Category: General

Old Growth Lavender: Lot#Toyon17

Old growth, gnarly vines produce fruit which in turn results in prized wine, but seldom do we hear of old growth lavender. We have a small acreage of lavender that we decided not to replant, but we didn’t pull it either. Its short stems are good only for our still yet so short they are difficult to harvest. But the work is worth it!  The distilled essence of those ancient plants is ebullience! It has all the tones of the earth it grew from and the resonances of the sun which blares hot in the afternoon. The earth there is clay-like, and water is scarce, and yet the old plants’ joyful struggle to continue is  recorded in the aromatic whiff you get every time you open a bottle of it―Lot number Toyon17.

Three of our five growing areas are labeled with the name of a goat, each of which is now on the spirit plane. “Toyon” is the name of this ancient field. Toyon was a sweet, independent pygmy goat whose mother Sophia equaled her in independence―but also in socialabilty. You get that in this essential oil, that energy: joi de vivre! love of life! the ability to rise above harsh and difficult circumstances and thrive!

More and more scientists discover the value of the plants that we have intuitively known are healing, and lavender is one of those. In the New York Times this week an article discussed recent discoveries of the value of lavender, and particularly the chemical linalool in lavender, in treating anxiety and pain.  They discuss replicating that in medicine. But I know this: the plant lavender is so much more. Yes, she treats anxiety and sleeplessness, but she  is also teacher who knows how to survive difficult times with love of life in tact. A relationship with lavender also brings an opportunity to discover her many qualities; her essence which comes to you in her essential oil brings with it the totality of time and place and love of living.

Casey, photographer and photographed. Casey, photographer and photographed.

Lavender and Memory: Evocative Pleasure!

Lavender and Memory: Evocative Pleasure!

Lavender is a paradox: the scent  brings you into the immediacy of the senses, and this experience evokes memory.  Lavender has provided an unexpected  journey to my husband and me over these 20 years since we planted it.

Casey was still in high school when we first planted the 3500  tiny lavender plants. He and our friend Andy placed irrigation for the lavender and  then weeded, over and over and over! Now Casey’s wife, our daughter-in-law Melissa, and their sons, Wesley and Sabien, help harvest and process the lavender that you receive.

Three great surprises in my life are my love of being a grandmother (okay, I am not too surprised!), my love of goats, and my love of lavender. When Donald and I planted 3500 plants, we had no idea what we were getting into. Lavender turns out to be a lot of work! Not only does it take a good bit of weeding if you don’t use Roundup, and we do not, and harvesting, and drying, and distilling, and pruning, but it also involves marketing, something we didn’t plan for. I have written about this process in other blogs and books, but I have to say this: lavender is a great marketing partner! If people smell it, it goes home with them!

Melissa and Sabien
Melissa and Sabien

But there is so much more! Through distillation, Lavender taught us that each area of the ranch, each terrior, expresses its individuality through its scent. We store the lavender in the cool dark of our basement, and its essence rises throughout the house. At night we open the windows to the field outside the bedroom, and the full bloom gifts us sleep. When I pack your orders, I think of lavender as an ambassador of the ranch, of the earth here, coming  to calm you, to delight you, to offer you her healing energies.

Melissa and Wesley
Melissa and Wesley

For this is the paradox: yes, it evokes memory, but it also brings you into the absolute present! Just sit in a lavender field at full bloom! The world buzzes with busy pollinators— bees of all varieties, sun up to sun down.  A few minutes of this completely changes the planet.

Lavender is now also now a playground for my grandsons. Little legs  run through lavender bushes as arms swing Star War lightsabers.

Will these lavender fields be emblazoned in their memory in times to come?

Wesley and Sabien with gathered valley oak acorns for Acorn to Oak project.

Lavender Harvest is Over. Now We Collect for Acorns to Oaks Program.

Lavender Harvest is over. Now We Collect for Acorns to Oaks Program.

Wesley, Sabien and I collect valley oak acorns from the oak savanna by our home for the Acorn to Oaks program in Napa County. School children will plant them in a program to re-oak the Napa Valley.

IMG_4255 3We collect perfect acorns, count them and put them in labeled bags. We note the number and kinds of acorns, and the date and place they were collected.

Both boys are astute at distinguishing black oak acorns from valley oak; valley oak from coastal oak. The bag in this photo contains acorns from one of the highest oak savannas in the Napa Valley.

Boey the goat knows what to do with the acorns with worm holes in them.
Boey the goat knows what to do with the acorns with worm holes in them.

The goats supervise, happy to dispose of the acorns with worm holes!  Evidently the hole is made by the worm on the way out. We contemplate the  question as we work: how does the worm get in there?

In a Harmony with Nature report from the United Nations General Assembly, a recommendation is to include environmental experiences with our natural world in education of our children. The report, a summary from 120 experts representing 33 countries, stated that in this way children come to love the natural word and hopefully  see nature as needing protection and legal standing.

Both boys are agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers. They love to work with the lavender and other aromatics on the ranch, and they are great gatherers and sorters of acorns. Watch for our next blog on cooking with acorns!

I have also noticed I have yet to get a ripe tomato. Sabien spends a fair amount of time in the garden watching for just the right ripeness and then plucketing and popping the tomato into his mouth!

Tall Grasses and Goat Trainers

Tall Grasses and Goat Trainers

by Melissa McLaughlin

I have been spending the early mornings and evenings pulling weeds in the lavender while the boys play various games throughout the large lavender plants.

I work my way up the rows, clearing out the tall grasses within the plants so that, when we harvest, the bouquets will be clean and grass-free. It feels like summer and the work has been pleasant. The boys run to pull the California Red Oats out of the aromatics, as they know that it is a favorite treat of the goats. They run down to the pen and deliver the delicate seeds. They gave me a lesson in plant identification so that now I, too, can delight our horned friends.

This evening we let the goats out to browse for their dinner.


They quickly made their way into the Helichrysum and started skillfully pulling the long blades of grass out of the plants by the mouthful. Their deft browsing skills made my weeding hands feel feeble in comparison. They are a pleasure to watch.

One reason we have these beautiful French Alpine goats, in addition to companionship, is that they are excellent browsers and their hooves work well on our largely sloped land. When we take them on walks, they love to eat leaves along the way (including poison oak of which there is an abundance). It’s also useful when they browse through the aromatics, which we let them do at certain times of year.

That’s not to say that the occasional goat doesn’t get out of line. Dasher with her bold ways will try to rub her horns through the bushes, and Lilly will occasionally nibble some sprouts off the top of a plant.

Lilly Browsing

That is why, when you let your goats browse, it is sometimes helpful to have a goat trainer on security detail…water squirters (or “goat trainers” as they are known around here) are a gentle herding technique in lieu of a herding dog.

Goat Trainer

Day after a beautiful birth.

Lavender and the Ice Cube: Preparation for Life (and Birth)

Lavender and the Ice Cube: Preparation for Life (and Birth)

by Melissa McLaughlin

From the time I was pregnant with our first child, lavender has been a part of our “toolkit” for surviving and thriving through birth and parenthood. Over time I will share some of the ways we have used lavender as parents.

Our first experience with lavender and parenthood came at our Birth Education class about a month before the birth of our first son.

The childbirth educator led us through an exercise to demonstrate our ability to manage intense (perhaps painful) experiences. I highly recommend doing this activity during pregnancy. It is great even for non-pregnant people if you want to experience your ability to stay centered in intense situations.

First we held an ice cube clenched in the palm of our hand for 60 seconds. This may not sound hard, but I welcome you to do it. It was incredibly excruciating. I remember thinking, oh dear, if an ice cube can bring us to our knees, how in the world will we make it through birth.

ice cube pile

It seemed like the opposite of what our birth educator should be putting us through. Fortunately the activity didn’t stop there.

After a moment we took the ice cube in our other hand and she had us all visualize something or someone we love as we focused on our breath for 60 seconds while holding the ice cube. Time went quickly. It felt like maybe 20 seconds. The room filled with surprised little laughs of release.

We did a third round in which we smelled lavender oil on a cotton ball (I am sure sachets would also work well) while we continued to focus on our breath. I swear it felt like 3 seconds, the blink of an eye. It was shocking.

The activity gave me a powerful direct experience of my ability to manage intensity with the use of simple herbs and, visualization, and breath work.

During pregnancy there are so many unknowns, but this exercise helped me feel confident in my ability to manage the intensity of birth.

Moments after our Second Birth

Spring and Lavender

Spring and Lavender

Our son Casey, daughter-in-law Melissa, and grandsons Wesley and Sabien, join us on the ranch with the lavender and aromatic cultivation and marketing. They will be sharing their experiences over these next months as they weed, harvest, and distill to get the lavender to you!

Our Family

By Melissa McLaughlin

After a week of heavy rain which soaked the fields, the ground has finally dried up again, and we are finishing the final weeding of the Sophia lot of lavender. In Biodynamics, we carefully track which field crops come from for the ultimate system of traceability and respect for terroir.

New Growth

The new growth is sprouting, and we are enjoying getting to know the young plants which were planted over the last three years. They will be ready for their first major harvest this year, and Saturday, June 18 will be our first Open House in a couple years. The Open House is held next to the Sophia lot of lavender, so we are happy that the plants are finally large enough to be beautiful company!

Casey weeding

This morning Casey was up early working in the lavender. After weed whacking for several weeks, we are going back and hand weeding each plant to remove any grasses or weeds which are crowding around or growing up through the lavender.

After breakfast the boys and I hiked down the hill and joined Casey in the fields. The boys were busy searching for bugs and leaves to feed them. Casey and I were weeding. The sun was shining—and all is well!

Weeded field

Beautiful, but tick habitat! Beautiful, but tick habitat!

Ticks and Aromatics

Ticks and Aromatics

by Melissa McLaughlin

Winter is receding and Spring emerging. It means more time outdoors–time spent picking wildflower bouquets, time hiking in the fresh green of Spring. For the lavender, it is a time to weed all of the opportunistic weeds and grasses that have grown up under the freeze cloth, which means wading through fields of tall grasses.

It is also a time when tick nymphs emerge and are especially plentiful.

Because ticks are the carrier of numerous diseases, it is important to do all we can to protect ourselves when we are in high tick areas.

In addition to doing regular tick checks, wearing light clothing (with pants tucked in and tight wrist closures), herbal aromatics can help discourage ticks from biting us.

We found this natural Tick Repellent in Essential Oils for a Clean and Healthy Home by Kasey Schwartz and have been dousing ourselves in it before going outside.

Shwartz’s recipe for Tick Be Gone:

¼ cup witch hazel

1 cup distilled water

10 drops Biodynamic lavender essential oil

10 drops lemongrass oil

10 drops citronella essential oil


To Make: Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake well.

To Use: Spray over hair, clothes, pant cuffs, and shoes. Repeat every couple of hours.

To Store: Store indefinitely in spray bottle.

If you know you’ll be in tall grasses or wooded underbrush, please protect yourselves and consider using organic essential oils as added precaution. If you are bitten by a tick, please be careful to remove the tick properly and submit the tick for Lyme testing, if it is available in your region.

By taking certain safety precautions, we can stay safe and enjoy the beauty of Springtime.

Sabien loves to scan the driveway for the earthworms after storms.

New Eyes on the Ranch!

New Eyes on the Ranch!

Donald and I are delighted that our youngest son Casey, our daughter-in-law Melissa, and our grandsons Wesley and Sabien, are joining us on the ranch!  In the next months they will be  taking over the lavender and aromatic operations, bringing new insights, energies,  and projects. Melissa and Casey are particularly interested in nature-based education and bring that sensibility in working with groups of parents and their children. More on this soon!

Preparing for a raining walk.
Preparing for a raining walk.

For me, I am submersed in the great pleasures of grandmotherhood. I adore these grandsons. They bring a sense of wonder in a new pair of boots in a rainstorm, a crow in the garden, the worms in the driveway. A few hours with them returns me to center—yes, tired, perhaps, but also strangely revived!

These precious times when I  remember the pleasures of the moment are also times  I know why I am sitting through hours of Board of Supervisor meetings, Planning Commission meetings, and farming Biodynamically. These children are inheriting the earth. They are coming into an unprecedented time when the earth is warmer. We have no idea what this will mean for them. We need to do everything we can to learn a new relationship with the earth and to enjoy it with these children teachers who know the pleasures of an earthworm.

Wesley and Sabien weeding with Grandpa.
Wesley and Sabien weeding with Grandpa.


It is so important we show up as often as possible at the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission meetings. Photo by Skip Shiel, 2016.

When did Farming become Political?

When did Farming become Political?

—When industries decided to redefine agriculture for financial reasons!  This is happening in many communities. When my husband and I visited his hometown of Plainfield, Illinois, he barely recognized the environment. The once small farm community with its rich topsoiled lands had been sold to developers, and housing tracks stretched as far as the eye could see. Chicago’s suburbs were on the march!

Our version in the Napa Valley is with the wine industry. In the 2010 Winery Definition Act, tasting rooms and event centers with visitation and “food pairings” to all hours of the night have become so-called “accessory uses” of agriculture, and allowed in our Ag Preserve and Ag Watersheds. As the valley floor has become planted out by vineyards, investors look to the hillsides and forests for new land and scenic sights for their vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms. We are told that the “small wineries” need this arrangement  for their direct marketing and financial viability, but these small wineries are increasingly created and owned by wealthy out-of-town and foreign investors who appear to care little about our watersheds and environmental concerns—about farming the land.  Like ants farming aphids, they are farming tourists with high priced tickets for their sit down food pairings—basically high-priced, exclusive restaurants in scenic locations. Is this really agriculture?

Enter Napa Valley Vision 2050. A number of citizen groups opposing these kinds of transgression on our lands and  on our Planning Commissioners and Board of Supervisors, whose job is to attend all of us— has organized to educate the population about this deadly trend. The drought has helped! If we allow any industry, including the wine industry, to trump environmental concerns, we all will suffer. Our hillsides and forests are key to our watershed health —and water supply. Many of us are attending Board of Supervisor and Planning Commission meetings. Variances and forgivenesses of violations of permits around visitation and gallonage have been made way too often— even forgivenesses of  building without permits. This is basically taking the law into one’s own hands.

We know in Biodynamics that what we do on our land impacts the whole. Tourism— out of balance— destroys the integrity of a community. You see this world wide. Locals can no longer afford to buy or rent homes in the communities they grew up in. In the case of the Napa Valley, farming the wealthy tourists is on the backs of low wage workers in hotels, restaurants, wineries, and vineyards who can no longer afford to live here. This contributes to the traffic snarls, but it also changes the community fabric and feeling of stewardship with the land. The land is not something to be in dialogue with: it is a stage for business and “direct marketing”.

Raising the general population’s consciousness on these issues is critically important. This is when farming becomes political. We need to step up to the plate and not allow the environment to be seen as a commodity, there mainly to make a killing profit. To this end, Vision 2050 is offering a day long Economic Forum. Your attendance will demonstrate to the Supervisors and industry representatives that we are all serious about exploring a sustainable future for all Napans as well as the wine/hospitality industry. The forum is being held at the Napa Country Club on Hagen Road and you have the option to attend the presentations only or to stay for lunch as well. Register at


Tolerating the Mystery: Wesley and His Fairy House. Tolerating the Mystery: Wesley and His Fairy House.

Change on the Ranch

Change on the Ranch

The meditation that I have been doing on Headspace these last days has been on Change. The concept is to allow space to not know, to tolerate uncertainty—mystery. In the meditation one is directed to witness shifts within the body and emotional self, realizing the connection. Focus is on the beginning and the end of an emotion while resting on the rise and fall of the breath within the body. Slowly one feels the rock of the inner witness.

Everything changes. That is true on our ranch as well. This year Donald and I are making big changes: we are living with a great deal of unknown, and it is uncomfortable, and exciting —and sad. This week Ramon, who has been with us for sixteen years, will finish pruning the grapes for the last time before he moves. We have much gratitude to him for the services that he has provided: not only his loving care of our grapes and aromatics, but also of our goats, our tricky driveway, and our larger ranch.

Our youngest son Casey, his wife Melissa, and their sons Wesley and Sabien have arrived and will live in the pioneer house by the road. They will help us with the aromatics and the ranch in general as we all dream into what will happen here next. (Yes, you guessed it! This is the exitement part!  Much grandma time!)  We have someone who will probably take over the grapes (more on this later). It is important to us that the ranch remain Biodynamic and organic— I will continue to tend it in these ways.

So send us your good thoughts and prayers as we navigate the mystery, trusting the path uncertainty and chaos afford. After all, didn’t Rudolf Steiner say that we are closest to the divine when we are in chaos? May we allow that process here, that our ranch’s highest purpose—its divinity— be served.