While Nebraska is known as the Cornhusker State, a different crop has been sprouting throughout the state: lavender.
Just over 20 minutes south of Nebraska’s capital, Jerry and Holly McCabe, owners of Sleepy Bees Lavender Farm, have been cultivating culinary lavender for the last three years.
“There’s different kinds of lavender,” Jerry said. “The ones that grow best here are the intermediate and English lavender. The English lavender is mostly a culinary blend of lavender, whereas French and Spanish are more for perfumes.”
After buying an acreage in Firth, the McCabes said they left the city lifestyle to try something on their own. After looking into a variety of farming niches, they landed on lavender.
“We did have lavender in our wedding,” Jerry said. “And my wife actually had ordered lavender from the state of Washington, and she had to order it in October for a May wedding. So we had to order it that far in advance and there was really nowhere around here that was selling lavender.”
With only three other lavender farms in the state — Our Lavender Co. in Big Springs, Peace Love & Lavender in Dawson County and Sandhills Lavender Farm in Dannebrog — the couple said they had to experiment with the farming methods before they were able to get their lavender growing.
Nebraska’s unpredictable winters have proven to be their biggest challenge, Jerry said, as the cold could freeze their crop’s roots and lack of snow could lead to a lack of water. During their first winter, they used varying strengths of row covers on their crops and ended up losing a majority of the crops under the lighter covers.
“We learn our lessons a year at a time,” he said, “because whatever we do, we don’t know whether it’s succeeded or failed until the next year until it blooms or until it dies.”
Since then, they have expanded their business to make and sell products. Additionally, they sell tickets to tours of their farm, which they call the “Trials and Tribulations of a Lavender Farmer in Nebraska” in mid-June when the lavender is in bloom.
As a team of two, the couple works year-round developing and selling a range of lavender-centered products online and in their gift shop on the farm. From bath bombs to sugar scrubs, insect sprays to stress-relieving teas and candles, the McCabes have been able to cultivate a wide variety of lavender products.
“We manufacture all of our products in-house,” he said. “We make everything ourselves in small batches. So we are producing all sorts of products all the time.”
Their business is most successful during the holiday season as more people are buying their products for gifts, Jerry said. During the springtime, he said they rely on Junkstock for extra income.
With a focus on handmade crafts and antiques, Junkstock’s guests get a taste of local creators’ works while also enjoying live music and other activities, said Danelle Schlegelmilch, Junkstock’s public relations director.
Junkstock’s spring edition was held April 29-30, May 1 and May 6-8.
“Our goal really is just to create a place where the community can come and gather and have some fun together,” Schlegelmilch said. “And to have a place to really kind of experience some of the creativity that our local artisans and vendors have and to be inspired to, to kind of go home and create something beautiful too.”
Junkstock pulls in small businesses and creators from across the Midwest, like the McCabes.
“They’re kind of like the perfect vendor,” she said. “I think lavender is just one of those really soothing things that we need more. Right now, with so much stress with the pandemic, I feel like it’s those little handmade items that just feel so special, and be able to help support someone’s small business and to kind of take care of yourself at the same time.”
As the event approached, the McCabes were working to stock their shop and have enough products for Junkstock.
“Our expectation at Junkstock this year is to just kind of grow, keep continually spreading the word of our business,” Jerry said, “because a lot of people don’t know we exist.”