Baraboo should find ways to grow economically without so much as putting a shovel in the ground, a lavender farmer says. Unless it’s a garden shovel.
Devil’s Lake Lavender owner Rebecca Powell Hill addressed the city’s Economic Development Commission on Thursday, encouraging the group to foster growth that capitalizes on local natural resources rather than endangering them.
“Our area is just gorgeous,” she said. “We really have such a special place to live in.”
Rebecca and Jim Hill launched Devil’s Lake Lavender outside their home, located just north of the state park, in 2014. In December they bought a downtown restaurant, renamed it Devil’s Lake Bistro and incorporated lavender into the menu. Devil’s Lake Lavender oil, lotions and other products are available at both locations.
Lavender’s popularity is driving growth, and the Hills’ business is generating tourist traffic. Ninety percent of their shoppers live outside Wisconsin, but find Devil’s Lake Lavender because it lies along state Highway 136 as it heads to the park.
Hill said lavender is an example of a draw that generates money without gobbling up open land or contributing to light pollution. She pushed city leaders to incorporate agricultural tourism and recreational tourism into their plans for Baraboo’s growth.
“It’s going to grow, without a doubt. The question is which direction it’s going to take,” she said during an interview Friday at the bistro. “The environmental assets, you’ll never get back if they are destroyed.”
Natural products like lavender can be big business. Hill referenced a $4 million annual lavender festival in Washington state, and sites in other states that have benefited from the herb’s surging popularity. “There are places that have cropped up all over,” Hill said. “It’s a growing industry.”
The herb is popular for its calming effects and its versatility. One reason the Hills bought the downtown bistro was that it offered a commercial kitchen that could be used for experiments with edible products. She already makes lavender cookies, and its working with head chef Taffy Durkee — the restaurant’s former owner — to develop a line of spices.
Lavender took off in the northern U.S. once farmers created varieties of the Mediterranean plant hardy enough to survive the climate. That made growing lavender, still an expensive crop, more affordable. Hill oversees more than 15,000 lavender plants.
She’d like to see Baraboo use the popularity of her farm and restaurant, Devil’s Lake State Park and other notable natural areas to attract visitors who appreciate “things that make us really different, and really special.”
Most of those sites lie outside the city limits, but Devil’s Lake Bistro illustrates how natural products can create commerce. “We hope it’ll be another economic driver downtown,” Hill said.