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Michigan State University

Life In Lavender

Lavender Hill Farm

Life In Lavender

On a serene and sunfilled September morning, a sweet floral scent waltzes across the northern Michigan air as the purple tips of lavender plants dance with the light wind, a fluid, romantic two-step perfected over centuries together in nature.

If only for a moment, before the day’s tasks command their attention and visitors roll in, Bill and Erin Mansfield, both 1996 Eli Broad College of Business graduates, absorb the rich sensory experience and wonder how they got here.

“Sitting in business classes at Michigan State, we never thought we’d ever run a farm,” Bill confessed.

Since 2015, the Mansfields and their business partner, Rita Robbins, have owned and operated Michigan’s largest lavender farm, a burgeoning agritourism and events business that has spurred the local economy and championed the holy herb long used in medicine, cosmetics and cooking.

The aptly named Lavender Hill Farm sits neatly between Little Traverse Bay and Lake Charlevoix in Boyne City, Michigan, about 10 miles southwest of Petoskey. The 33-acre property features 13,000 lavender plants representing 29 different varieties.

A 19th-century dairy farm that became a beekeeper’s haven in the early 21st century—a couple hundred lavender plants were initially scattered as superfood for the bees— the Mansfields learned of the land’s availability in 2015 during a family trip to northern Michigan. They were immediately smitten with the prospects of the property.

“We had a clear picture of what we thought the farm could be and were just crazy enough to do it,” Bill said.

Over the last six years, the Mansfields have spearheaded the property’s transformation into a vibrant agritourism and events operation.

They planted thousands more lavender plants, taking advantage of the Great Lakes region soil that sweet-smelling herbs savor; added a walking trail and engaging guest experiences, including guided golf cart tours; expanded the gift shop and crafted relationships with dozens of local artisans capable of turning the farm’s abundant lavender harvest into more than 300 products ranging from neck pillows and soap to ice cream and cookies; and introduced community events such as yoga and workshops on topics like floral design and botanical printing.

“We have consistently asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to make this property sing?’” Erin said.

The Mansfields also refurbished the dilapidated century-old barn that hovered over the property, power-washing it “from tip to tail” while installing a new roof and floor before adding electricity and restrooms. The barn powers the farm’s events business, which includes hosting weddings, charitable functions, corporate events and a popular summertime concert series.

In building something dynamic and delightful, the Mansfields have welcomed guests from across the U.S. and abroad. The accelerating traffic has enabled the Mansfields to employ up to 40 seasonal and permanent workers, empower local artisans and provide visitors a spirited taste of northern Michigan.

“We’ve made decisions that have panned out, and that’s given us confidence to keep moving forward,” Bill said.

Next up: the summer 2022 completion of a new 13,000-squarefoot farmhouse that will feature a more spacious gift shop alongside offices, a demo kitchen, café and rentable community space.

“Our aim is to be the preeminent agritourism destination in northern Michigan,” Bill said. “That’s a neat goal because there is no finish line.”

Contributing Writer(s): Daniel P. Smith

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