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Lavender fields await farm tour at NMSU's Alcalde Center

POJOAQUE - See the beautiful purple blossoms. Smell the distinct aroma. Taste the subtle flavor. Feel the rejuvenation of the essential oil. Hear the wide variety of information.

All five senses will be stimulated at the third annual Southwest Lavender Conference and Farm Tour July 25-27 at the Cities of Gold Hotel in Pojoaque.

From the reception Wednesday where the taste of lavender will be included in hors d'oeuvres and the tour Thursday of five northern New Mexico lavender farms, including New Mexico State University's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, to Friday's educational sessions and a luncheon featuring lavender in every course, the conference is going to be heaven for a lavender enthusiast.

For those attending the three-day event there just isn't such a thing as too much lavender in their lives.

"Lavender is an amazing plant. Its use is so versatile," said Gabrielle Graham, co-owner of Lavender Acres in Nambé. "The more you work with it, the more you learn about it, such as the fact that lavender was in the first aid kits of World War I soldiers because of its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, cell regenerating properties."

July is the peak time for lavender as the plants come to full bloom. The conference is timed between the Lavender in the Village event in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque July 7-8 and the El Rancho de Las Golondrinas Lavender Festival July 28-29 in Santa Fe.

"This is the first year that the New Mexico Herb Growers Association and the Herb Association of Texas are jointly hosting this event," Charles Martin, assistant professor at NMSU's Alcalde facility, said of the conference, which is made possible by a New Mexico Department of Agriculture grant and in-kind sponsorship from NMSU.

"We are excited to be hosting the conference and having a farm tour that will feature several of our growers," Martin said. The tour includes a box lunch of lavender culinary delights at the Alcalde agricultural science research facility.

The farms range in size from a one-year startup of 250 plants at Rancho Arco Iris in Dixon owned by Mary Campbell and Loretta Sandoval, to 500 plants at three-year-old Lavender Acres in Nambé owned by Gabrielle and Kelly Graham and Doranne Candelaria, to 4,500 plants at three-year-old Purple Adobe Lavender Farm owned by Roger and Elizabeth Inman.

During the tour, participants will see how growers are incorporating lavender into their farms and the multitude of products being created from the harvested plant.

"Lavender is an ideal crop for small landholders, because you can get at least 3,000 plants to an acre. It can become a viable business," Gabrielle Graham said of the business that features its items at farmer's markets, lavender festivals and specialty shops.

After a day of touring the fields, the conference will move indoors on Friday where participants will learn from sessions on topics like the history and taxonomy of the plant, production, varieties for the Southwest, drip irrigation systems, building a lavender business, lavender for health, quarantine and inspection regulations, the essence of the oil and cooking with the herb.

Registration fees for the conference will include a continental breakfast and a culinary delight luncheon that features lavender in every bite. The menu includes mushrooms stuffed with lavender herb soft cheese, lavender artichokes with shallots and carrots, lavender vinaigrette on a Mediterranean orange and lemon salad, lavender crème brûlée and lavender ice tea.

"Chef Tanya Dellinger will be using several recipes from author Sharon Shipley's Lavender Cookbook," said Elizabeth Inman, coordinator of the conference. "Tanya came to the Cities of Gold Hotel from the Inn at Loretto in Santa Fe and she is excited about developing some unique lavender dishes."

Randy Murray, who will conduct the session on cooking with lavender, says his business, For the Love of Lavender, has focused on culinary aspects of lavender since his discovery of its wonderful flavor in foods.

"Our focus on culinary uses stems from knowing author Sharon Shipley and bringing her into my home to cater private parties," Murray said. "Once you've discovered the way lavender can enhance a favorite dish you don't want to have it any other way."

For more information or to register, call Cathy Slaughter at (512) 930-0923 or e-mail swlavenderconf@yahoo.com.