Meet the lavender lady
Nancy Metz and her fragrant lavender products are a familiar sight at the Saturday Chico Certified Farmers’ Market
The June sun is barely up when Nancy Metz goes to the half-acre of lavender plants she grows on a small farm near Bangor. Metz grasps a handful of fragrant stems and cuts them with her saw-toothed lavender sickle. She secures the bundle with an elastic band and tosses it onto a tray set between the lavender rows.
So it goes for two hours before the summer heat makes Metz and her cut lavender begin to wilt.
“Except for a few bunches for special projects, I hang the lavender on the rafters of our garage and turn on a couple of fans until it’s good and dry,” Metz explained recently of the process she has completed every June and July for the past nine years. “Then it’s ready to be made into oil and our other Lavender Legacy products that we sell at the Chico Saturday farmers’ market.”
Since 2004, shoppers at Saturday’s market have seen the lavender artistry of Metz and her daughters, Stephanie and Shani, who help create the beautiful, useful line of products—including their popular lavender room spray, dried lavender bouquets, sachets, and lavender-peppermint foot cream. (In keeping with the spirit of family involvement, Metz’s granddaughter, Cheryl, gave Lavender Legacy its name.)
Metz—who worked as a teacher’s aide at Bangor Elementary School from 1980 until she retired in 2010—and at least one of her daughters can be found at the Saturday farmers’ market from April until Christmas. Metz always takes January off, and then there’s the accounting, product creation and, of course, the daily harvest from late May through July.
Despite her busy-ness, Metz prefers her country life to city life, hands-down. “My husband and I had lived in San Francisco before coming to Bangor in 1979,” she offered. “Now we are much happier in the open space of our 55 acres, which, except for a kitchen garden and my lavender, is all pasture.”
There is only one true lavender, known as lavandula angustifolia—or common lavender. Metz grows two kinds of angustifolia, Royal Velvet and Munstead, which ripen in early June. These produce a sweet-scented oil. However, there are many other kinds of lavender that have been developed for specific uses and growing conditions. Metz grows two of these hybridized lavender varieties, which ripen later in June and in July; these varieties, the Grosso and the Provence, produce an intense scent with touches of camphor.
“I’ve always loved lavender, so when a friend gave me some seeds in about 2000, I started growing my own plants,” Metz said. “Now I start each new plant with a lavender plug about the size of a spool of thread.”
The lavender plant is very productive, as Metz discovered when she planted her first real crop in 2002. “I knew from the start that I wanted to create lavender products to sell to the public, but I thought I’d have three years before the first harvest,” she said. “So when the lavender was ready to cut the first summer, I had to figure out what to do with it very quickly.”
Metz’s sustainable farming practices include the regular use of an organic foliar plant spray, planting in mounded rows for good drainage and a drip system for irrigation.
Metz uses all of the products she makes, which include the lavender-mint foot cream that she says is popular with men, and the floral spray, which she uses in her linen closets and as a room freshener. In her kitchen, she adds tasty lavender buds to white tea, plain sugar cookies, pound cake, lemonade, and to several meat dishes.
She praises the medicinal uses of lavender. “A man came up to me at the market and said, ‘You have got to see my leg,’” Metz said. Although the man’s calf had been badly burned, he told her that using lavender oil on his leg had helped to prevent a scar. Lavender oil is also known to help with eczema and other skin problems.
Metz uses a small copper still to create, through steam distillation, a product called hydrosol—or herbal distillate—that she sells at the farmers market. For this process, she uses only the Grosso lavender. Metz said she always carries a bottle of hydrosol with her in the lavender field to treat any bee sting or insect bite immediately. “Hydrosol helps to lessen poison ivy rash and makes a great mosquito repellent,” she added.
“Lavender is great to keep moths away,” said Metz. “Have several sachets with your woolens. Give the sachets a squeeze once in a while to release fresh oil.” She said she’s even heard that lavender buds have discouraged scorpions in closets and are used by ballerinas to store their toe shoes in.
Aside from a lot of hard work, Metz said that growing lavender is relatively worry-free.
“Lavender plants are quite hardy,” she noted, “but can be affected by a late frost or an area fire. A fire robs the oxygen from the surrounding area, and that affects the year’s plant growth.” Metz speaks from experience: In 2008, the smoke from the Butte Lightning Complex fire near Paradise caused plants to grow more slowly than usual. But, by and large, lavender plants are resilient and come back just fine the following season.
“I guess the main reason I do all of this work is that I like to create these lavender products for people to enjoy,” Metz said. “I am rewarded by knowing that the products really help people.
“Sometimes I think of trying a website and mail orders, but that might take me away from all of the people I meet at the market,” she added. “And meeting all of these wonderful people is one of the main reasons that I’m growing lavender.”