CACHE CREEK LAVENDER


Charley and Linda selling their products at the Market.
Photo: Gary Mandelstam
Vendor: Charley Opper and Linda Barrett
Location: Capay Valley, CA
Website: www.cachecreeklavender.com
Products: Fresh and dried lavender, soap, oils, cooking salts and other lavender products

It's nearly impossible to pass by the Cache Creek Lavender stand without noticing the alluring scent of lavender and stopping to check out the beautiful array of products. Vendors since 1999, Charley Opper and Linda Barrett offer a wide variety of lavender products at the Market every Saturday morning.

When he started Cache Creek Lavender, farming was completely new to Charley, and it appealed to him in an intellectual way. He enjoys managing the business and improving his soaps and other products, but it’s the fun and challenge of developing new products that drives him to continue. Charley took some time to talk about how he and Linda began farming lavender, new products on the horizon, and some of their favorite ways to use lavender.

In His Own Words: Q&A with Charley Opper

"How did the business start and why lavender?"
The business started in 1995 when Linda and I bought an old farm with an acre and a half of land in Rumsey, in the Capay Valley. At the time, we were both working different jobs and thought it would be fun to plant something on that land. We began thinking of the many different crops that we could grow and didn’t consider lavender until a friend suggested it to us. We knew that growing corn or rice on small acreage would not be practical, so we did some research and decided to give lavender a try. At the time, the aromatherapy movement was getting a lot of traction, and that helped convince us that lavender was a good decision. A year after buying the land, we put our first plants in the ground. Today we have over 5,000 lavender plants.

We began selling bundles of freshly cut lavender at farmers’ markets with some friends. One day we met Nancy Pleibel (PAFM’s market manager) at one of the markets, and she asked us to participate in her Market in downtown Palo Alto. It was then that we realized lavender was a viable crop and decided to introduce other products made with our lavender. Today, we have over 35 different products including soaps, linen sprays, sachets, body cream, bath salts, and culinary lavender salt.

"What’s something people don’t know about lavender?"
We get a lot of questions, but most people ask about the best way to grow lavender. Can you grow it indoors? What is the best place to plant it? Our response is that lavender grows well in a sub-tropical climate. It comes from the Mediterranean region where there are open, rocky hillsides, good drainage, and hot weather. We’re lucky that we can replicate that here in California. People also ask, "what is lavender?" Is it a color, a plant, a fragrance? Our answer is, "yes, it is all of these."

"What do you enjoy most about the Market?"
I enjoy the comradery and the wonderful clientele that I’ve developed over many years of being at the Market. It’s a great pleasure coming in every Saturday morning and talking with the people we’ve become friendly with and also meeting new people who are curious about lavender. And let's not forget the fine group of people who run the Market that I’ve become good friends with too.

"What’s on the horizon for Cache Creek Lavender?"
There are some new products in the pipeline that I look forward to getting out. One is a salt or sugar cosmetic scrub—it will fit nicely with the soap and hand cream that we currently have.

As far as the farm goes, I am hoping to enlarge my cultivated space by moving onto some land adjacent to our farm where we can plant more lavender. It will increase our production, which I really need to do because business has been good, and I have maxed out production on the current acreage.

"What are some favorite ways you and Linda like to use lavender?"
We love to use the soap. It is a really wonderful "gourmet" soap, and I don’t think I can ever go back to using regular commercial soap again.

On the culinary end, we use our lavender salt nearly every night on salads, chicken, or steaks. To make it, we purchase organic French grey sea salt, which is a high-quality finishing salt, and then we combine it with our culinary lavender. We try for a perfect balance of saltiness with a hint of lavender, and when you sprinkle it on food, the flavor infuses very nicely. Our favorite way to enjoy our salt, especially in the summertime, is on sliced heirloom tomatoes. Delicious and fresh!

We also love using our essential lavender oil because it is so versatile. We use it in a variety of ways from putting it on after shaving to dressing a bee sting.

"Other than the Market, how can people learn more about Cache Creek?"
People are welcome to visit our farm in the Capay Valley any time of the year. During the months of June and July we have fresh lavender that people can cut for themselves, or they are welcome just to visit the farm and spend the day among the fields. We also have a small store where people can buy our lavender products. Although it is not necessary, we do suggest that people call before visiting so Linda or I can make sure we are available. We know it is a long way up to the farm, and we’d hate to have people show up with no one there to greet them. You can find more information—including lavender recipes—and our phone number on our website: http://www.cachecreeklavender.com