By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – The City of Welch is actively seeking green-thumbed participants for a new lavender project in the County seat.
Lavender, the bushy, strong-scented perennial plant hails from the Mediterranean but has recently been shown to also grow well here in the Mountain State.
“Lavender is the highest profit per square foot crop that you can grow,” said Jason Grubb, the brainchild of the project. “It used in soaps, foods, essential oils, floral arrangements, widespread use.”
Grubb said the project’s goal is to tackle a three-fold issue.
“What do we grow that people can make some money on, what do we grow that’s pretty for beautification, and what would draw tourism to the roads in Welch,” said Grubb. “Lavender was by and far the biggest thing I could find.”
Given the terrain of the area, finding a site for long rows of lavender such as those made famous in the Mediterranean would be difficult.
“You have to have a very large crop in order to process it,” said Grubb. “There’s not one spot in Welch where we can grow enough lavender to support that, but if we combine a hundred people each growing a small batch of lavender, it will work.”
After bouncing the idea around City Hall, Grubb sought out grant funding from the USDA’s Specialty Crop program that is awarded in the Fall.
“The problem is I’m impatient,” admitted Grubb.
After gauging interest on Facebook, a resident stopped by City Hall with a Charleston Gazette-Mail story about Appalachian Botanicals Company in Boone County.
“They’re growing lavender on a large scale on strip mines there, very large scale, tens of thousands of plants,” said Grubb. “I got in touch with them and they were excited about the idea, saying they’d like to provide us with the plants.”
Beyond that, Appalachian Botanicals Co. will also provide training to program participants, offer support throughout the growth cycle and help with harvesting.
To jumpstart the project, the lavender plants were planted nearly nine months ago and are now in bloom.
“Normally lavender takes a year to bloom,” said Grubb. “But we’re putting plants in the ground that are already in bloom.”
Unlike most plants, lavender actually likes poor quality soil. It can be planted in raised beds of 12 to 18 inches or in mounds.
“We’re going to provide as much of the dirt as we can,” said Grubb. “We just need more participants.”
Lavender blooms twice a year, in the spring and fall, showcasing it’s signature purple petals. Grubb feels that could bolster the tourism already passing through the area.
“We’ll be able to announce when our bloom will be expected,” said Grubb. “This is our harvest date and we’ll draw some tourism here.”
Agriculture once was a pillar of the community in McDowell County that has mostly disappeared.
“We’ve gotten away from it but you have to have it,” said Grubb. “I think now, the past three or four months, we’ve learned we’ve got to have it back.”
As the project continues, Grubb hopes to see future phases spread outside of City limits and across McDowell County.
“The ultimate goal is we’re heading towards being a tourist town. Tourism isn’t the answer to everything, it’s only a piece of the puzzle but all these things give hope.” said Grubb. “To me, lavender is something easy where you can say ‘Here’s a project we’re going to do, here’s the results you can see immediately and hopefully when it comes to Phase Two, we will have people beating down the door to get in.”
Planting is expected to take place the week of July 6 and agreements to participate in the harvest will be required from all participants. Appalachian Botanicals Company will travel to McDowell to hold a training session with participants and then start planting immediately.
“The participants will tend to their plants for five minutes a day, participate in the harvest and make a few hundred bucks a year,” said Grubb.
As of press time, 24 participants have signed up for the project but there’s still time for others to participate.
“Participation is key,” said Grubb. “If no one participates, nothing will ever work.”
For more information, please call Welch City Hall at (304) 436-3113 or contact them via Facebook.