The lavender plants run row after row, each creating a path to a white gazebo like a center of a spoked wheel among these purple flowers gently swaying to the breeze, honey bees circling around all seven acres of these plants.
A variety of domestic animals also keep an eye on the lavender from their pens here at Lavender Waves Farm, off of Zech Drive, which edges into Route 1 in South Kingstown. It is a “Luxury Lavender Farm,” as owner Henry Cabrera calls it.
“I wanted things that are unique,” said Cabrera, who bought this land four years ago and spent the last three years transforming the total 14-acre site into a rustic invitation-only spot for lavender lovers and others wanting to hold events, including weddings, on the farm.
It’s not just this plant, with a pine camphor and woody sweet smell, accented by a touch of soapy fragrance, that is unique. It’s also a hobby and attempt to fit into a tourist-market niche for those liking gardens, animals, farms — and lots of lavender.
In this first year of his operations — challenged by the coronavirus and various restrictions — lavender hobbyist Cabrera offers only special times and by reservation only for the public to visit his farm.
This Saturday, July 11, he plans a cut-your-own-lavender session, which for $20 allows pre-registered guests to visit during two-hour segments scheduled from 8 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. to help him harvest lavender plants, get a bouquet, the chance to buy more at $4 each, and tour the rustic environment with animals and topiary gardens.
It’s no wonder that Cabrera, son of Cuban immigrants and chief of anesthesiology at South County Hospital, chose a second hobby, which coincidentally also has a strong medicinal background.
“My first choice was to move to a place by the water, get a boat that I could keep in my backyard — or nearby — and enjoy that hobby,” he said, noting that the plan didn’t quite work as thought.
“I found that I got sea sick, and no matter what I did, I still got sea sick. So, I needed to think of something else,” said the South Kingstown resident.
About four years ago he bought the farm, which had been used for raising cows and butchering them to sell according to an old sign still hanging in one of his barns. His plan, though was different.
“I picked lavender to grow. It’s an incredible crop, it’s a perennial, it’s nearly deer-proof, it’s relatively disease-proof and it’s easy to grow and low maintenance,” said the doctor whose high-maintenance job requires daily micro-attention to hundreds of details, evening call hours and administrative oversight.
He stood in his faded blue farmer jeans, floppy brown hat whose brim provided ample covering for his face and ears – no risk taker here with sun exposure for this hobby that puts him in direct sunlight most of the time –and rugged boots for walking across the acres of terrain.
“I really like the lifestyle,” he said, waving his hand across the long rows of 4,000 wavy purple plants both short and low, exotic and usual, and having names like “Phenomenal,” “Edelweiss,” “Folgate,” “Grosso,” and “Super Blue.” He is, at any moment, a connoisseur of lavender.
Then he points to a pen at the far end of the yard. “I also really like having my animals, too,” he said in his quick-talking, easy demeanor, that might be found in someone trying to calm the anxiety in a patient about to be put out for an operation.
The 75 animals on the property include chickens, guinea hens, ducks, geese, a white peacock, unique babydoll sheep, alpacas, a llama named Dolly and a donkey named Diego, both of whom protect the others from predators, he pointed out.
“I wanted something unique, I thought about it and this was it,” he said, though the lavender literally takes the center part of this sprawling attraction.
Popularity of Lavender
There is the coincidence for the 43-year-old Cabrera, whose great-grandfather was a Cuban farmer, that his crop also has health benefits.
According to Healthline.com the fragrance from the oils of the lavender plant - used in lotions, soaps and perfume – is believed to help promote calmness and wellness. It’s also said to help reduce stress, anxiety, and possibly even mild pain.
National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, said it is believed that inhaled lavender act via the limbic system, particularly the amygdala and hippocampus.
Its linalool and linalyl acetate are also rapidly absorbed through the skin after topical application with massage and are thought to be able to cause central nervous system calming.
Some studies, according to Medical News Today, suggest that consuming small amounts of lavender as a tea can help digestive issues such as vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling, though too much can cause constipation.
In addition to helping with digestive problems, lavender is used to help relieve hypertension as well as pain from headaches, sprains, toothaches and sores, Medical News reported.
Like many other raw elements, lavender should be used only in moderate amounts to prevent any overdoses that can also bring on headaches, an increased appetite and skin irritations, according to health experts.
It also has a rich history of use going back 2,500 years.
The ancient Egyptians used lavender for mummification and perfume, according to Gordon and Judy Knight, owners of Tumalo Lavender, a 10-acre lavender farm outside of Bend, Oregon.
The Romans used lavender oils for cooking, bathing and scenting the air and the name is derived from the Latin verb lavare—which means “to wash.”
The Romans also used lavender oil in soaps and carried it with them throughout the Roman Empire. In Medieval and Renaissance France, women who took in washing for hire were known as “lavenders,” according to the couple.
Clothes were washed in lavender and laid to dry on lavender bushes. Lavender was used to scent drawers, perfume the air and ward off infection and heal wounds, they said.
It was also recognized in Roman times for its antiseptic and healing qualities. The ancient Greeks used lavender to fight insomnia and back aches, the Knights added in their explanation of lavender’s history.
Cabrera, however, isn’t focused on any of the remedy’s medical purposes or even a start-up of a laundry service using his sweet-scenting and calm-inducing crop.
Instead, he said, he wants to develop the hobby that he has funded himself – in significant costs – and recoup some of the costs through sales and event hosting for weddings, social events, parties and other gatherings as permitted by the current state guidance.
He looked to the large old concrete silo that has been on the property for decades. Next to it is a barn where tools are stored and one of three pens for animals adjoins it.
In the barn, lavender is cut into small bunches and set to dry before sale to those visiting the farm or making special online orders.
A guest house nearby is also available for $350 a night and provides that “luxury rustic setting that many people are looking for,” he said. It is lined with 150-year-old reclaimed wood, stone floors and other design features blending with the farm theme, he added.
“This is my first year. There’s really no revenue stream. I have a full-time job and this isn’t a place that’s open to the public on an everyday basis. So, I have to recapture some of the money somehow, so I do it in small, marginal ways,” he said.
He does, however, have an eye on the bigger side and has an events promoter working with him to help make the site more well-known in South County and the rest of New England.
But the busy physician-turned-farmer isn’t ready to cede all of this hobby to the ups and downs of becoming a commercial enterprise. There’s as much innate family pride in this hobby as there is in his profession as a doctor helping people.
“We come from working-class people who have always had to work hard. If I am going to do it, I am going to do it right. I put 100 percent into what I do. I am a person of vision,” he said in a reflective moment.
“Medicine comes easy for me. This is more of a challenge,” he offered. “I’d love to do this full time someday,” he added. Then another moment of reflection comes.
“My favorite time on the farm is in the evening. ‘Henry, Henry, Henry,’ is all I hear all day long. Out here, I’m done. It’s peaceful. It’s great,” he said.