Our Vision & History
This video profile was generously gifted to Pelindaba by LifePrints Video from San Francisco who, having been inspired by what they had previously heard about Pelindaba and in particular our community focus – a core interest of theirs – came to visit us for a week in August 2013. With authenticity and spontaneity in mind, the material they used came solely from their unscripted interviews of us as well as several others in our island community. We were naturally delighted with what they presented to us, and we share it here with you.
Evolution of an Open-Space Preservation Project
That’s what started it. A simple plan to protect a quiet valley property on San Juan Island – off the northwest coast of Washington state, between the mainland and Vancouver Island.
Rather than just passively protecting it from residential development, we wanted to share the open space with other residents and island visitors, and to make it self-sustaining by making it productive and even enhancing its natural beauty.
Thus was born “PELINDABA”, a Zulu word that hearkened back to owner/founder Stephen Robins’ South African roots
and which can be translated as “PLACE OF GREAT GATHERINGS”
— a name that incorporates the two key elements of the original concept
— great gatherings of crops & great gatherings of people.
Pelindaba Lavender is a premier grower of lavender plants, distiller of lavender essential oils and handcrafter of lavender products.
On our beautiful farm on San Juan Island, we undertake these activities in accordance with the highest environmental and aesthetic standards.
We cultivate all our lavender flowers in our own organically certified fields and extract the essential oils from these flowers in our own on-site distillery. From these flowers and essential oils, we handcraft on-site a wide range of botanical, culinary, personal care, therapeutic, household & pet care products.
This vertically integrated model of sustainable agriculture enables us to preserve the farmland from further development, protect it from pollution, create employment opportunities for our fellow islanders and provide a destination of natural beauty for islanders and visitors alike.
We believe that these endeavors, pursued with integrity and passion, will provide ample satisfaction in both human and economic terms, and will do full justice to our name...
Pelindaba “Place of Great Gatherings”
Guided all along by our Vision Statement, PELINDABA has continually evolved as it has grown, from its open space preservation origins to a successful sustainable agriculture and economic development prototype.
This evolution has been organic, each new activity being born out of the demand of necessity or the serendipity of opportunity. Throughout, however, the touchstone has been to ensure that nothing would compromise our purpose to do well by our island environment – physically, economically and culturally.
1998 – The Original Plan : Open Space Preservation
Simply to improve the appearance of the property by removing derelict outbuildings and fences and then planting the fields with a non-invasive, self-maintaining, physically attractive crop that would enhance the natural beauty of the landscape.
Seeking a crop that would satisfy several criteria – unique on the island, low water and fertilizer needs, and just as importantly one with a discernable path to economic viability – we eventually arrive at lavender and a simple plan – plant a small field and sell the crop to others to do with as they wished.
1999 – Execution
After considerable research, we prepare the fields, source and plant approximately 2,500 lavender starts, nurture them carefully and then hold our breath — which turns out to be quite unnecessary. The plants “take” spectacularly, and we are on our way.
2000 – Transformation
Encouraged, we plant another 5,000 plants. The same year, however, unanticipated changes in the market economics of lavender raw materials determine that we will have to go well beyond the modest limitations of the initial plan if we are ever to become economically sustainable. In a nutshell, we will have to become our own customers, so to speak, and venture into value-added lavender product handcrafting for ourselves.
Building our own Production Center and developing our own formulas, recipes and procedures, allow us to retain full product value within the venture. Doing so on the farm itself helps distinguish us from many others, not least in allowing us to further affirm our focus on quality by knowing intimately our source of flowers, buds and essential oil – our own organically certified fields!
It also allows us to extend the concept of locally sustainable agriculture by providing local employment opportunities for island-based handcrafters and artists.
This choice of a handcrafting rather than the less expensive mechanized manufacturing model for making products has its obvious downside however. We will have to sell the products ourselves through our own retail outlets rather than wholesale them to others – at least until we attain greater size and can recognize adequate economies of scale.
2001 – Opening to the Public
After two years of research and preparation, on 30 June 2001 we open our first store — The Gatehouse — as an on-farm Gift Store and Nursery. Committed at the same to time to educating the public, we add a Demonstration Garden with more than 50 lavender cultivars demonstrating the wide diversity of this extraordinary plant genus.
In concert again with our original purpose, we also open up the fields for visitors to wander through and enjoy the vistas of lush rows of flowering fragrant plants. We add additional picnic facilities and also make the lawns and fields available for community and private functions, including weddings.
We also invite painters and photographers to paint and photograph for their artistic endeavors as and when they wish (never locking our gates) and for sculptors to exhibit their works.
2002 – Expanding our educational offerings
By popular demand, we start conducting frequent docent-guided tours for farm visitors as well as more programmatically for groups such as Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). We also host the first of our annual free-admission San Juan Island Lavender Festivals, with demonstrations, talks and workshops, accompanied by music, children’s activities, food and refreshments.
We complement these further by developing self-tour facilities with signage in key locations on the farm. Away from the farm, we actively support and help expand the concept of economically viable sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices throughout the County by giving talks to community and service groups, participating in the island’s Farmer’s Market, and mounting educational displays at the annual San Juan County Fair.
2003 – Website Upgrading
To accommodate our rapid growth in product sales, fueled by word of mouth and favorable press alike, we find we need to redesign our relatively primitive original website to better handle customer service and product fulfillment through our on-line store.
2004 – First Off-Farm Retail Presence
In response to popular demand, Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor opens in May in Friday Harbor as a hybrid Product Gallery and Refreshment Place. Being in the Pacific Northwest, we soon are obliged to add coffee to our initial offerings of Lavender teas. Lavender baked goods – both sweet and savory – are also offered, all made ourselves in our newly completed custom-built commercially certified Kitchen & Bakery at the farm.
To support the continuing growth in demand for our products, we plant another 8,000 plants and upgrade our distillation capacity by installing a 50-gallon still.
2005 – Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor as Gathering Place and Events Forum
With the addition of light lunches and suppers, the location becomes even more popular as an away-from-the-farm extension of the Gathering Place concept. It also becomes an island cultural haven, hosting book readings, musical and theatrical events, special interest forums, and film evenings.
2006 – Farming Activities Expand
Continuing to pace our growth, we plant another 4,000 plants.
2007 – Pelindaba Expands Off-island
Having thoroughly affirmed the appeal of our product line on the island, we decide to test its appeal elsewhere by opening Pelindaba Lavender Seattle in the heart of the city’s retail core.
The positive results of this test soon signal that we are ready for the next phase of growth. Having steadily increased our plantings over the years, we now add a further 6,000 plants to bring our total to approximately 25,000. Having also significantly enhanced our distillation and production facilities and methodologies, we have laid a solid foundation for what we now come to envision as a wider geographic expansion. While growth for its own sake is not our objective, we determine that this expansion will help secure the sustainability of the overall project.
2008 – Pelindaba Lavender Bellevue Square, Washington
This, the last in our trial program of retail outlet models in a variety of settings – farm, small town retail area, major city retail core, and now upscale regional mall – further establishes the viability of our retail expansion program concept as it draws many accolades.
2009 – Fire !
And then, in an early morning major conflagration, our entire administration, production, and inventory facilities burn to the ground from a fire apparently originating from the simple malfunction of a domestic clothes dryer. Pausing for perhaps two heartbeats, we rapidly secure temporary space and are up and running within a few weeks, all our data having being successfully backed up off-site. The fields and Gatehouse are unaffected, but as we need to replace our still, we build a new distillery with much greater capacity than previously, and commence construction of a new building to house our Administration, Production and Inventory activities — 14,000 square feet vs, the original 6,300.
A strategic review leads us to allowing the lease on the café/restaurant component of Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor to expire, but renewing the lease for the Product Gallery component. Popular and rewarding as the café/restaurant has become in many ways for many people, we decide to concentrate our efforts more fully on the expansion of our core lavender farming and product production enterprise.
2010 – Visitor Center
Behind the Gatehouse and adjacent to the new Distillery, we add a comprehensive exhibit area with panels, displays and video monitors to further enhance the educational experience of a farm visit. Recorded audio tours are subsequently made available to provide in-depth narrations as visitors wander the grounds, and the ever-popular lavender craft workshops from the festival are now offered in the new Visitor Center throughout the summer.
Allowing the leases of our two pilot off-island stores in Seattle and Bellevue to run out in the Spring, we close those stores and enter into a handful of limited term licensing arrangements as a trial exercise to learn how best to partner with others in expanding the world of Pelindaba. Having served their purpose, we allow them to lapse at the end of their various terms to make way for a future franchising program.
On the farming side, we harvest yet another bumper crop, and the new distillery allows us to dramatically improve the efficiency of our essential oil distillation operations.
2012 – Pelindaba Lavender La Conner, Washington
The opening of a new store and product gallery in the historic downtown area of La Conner, Washington not far from the ferry to San Juan Island in March 2012 provides us with a new mainland demonstration store as we begin to develop the infrastructure for our future franchising program, building further on the experience of our licensing trial program.
2014-15 – Pelindaba Lavender Franchising
We consult with franchising experts, develop a detailed Franchising Plan, and proceed with the scale-up our Production systems.
In short — Pelindaba has become a self-sustaining open space preservation model that successfully harnesses mutually compatible farming, manufacturing, marketing and agritourism activities that are as environmentally sound and enhancing as they are economically viable.
© 2015, Pelindaba Group, LLC