When COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March, all of us were suddenly navigating uncharted waters. However, San Juan Islands businesses have responded with compassion and ingenuity during these tough times.
This is the second of a series of stories to highlight how businesses on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Island have coped, giving you a chance to get to know and support them and all businesses in staying “San Juan Islands Strong.” We also encourage you to share stories with us of businesses that have created magic in their own ways, we know more stories are out there.
You don’t have to travel far to have a total escape. Sometimes, it’s found in your own backyard…
Story 2: Pelindaba Lavender Farm — A natural balm
Pelindaba in the Zulu language means a “place of great gatherings,” a nod to owner Stephen Robins’ South African heritage. By nature, Pelindaba has embraced their guests and invited them to “great gatherings” every summer, including their July lavender festival. This season, however, they had to focus more locally and think creatively to stay open safely and respectfully.
Although the festival was canceled, the lavender was still in bloom and the farm became a calming mecca for those seeking a fragrant retreat. “We consciously created a feeling of safety at the farm,” said owner Stephen Robins. At The Gatehouse farm store, a one-way path meanders through the old farmhouse with distance markers ensuring each visitor has the opportunity to safely see and experience the variety of locally made lavender products. Outdoors, the farm’s over 20 acres provide ample space to enjoy the fields of lavender at a social distance.
In an inspired move, the sale of ice cream and other refreshments was moved out to a tent amidst the blooming fields of lavender where tools are shared for harvesting one’s own lavender from cutting fields.
Although the lavender is beginning to fade, you can still come for a respite from a weary world and experience one of nature’s most calming plants.
As with many island businesses, sales have been “a mixed bag and it was initially hugely difficult to find summer retail workers,” related Robins. On the bright side, however, while Pelindaba’s stores had to temporarily close in the spring, their internet sales “went through the roof.” Pelindaba’s Gatehouse farm store sales have also been strong from the time it reopened in late June. Although the Friday Harbor retail store remains closed, it will reopen in fall when the Gatehouse store closes.
And, keeping the business on an even keel has also had its challenges. “When staff expressed concerns about whether we would be able to survive,” Robins reminded them, “The fields aren’t going away—go smell the lavender.” This is good advice for all islanders. Many locals have expressed gratitude for the farm remaining open to the public.
Why not visit the farm to enjoy the seating areas scattered throughout the lavender fields, to relax, picnic and take in the surrounding splendor? The three local Chambers of Commerce, the San Juan County Economic Development Council, and the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau ask islanders to continue to eat, shop, stay and play throughout San Juan County. A strong economy builds a strong community. For more information: www.pelindabalavender.com.
Submitted by the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, EDC and the Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island Chambers of Commerce. Publication funding provided by a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce.