- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
If you attended the Lavender Festival last weekend at the six-acre Araceli Farms at 7389 Pitt School Road, Dixon, you were in for a real treat.
Planted in April 2017, the fields glowed with seven varieties of lavender: Grosso, Provence, White Spike, Royal Velvet, Violet Intrigue, Folgate, and Melissa.
This is a family-owned business: parents Robert and Araceli and daughter Justina grow pesticide-free lavender and produce handmade, all natural products. They also host lavender festivals, lavender U-Pick, events, and workshops. (See the family's website and Facebook page.)
Last Saturday the lavender fields buzzed with honey bees from "Clay's Bees," belonging to Clay Ford, who owns the Pleasants Valley Honey Company. He and his wife, Karen, sell their honey at Farmers' Markets in Vacaville and Fairfield and other venues. Soon they'll be adding lavender honey.
But back to the fields: visitors delighted in wreathing lavender around their heads and necks, purchasing lavender products, and photographing one another in the fields. They came with tripods, professional cameras, and cell phones. But most of all, with smiles!
A day in the country with rows and rows of aromatic lavender definitely yields lots of smiles, joy and laughter.
Virtually unnoticed were the insects: Cordovan honey bees, the color of pure gold, rushed to gather the pollen and nectar, as if they knew the fields would be harvested Monday, June 24. We spotted a few yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii), cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae), and scores of migratory painted ladies (Vanessa cardui). "This is the second post-desert generation (Vanessa cardui), so altogether three generations have been involved," butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, told us Sunday, June 23. "The flight began here March 17--so today is the 98th day!"
Visitors browsed the vendor booths, all offering products or information. Drawing bee enthusiasts was Tora Rocha of the Pollinator Posse, a Bay Area-based organization that she and Terry Smith founded in Oakland in 2013 to create pollinator-friendly landscaping in urban settings and to foster appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action. Rocha, a retired Oakland parks supervisor, says that eco-friendly landscape techniques are at the heart of their work. They envision a day "when life-enhancing, thought-inspiring green spaces will grace every corner of the city and the world beyond." And spaces filled with bee condos for native bees! They make and sell AirBeeNBees for leafcutter bees and mason bees. (Check out their Facebook page.)
The owners of Araceli Farms love being lavender farmers. "Like anything in life, there wasn't a linear path to this," Justina relates on her blog. "Looking back on it now, I see how I was being prepped for this role, but I had no idea. After college, I landed a highly-sought after job with tons of prestige; it was incredible and I was so excited, but after some time I knew it wasn't my future. It didn't spark passion nor fuel my envisioned."
The lavender farm does.
One of the Araceli Farms employees, Maria Gonzalez of Dixon, sporting a curved harvesting knife, a wide-brimmed hat and an even wider smile, said she's been working the fields for two years.
And lovin' the lavender.
It's easy to love.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Their golden heads turned toward the sun, their fringed petals aglow, sunflowers set an amicable scene in a world sometimes darkened by strife and sorrow.
Take, for example, the sunflower fields along Pedrick Road in Dixon, Calif. They are spectacular. A Vincent Van Gogh painting come to life.
And, the bees make it happen.
The non-native honey bees (Apis mellifera), brought to America in 1622 by the European colonists, and the native sunflower bees (Svastra spp.) are everywhere.
It was not always like that. The sunflower bees were here first.
In fact, Native Americans began cultivating the sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a native American plant, 3,000 years ago. When the honey bee arrived, they called it "The White Man's Fly."
The Native Americans made "yellow dye from the petals and purple dye from the immature seeds" of sunflowers, according to What's That Crop? authors Janet Byron, managing editor of California Agriculture, and science and environmental writer Robin Meadows.
They place the value of California's 42,000 acres of sunflowers in the Central Valley at $9.5 million a year.
"Most of California’s sunflower crop is grown for oil, and it takes about 100 pounds of seed to make 40 pounds of oil," they wrote. "The remaining protein-rich meal is used in livestock feed. Besides producing sunflower seeds for snacking and cooking oil, the state also supplies most of the planting seeds sown by sunflower farmers nationwide."
You can follow them on their Facebook page, "What's that Crop?"
Latest statistics released in March of 2012 by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, indicated that "California farmers were expecting to plant 39,000 acres of sunflowers for oil, down 2 percent from last year, and 7,000 acres of non-oil sunflowers, up 75 percent from 2011."
The annual NASS forecasts are based on a survey of more than 2500 California farmers during the first two weeks of March.