The Largest Lavender Farm In The Midwest Calls Washington Island Home

Video | October 13, 2016

Wisconsin Public Television

When Martine Anderson and her husband Edgar arrived on Washington Island it was love at first site.  Anderson can remember the lilac bushes in bloom and the fragrant smell across the island on the northern tip of Door County. 

In their retirement, the Anderson's were looking for a place to call home, a place that would be pristine and in touch with nature. They found it in a farm field that had never been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizer.  They would turn the land into an island oasis and a sea of purple lavender.

Growing up in France, Anderson always had a sweet spot for lavender but owning an entire farm always seemed liked an impossible adventure. Especially considering that Anderson had made a career in high fashion, working for Saks 5th Avenue and Nieman Marcus in charge of haute couture, a far cry from farming lavender fields in Wisconsin.

“You cannot be naive going into this type of business. You need to make your research, you need to learn how it is handled before you jump,” Anderson said.

What they discovered on Washington Island was the perfect soil to grow lavender. As Anderson would say, it doesn’t like wet feet. In other words, you need to have well-drained loamy soil.

Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm is currently has over 16,000 plants and 48 different varieties of lavender growing, including white and pink lavender. More than 5,000 people come for the lavender festival alone in late July.

“People's mouths really open and they are like wow.  It's spectacular. I don't think in the Midwest you see lavender farms this size,” Anderson said.

Harvesting and processing lavender is labor intensive as they collect the plants all by hand. The lavender is then hand cut, hand tied and hung up to dry. Next it’s suspended for five to six weeks to dry. Finally, the oils are then distilled out of the plant. Anderson uses the lavender to make soaps, lotions, body sprays and other organic lavender products.

“When you take out all the work and really think of it, it's happiness. It's relaxation. It's nice. It's beautiful,” Anderson said.

The success of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm is proof you can do business on Washington Island, and be successful at it.

“You take life once at a time, at my age and just enjoy, and I think that's what I do,” Anderson said.

For Anderson the sky is the limit and at the end of the day, she has accomplished her lifelong dream.

Bees Bees

Thousands of bees are buzzing the lavender fields on Washington Island but find out why it’s unlikely you will get stung.

Tags: Lavender / Washington Island / door county / cooking / farming

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the "Wisconsin Life" project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods.