Living from lavender – an alternative to dairy farming
Faulkland in the Mendips: The harvesting machine came from a remote village in Provence and, despite ingenious modernisation, retains its primitive, rustic character
Rows of lavender at a farm in Faulkland, Somerset. Photograph: Victor Watts/Alamy
Rows of delicately coloured lavender bushes curving away across a sloping field are not what you expect to see up in the Mendips which, even allowing for their gentler moods and inviting wooded hollows, are popularly regarded as a relatively bleak part of Somerset and noted more for mines, quarries and hard, grey stone than for flowers and fragrances. When I learned that this five-acre field of lavender was an example of diversification and had, until a few years ago, been grazed by 70 Jersey and Guernsey cattle, I was reminded of former dairy farms nearer home that are now golf courses, and of regretful sighs from a retired dairy farmer who recalls that he once supported his family with fewer than 20 shorthorn cattle.
We were in the village of Faulkland, six miles up from Frome and on the way towards Trowbridge. The couple who owned and worked the farm, looking for a way to make more from their land than dairy farmingoffered, were told of a lavender farm in Cheshire, visited it, and took to the idea. For a while, they combined dairy and lavender, but quite soon the lavender business took over, and they sold the cows.
In the barn that used to house the cattle, we saw some of what it takes to achieve saleable lavender products. The harvesting machine came from a remote village in Provence and, despite ingenious modernisation and modification to suit local requirements, retains its primitive, rustic character. By contrast, the two gleaming stainless steel drums opposite would be at home in a state-of-the-art, hi-tech winery. Lavender flowers are packed into the drum, and the water underneath gently heated. The mechanical process of distillation replaces the natural functions of the cows to produce essential oils from flowers instead of milk from grass, and it is the basis for the way this farm now makes its way in the market.