You drive west in Dundas, along Governor’s Road, past the occasional strip mall, skirting the lines of condo’s and apartment buildings, until the landscape breaks into open fields and cool deciduous forest; and then, you turn onto the cut-off called Weir’s Lane which opens up on the right. Keep going along the curvy, narrow roadway and at the top of a hill, on the left, is your destination: Weir’s Lane Lavender and Apiary, a private home and a store, surrounded with fields of purple lavender which, right now, is at its swoon-worthy, fragrant peak.
I am going to visit Kevin Beagle, the owner of the property, to get some information for the up-coming Farm Crawl which happens on July 18th. Farm Crawl runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is an event in which 7 (so far) local farms open up their doors and fields to visitors for tours and all sorts of treats. For more information, a map and to purchase tickets visit the website at http://www.farmcrawlhamilton.ca or call 905/627-9208.
I arrive early enough to check out the store, which is a lavender paradise for those who like the scent or sight of the purple blossoms (count me in). You can find candles, lotions, sprays, foodstuffs (lavender honey, lavender tea, etc.) and, of course, the dried flowers themselves. (Check out the website http://www.weirslanelavender.ca/) The farm grows both English and French lavender and I was surprised to find out how different they are.
Anyway, by the time I’ve made my purchases, Kevin has arrived and I suggest we do a little interview outside under a tree where there are some chairs, shade and a stunning pastoral panorama of lavender fields, distant hills and a countryside studded with a few large, far-off estates. It is an idyllic scene – the sun shines, the sky is blue, the birds are singing and the bees are buzzing, and then Kevin tells me that in a few minutes there will probably be more than a hundred people arriving.
Sure enough, the two tour buses pull in and the Chinese tourists, cameras at the ready, pour out of the doors. (Apparently, Chinese tourists are the farm’s most prolific visitors — Beagle has hired a tour guide who speaks Chinese just to help take them around.)
From this moment on, our interview proceeds like a series of hiccups — but, nevertheless, I do glean much fascinating information:
Beagle and his wife Abigail Payne bought the farm in 2007. Beagle was in the software business in Toronto and had decided that he needed a lifestyle change from financial markets. Abigail is an economics professor at McMaster and Beagle says, “I decided that I wanted something completely different — but it needed to be a short commute from McMaster. When we moved here it was a farm, but not registered as a farm. We planted some lavender for landscaping and talked to a landscape architect who mused offhandedly, ‘You could use lavender as a business.’ This stayed in my mind for a couple of years and then came back …”
The Chinese tourists — many of them elderly — need to use a washroom. Unfortunately, there is only one public toilet. Beagle explains to me that the farm is on a septic system so can only manage one public toilet. He asks the tour guide on the bus, “Couldn’t they use the toilet on the bus?” and she answers mysteriously, “Oh, we only use that for emergencies.”
We resume talking after Beagle shows the tourists to the public facility.
“I kept coming back to the lavender idea because it made sense on so many levels. It obviously could be a form of agritourism, it’s a business with a retail store on site and we can do manufacturing on the site as well — everything is made in a room behind the store and in the basement, except for the culinary products which require a certified kitchen and are made at Supperworks.”
Beagle explains to two tourists that there is no restaurant on the property where they can buy lunch.
There are lots of food products available, however — they range from caramel sauce, to chutney, to marmalade, lavender salts and sugars, and I can attest to the delicious flavour of the honey which I bought for myself and for gifts.
Beagle apologizes again, “Oh, no, they’re going into the house, please excuse me, I have to lock the door …”
Too late, unfortunately, because the dog has escaped. Dewey, the family dog, is a vizsla — a Hungarian pointer. He is a large, calm and noble beast, deliriously happy to be let free to run about in the open air. Beagle captures him and there is a great deal of camera snapping, smiling and petting and the Chinese version of “ohhing” and “ahhing“.
We move on to the apiary as Beagle continues:
“I have also planted 250 hazelnut trees which should be bearing nuts by 2017 and 2000 sunflowers which we will sell as cut flowers.
“The apiary was a natural addition. Bees love lavender and so it just made sense …”,
Under the Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Programme part of the apiary has been developed as a pollinator garden with native species planted — Beagle says it is really to demonstrate the importance of all pollinators, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds.
The bees seem very — busy — and I ask, stupidly, “Do you just keep getting more and more bees?”
Beagle says, “Well, no, we lose hundreds of them every year because of pesticides and herbicides — but I don’t want to get on my soapbox about the importance of pollinators to our food chain …”
As I take my leave, my head is spinning with still more and more questions and I realize the value of the whole Farm Crawl experience. It’s a chance to really connect, to begin to understand the concept of sustainable agriculture and the value of small farming enterprises and, quite simply, to see how our food gets to our markets and to our tables, But it’s also an opportunity to talk to the people who produce our food and to find out how very demanding that career choice can be. So far, I’ve visited three of the farms on the Farm Crawl list and I’m determined to make my way through the rest.
So here’s a recipe that I acquired from the shop:
2 cups water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Lavender and Raspberry Infused Sugar
1/4 cup honey
3 heaping tbsp dried Culinary Lavender
2 cups fresh lemon juice
4 cups still or carbonated water
1) In a medium pot over a medium heat combine 2 cups water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved.
2) Remove from heat, stir in honey and lavender.
3) Cover and let steep for 10 – 15 minutes.
4) Strain out lavender and press buds into the bottom of the strainer to release any syrup left behind.
5) In a large pitcher, combine lemon juice, lavender syrup and water. Stir and chill. Serve cold over ice.