Marie Kirven clips lavender Sunday at Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm in St. Albans. Kirven and her husband, John, are growing 600 lavender plants in four varieties at the farm. Buy this Photo

ST. ALBANS — When Marie and John Kirven decided to take on lavender farming, they were told it was not possible in Maine.

But stubborn like they are, the Kirvens set out to defy the doubters.

Now 17 years later, they have more than 600 lavender plants on their farm, where they practice permaculture, an agricultural system that integrates human activity with natural surroundings to create an efficient, self-sustaining ecosystem.

“We had issues with lavender,” Marie Kirven said. “Grasshoppers and crickets were causing them to die and lower the pH, so we brought in wild strawberries. Because of that, birds were eating the strawberries and the grasshoppers and crickets, eliminating the problem. Everything works together.”

The first few years were mostly trial and error for the couple, but they finally figured out how to make it work.

Marie Kirven holds a bundle of lavender Sunday at Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm in St. Albans. Kirven and her husband, John, are growing 600 lavender plants in four varieties at their farm. Buy this Photo

The Kirvens have been working since 2003 at Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm, tucked away at 408 Dexter Road, where they sell culinary lavender, tea, jelly, extracts, meat rubs, soaps, infused oils and other lavender products.

Lavender has a number of health benefits. It is an essential oil and can be used as bug repellent, to induce sleep, as a treatment of acne, as a tonic for nerves and anxiety, to help relieve pain and for hair care.

Marie Kirven said her interest in lavender began as a child. A lifelong farmer, she and John found their spot in St. Albans by chance and are working with the Penobscot Nation, National Audibon Society and Sebasticook Land Trust to try to keep the property a trust.

The couple, licensed through the Maine Department of Agriculture, has also been working with a mentor from the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association to learn about foraging and permaculture.

“I am a firstborn immigrant,” Marie Kirven said, who is Italian and whose parents came to the U.S. and settled in the outskirts of Boston, where they became farmers. Before starting her own farm, she worked for Ocean Spray, the agricultural cooperative of cranberry and grapefruit growers headquartered in Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

As a child, she was introduced to Wampanoag Nation, where they took her in and taught her about farming. A uterine cancer survivor, she said she has also benefited from using lavender, which helps ease anxiety and sleeplessness.

“My mother named me Marie Antoinette, and I didn’t know who she was,” Marie Kirven said. “She was the first one to do lavender.”

Because they practice permaculture, the Kirvens do not use pesticides or commercially produced chemical fertilizers on their farm. Instead, they opt for methods that work with nature.

John Kirven holds Twinkle Purple and Old English lavender Sunday at Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm in St. Albans. Kirven and wife, Marie, are growing 600 lavender plants in four varieties at their farm. Buy this Photo

“I’m not an herbalist. I’m a farmer,” Marie Kirven said. “There are a lot of properties to a lot of plants, and they don’t all work for everybody.”

Kirven said many people turn to cannabidiol, or CBD, for similar medicinal benefits, although it is not for everyone, much like lavender.

She has about 80 lavender plants she uses for testing and has learned how to manipulate and create her own variety of the plant, named Evielena. The Kirvens also grow Grosso, Seal, Provence, Twinkle Purple and True English varieties.

“Some of my plants are 15 years old and they bring 30 to 40 pounds of lavender.” she said.

Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., although the Kirvens are flexible and can meet guests by appointment.

The farm’s gift shop offers products that are made on-site or by other artisans. Products are also available through their website.

After two weeks of hosting guests visit this summer, the couple said they cannot keep up with demand. Some visitors travel two or three hours to visit the Kirvens’ farm.

“We were trying to figure out why this plant wouldn’t grow in Maine, and now we’ve figured it out,” she said. “What I want to get out to farmers is that the potency of lavender in Maine is stronger than anything in the world that I’ve seen. We could blow (other places) right out of the water.”

Bundles of lavender are sold for $5, although the Kirvens do not charge those who have had cancer or know someone who could benefit from the plant. Marie Kirven said she has noticed younger generations gaining interest in essential oils, a trend that fascinates her.

“In the very beginning of mankind, we were hunters and gatherers,” she said. “That’s what we were known to be. We weren’t known for eating foods that you can’t read the labels on.

“We were here to be nurturous and be a part of the birds and everything. We’ve gotten away from that, so it’s nice to see the younger folks get back into the essential oils and the basics.”

These days, guests are brought down to the lavender farm, where more than 600 plants are in bloom. Prior to cutting the lavender, the Kirvens teach guests about the process and the benefits of permaculture.

“(Lavender) is my love, my everything,” Marie Kirven said. “This is my heart.”

Lavender grows Sunday at Sweet Dreams Lavender Farm in St. Albans. Marie Kirven and husband, John, are growing 600 lavender plants in four varieties at their farm. Buy this Photo

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