From Oregon, With Love and Lavender

2022-06-25 07:50:12 By : Mr. Jianbin Ge

In Marilyn Thompson’s experience, life is a journey of unexpected and sometimes very difficult pathways, which are nonetheless part of a divine plan. When she and her husband, Troy, purchased a 2 1/2-acre property on a hill in Oregon’s beautiful wine country, she could not begin to imagine the hardship, the grief, the effort, or the innumerable blessings that would come from that place.

The land was purchased with a dream in mind: to build a custom home for their family and to establish Troy’s landscaping business with greenhouses on the acreage. But within 30 days of closing the sale in April 1994, Troy received terrible news: He had Lou Gehrig’s disease, incurable and fatal. On their very first visit to the neurologist, they were told that this apparently healthy, strong, 6-foot-4-inch man would probably be in a wheelchair within a year. It was unimaginable.

Bravely, they decided to go ahead with building their new home. Told that Troy would soon be unable to manage stairs, they moved into an apartment. Troy’s health went downhill quickly, and the house-building project dragged on. The neurologist began to express doubt that Troy would last.

“I was a wife desperate to get her husband settled,” Thompson said. She canceled the lease on the apartment and told the contractors that, ready or not, they were moving in. The family moved into their new home on her birthday, Aug. 6, 1996. Thompson’s oldest daughter, Summer, was away at college; her second-oldest, Holly, was in her senior year of high school; and her third daughter, Victoria, was a toddler.

“There was no deck, the kitchen appliances weren’t in, but at least we were here. Troy was in a wheelchair by then. Within a very short time, he was bedridden,” she said.

Four years after his diagnosis, on July 11, 1998, Troy died.

“He lived much longer than they thought he would,” Thompson said.

Before Troy’s diagnosis, Thompson had a career in real estate. After he died, she was terribly burned out. She quit and took a year off to write a book about Troy. Then she began to wonder what to do.

One thing was always clear to her: She wanted to stay in the house and on the land, and she wanted to do something from home “so that Victoria wouldn’t have to be a day care kid.”

“I had been through that with Summer and Holly, and I didn’t want it for her,” she said.

“I was trying to figure out if there was something I could do with this property.”

With a beautiful rose garden and about 20 lavender plants that were part of the initial landscaping on the property, Thompson tried a wedding planner business using the flowers for wedding photography. However, “within a year, I saw that wedding planning can be kind of disappointing in terms of people’s attitudes, the drama that goes on,” she said with a laugh.

She started drying roses and lavendar, but  eventually settled on lavender because “the deer absolutely love roses, and it’s hard to keep them away.”

“But they don’t like lavender, and neither do the moles or gophers. So that was the deciding factor—that’s how scientific I was!” she said.

She started making lavender soap, little dried lavender sachets, and bouquets. She put them in her friend’s local shop, and they all sold out.

“I was shocked!” she said.

So she started selling her products at craft shows. A friend visited her, looked around the house and land, and said, “You’re going to need to make a lot of soap.”

“I’ll never forget him saying that,” Thompson said. “He was right.”

Struggling to believe that a lavender business could become a career, Thompson nonetheless decided to go for it in 2002. “I wrote a business plan and got a brand going and a website. As the lavender idea grew, I realized it was a gift from God,” she said.

“Lavender is one of nature’s super herbs. I honestly had no idea. But I don’t believe I stumbled into it. I believe it was part of God’s plan all along.”

She learned that lavender has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

“One time, I burned my hand on the stove,” she said. “I put it in a bucket of ice water. I couldn’t take it out. That night, I tried to sleep with my hand in a bucket, and then I remembered lavender. I had already created a spray with lavender and aloe vera, so I tried that and I was able to go to sleep. The next morning, the pain was a lot better.”

Thompson suffers from chronic neck pain and already had a microwavable neck wrap. She made one using lavender, and it worked really well. Then, as a gardener, she wanted to formulate a really good hand cream. “I discovered it’s also an amazing face cream, and now, I think the majority of people buy it for that reason,” she said.

Next, being a bath taker herself, she branched into bath products. The business grew from making products that she liked and “that accomplish something, that meet a need or solve a problem.”

It has always been important to Thompson to use only natural ingredients. When she was caring for Troy, she sought natural alternatives. “My biggest focus was nutrition,” she said. Troy was down to 90 pounds when he got a feeding tube, and she was advised to feed him canned Ensure.

“I balked against that!” Thompson said. “I cooked fresh things and blended them. I’m sure that is the reason he lived longer than expected.”

Troy knew nothing of her lavender business “because he was gone by then,” but her dedication to all-natural products is part of his legacy.

Thompson has grown her lavender farm from the original 20 plants to now 450, all on the acreage where she and Troy built their home. She named her business Victoria’s Lavender, after her daughter.

As Thompson’s business grew and she was able to take on some part-time employees, she knew right from the start that she wanted to hire local stay-at-home moms like her. “I’m doing this so I can be available for Victoria, and I want to provide that for other moms,” she said.

When her employees have preschool-aged children, Thompson provides them with work that they can do in their own homes, such as filling sachets or making and wrapping soaps. When their children are school-age, the moms come to the farm to work.

“It’s not a lot of income for them for sure, but it’s flexible. If somebody has an orthodontist appointment, or somebody’s sick, or they need to leave early because there’s a sports event, that’s my number one priority—for moms to be there for their kids and keep them out of day care,” Thompson said. “I’m passionate about moms being involved with their kids, so that’s how we built it, and that’s how we roll. Just about everybody clears out of here at 2:30 or 3 because that’s when school gets out.”

Victoria’s Lavender is now into the second generation. Thompson’s longest-standing employee, Lisel, had two young sons when she started working from home for Thompson. Both of those boys came to work at the farm as teenagers, until they graduated high school. Victoria, laid off from her sports marketing job in 2020, came to join Thompson and has decided to make her career in the business, and Thompson’s two older daughters also recently decided to join.

And now this story of “family first” is heading into a whole new chapter. Together with Summer, Holly, and Victoria, Thompson is purchasing a new farm in central Oregon with 10,000 lavender plants. Her three daughters will live there, but for now, Thompson plans to continue living in her house on the land where she and Troy had a dream.

“It’s still evolving,” she said. “There’s no way I could have designed this. I give all credit to God for creating something that he knew was right.”