The Lavender Project Gets Boost With Expert Consultation

August 2013 was a month of “eureka” moments for the people of La Colorada as they gained a vision of the future for The Lavender Project. The insights were sparked by a four-day visit from Victor Gonzales, the inspiring owner and founder of Victor’s Lavender, one of the largest wholesale producers of lavender in the United States.

Victor was invited as a consultant to The Lavender Project by St. Anthony’s Alliance. Victor, who is originally from the state of Michoacán, Mexico and is now a citizen of the United States, shared his personal story with members of the lavender cooperative, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of lavender. Victor was born into a Mexican farming family, but traveled to the United States to work in the orange groves of Southern California. He worked hard and his work ethic paid off in promotions and higher paying jobs. In 1997, he moved his family to the rural farming community of Sequim, WA (pronounced Squim.) His first job was clearing a dilapidated farm for an absentee owner. He planted a few plots with lavender, which was just beginning to gain the notice of Americans. Within a few years, Victor was growing hundreds of lavender plants and farmers around the region were buying plants for their own lavender operations.

In short order, the little town of Sequim became known as “the Lavender Capital of North America” featuring a summer lavender festival that attracts 300,000 visitors annually and dozens of commercial farms growing lavender. Today, Victor sells lavender around the United States and Canada and consults on lavender projects as far away as China and Morocco. However, this was his first consultation in Mexico.

“It is my greatest pleasure to help my own people in my own language,” Victor said of his visit to Mexico and the days in La Colorada’s lavender fields. He explained there are approximately 450 varieties of lavender and certain plants grow better in the hot, arid conditions of Central Mexico. Some plants in the lavender fields are suited for landscaping purposes; others for culinary products and lavender oil. In La Colorada, we have Sweet Lavender, Grosso, and a few “true lavender” varieties hidden among the others like unrecognized gems. The true lavender plants produce very high quality oil that can be used for cosmetics and culinary dishes, such as sweet lavender tamales.

He also examined the soil and explained to the farmers that high clay levels in the fields require less water for the plants. He showed them some plants that were stunted or showed patches of dead foliage from over watering. “With this kind of soil, once it gets wet, it never dries out,” he explained. Lavender prefers dry soils and only needs significant water when plants are young and becoming established.

Victor also showed them a faster method of propagating plants in the field, rather than the slower way they had been propagating them in the greenhouse. He recommended the farmers plant in an annual rotation, so there would always be sections in the fields growing new plants. In the climate of Mexico, a plant is the most productive between three and five years, though elsewhere lavender plants can live 40 years.  Lastly, he recommended the farmers should weed the fields consistently to prevent weeds from robbing nutrients from the lavender plants.

For the “azucenas” who produce the soaps and other projects for The Lavender Project, Victor also provided inspirational words. He showed a slide presentation he compiled with the University of Washington showing a dizzying array of lavender products, including face creams, insect repellents, carpet cleaners and pet deodorizers. The ladies were enchanted by descriptions of lavender festivals that attract thousands of tourists to the fields, taking pictures of the beautiful plants and dining on regional foods. “They come for the peace and tranquility of the fields and they don’t mind spending money,” Victor explained.

For the people of Rancho La Colorada, the next few years will be a test to put Victor’s exciting insights into action. The farmers decided to concentrate on growing four or five varieties that will be best adapted for the Mexican climate, including “grosso,” which grows quickly, has beautiful flowers and is wonderful for soaps and sachets. Other varieties that do well there are true lavenders, or English lavender varieties that produce lovely flowers and a sweet, high-quality oil. Victor agreed to donate plants to the village so they can begin growing better-suited plants. The farmers decided to plant a demonstration garden that won’t be harvested, but which will be a first step toward creating “agro-tourism” for The Lavender Project.  Alejandro Torres, who at 27 is one of the youngest members of the lavender cooperative, said Victor’s visit gave him an exciting glimpse into the possibilities that could become realities in the future. Perhaps The Lavender Project will become the “Lavender Capitol of Mexico.” Victor Gonzales is proof it can happen.

The Lavender Project – Growing a Sustainable Community One Step at a Time

Lavender field in bloom

The Lavender Project started as a variation on the theme :”If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” If you teach a village to grow lavender, you can build a sustainable economy, create economic development and grow a sustainable community.

That was the premise in 2006 when St. Anthony’s Alliance trucked lavender plants into the tiny rural farming community of La Colorada and persuaded the villagers to plant them. Now seven years later, the lavender fields are magnificent with healthy, vigorous plants and the ladies of the village are busy making lavender soaps, caches and wands to sell to tourists and ex patriots in the nearby city of San Miguel de Allende.

Tiny Casa de Salud Makes Huge Improvement in Healthcare in Albuquerque’s South Valley

On a typical morning, more than a dozen patients are sitting quietly in the waiting room of Casa de Salud, a low-cost, walk-in clinic that serves the residents of the South Valley, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Albuquerque.

Patients start lining up well before the 9 a.m. opening to be seen by one of three family practice physicians for diabetes checkups, high blood pressure, draining abscesses, drug abuse treatment and family planning. These days, they must walk through construction fencing, past workmen and carpenters to reach the clinic, as Casa de Salud is undergoing an expansion, which will double the clinic’s size.

On the day we visited Casa de Salud, three patients and three volunteers are crammed into a makeshift intake room the size of an apartment kitchen to have vital signs monitored. The clinic’s lab was in a narrow hallway. Patients and doctors walked one at a time through the narrow space between exam rooms.

“We see a lot of patients every day. This is real life and real healthcare,” explained Tomas Valerio, who came to the South Valley last year ago from Taos, NM. He started as volunteering six hours a week at Casa de Salud and applied to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine on the strength of his experience in this hands-on approach to healing.  He begins medical school in June 2013.

Dr. Andru Ziwasimon-Zeller and Lorraine Cordova started Casa de Salud nine years ago. Ziwasimon-Zeller came from Florida to complete his residency in family medicine at UNM and decided to start his practice in the South Valley, where residents had limited access to low-cost healthcare. He has a 25-year lease on the building at 1600 Isleta Blvd. through the Rio Grande Community Development Corp., which supports economic development in the South Valley.

St. Anthony’s Alliance learned of Casa de Salud through Elyce Tryon Sheehan, who also volunteered at the clinic before going into medical school. In 2012, St. Anthony’s joined the McCune Charitable Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in supporting Casa de Salud’s mission. St. Anthony’s pledged $25,000 over five years to support the clinic’s much-needed expansion, which doubles the size of the 3,000 square-foot facility to 6,000 square feet. When construction is complete in summer of 2013, the clinic will feature individual intake rooms, 12 exam rooms, a diabetes education classroom,  an exam room for a pediatric clinician and

Tomas Valerio

rooms for acupuncture and massage therapy. An important aspect of the clinic is a needle exchange program funded by the state to reduce the incidence of Hepatitis C and HIV among intravenous drug users. There is also a program to treat narcotics addictions. The clinic leases space to Lazarus Tattoo Removal, run by Dawn Maestas, for those who want to erase unsightly tattoos or signs of past gang affiliations.

Both the existing clinic and the new addition feature skylights, which provide soothing natural light, reduce electrical expenses and support a thriving garden of plants. The new addition designed by Modulus Design, a design/build firm in Albuquerque, features a warm palate in butter, pumpkin and deep blue hues, a courtyard garden paved with bricks and break room and private shower for the 57 volunteers, apprentices, staff and work-study students who are the heart and soul of Casa de Salud.

(Pave the courtyard and support Casa de Salud by buying bricks. Small bricks are $200; medium bricks are $500 and large bricks are $2,000.)

Dr. Andru Ziwasimon-Zeller

In July, the clinic will mark the opening of the expanded space with a community celebration. In addition to Dr. Ziwasimon-Zeller, Dr. Jesse Barnes, Dr. Camila Romero, both family practice physicians, and Jen Robinson, a women’s health specialist, provide patient care. Each of the physicians sees at least 15 to 20 patients a day, staying late if there are still people in the waiting room. Acupuncture services are provided to relieve chronic pain and patients can also get stress relief through massage therapy.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away,” said Valerio, who envisions one day setting up a similar clinic in Taos after he completes medical training. “I love to be here. These are the best hours of the week for me to be here when I am volunteering,” he said.

To contact, donate to Casa de Salud, or to buy a brick visit the website at or call the clinic between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. MDT at (505) 907-8311