying heavily on mother nature.”
Mike told me how this spring was an especially challenging one for growing lavender.
“This spring was rough — we had too much rain and not enough sunshine,” he said. “We lost a lot of plants, we saved some but we had to cut them back to almost nothing and now they’re finally starting to come up. When you drastically prune them back, the way we had to, you cross your fingers and hope they grow again. Every year is a learning curve.”
I asked Kelly what got them started in the lavender business.
“It was Mike’s dream,” she said. “He was working a job that was unfulfilling to him and we had a property with enough space, as Mike was searching for something we could do that we would love and enjoy. He saw a show on television about lavender and how relaxing it is, so he met with other lavender farmers and thought, this is what I want to do.”
Kelly helps with farm work and the production of a wide range of handmade products they offer, liked dried lavender bunches, sachets, eye pillows, soy candles and melts, linen spray, lavender infused cleaner, and 18 varieties of soap.
“We try to keep everything as natural as we can and our packaging we keep small,” she said, showing me their charming little store on the farm. “With our bars of soap, we just have a piece of paper wrapped around them so you’re not wasting a box or plastic.”
Kelly added, “At the market, the soap goes like crazy. That’s our main seller.”
Mike and Kelly explained how they sell their lavender products primarily at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, along with the odd craft show.
“I’m sure Mike would love to go bigger and have our products in all sorts of different stores, but I kind of like that we’re small and we have our hands on everything that is made, and we don’t have somebody else making our products for us. It is just us,” said Kelly.
Mike told me how he and Kelly are members of the Ontario Lavender Association, where they share information about growing lavender with other farmers.
“And even though we all grow lavender, we’re all different,” said Mike, looking over a breathtaking field of lavender with its delicate purple hues.
“For example, we currently grow two kinds of English lavender, Hidcote and Munstead. We had a French variety called Grosso, but we found that doesn’t do well in our winters. And we’re into health and fitness, so we have a woman who comes out and teaches yoga in the lavender fields.”
Kelly figured they currently have over 800 lavender plants growing on their farm, which measures 115 feet wide and 2,000 feet deep.
“We started in 2013 with 125 plants, with a lot of heart, dedication and passion.”
While taking in the serenity of their pond, listening to the bullfrogs and watching the bumble bees, dragonflies, and turtles, Mike shared a funny story with me.
“We get our water trucked in, we have a cistern and we had a new driver one time and I always go out and talk to the driver while he’s filling the tank up because it takes a while,” he said. “I mentioned to him that we were lavender farmers and he said, ‘Oh, I’m glad you said something because I thought you were putting that old-lady perfume on a little too heavy.”
Mike told me about the many benefits of lavender as he and Kelly showed me their workroom in the basement of their home, where they get their products ready for market.
“Lavender is calming, helps you sleep, helps with anxiety, and you can also use it on cuts and burns,” he said. “It takes the sting out of mosquito bites, and I use it for my allergies. I’m allergic to grass pollen, so I’ll take a dab of lavender essential oil and put it under my nose and I don’t sneeze for the day. It’s amazing the number of benefits that come with lavender oil.”
Mike is the one who runs their booth at the market, and I told Kelly how much I like his laid-back yet engaging approach to customer service.
“Mike is a super nice cool guy,” she said with a smile. “But before doing the lavender, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, he was not a people person.”
Soft-spoken, Mike chimed in: “I was more shy, I think. At the market, I like to let people come in and shop, I don’t like to bug them, but I let them know I’m there if they need help. There’s lots of things to look at and smell, and I love it when the kids come in and smell all the soaps.”
Kelly added, “Mike was very quiet and he still is, but he’s a totally different person at the market, where his love for lavender and the market is obvious. Now, when we’re out and about somewhere, he’ll start a conversation with a total stranger, which is something that never happened before.”
Mike talked at length about the visitors he has met at the market, from all over the world.
“We have regular customers at the market and yearly visitors who always come back looking for us,” he said. “I was just talking to this guy from Ireland who was visiting the market. It’s just so cool and I’m so grateful for this experience.”
Mike’s gratitude for Kelly’s help with the farm is evident as well.
“Farming lavender is tricky, as we have to be on it with weeding all the time,” he said, as a flock of red-winged blackbirds landed at their backyard feeder.
“We’ve been at the market for just over three years now, and having Kelly come on board and helping with the products, I couldn’t do it without her.”
Perhaps, like me, you’ll first be drawn into MiKel’s Lavender Oasis by that soothing, earthy smell.
What will keep you there, and keep you coming back, will be the hospitality of Mike and Kelly, and the quality and unique handmade feel of the products they offer. If you love lavender – or have yet to discover your love for it — the place is truly an oasis.