Q&A with owner of Hitchin Lavender
- Credit: Archant
This month we profile Tim Hunter the owner of Hitchin Lavender, situated at Cadwell. The 37-year-old talks about the ups and downs of owning his own business and gives an insight into his working day.
Can you tell us a little bit about Hitchin Lavender?
My family have farmed here for over 100 years and for five generations. The lavender was only started in 2000 by my parents Alec and Zoe Hunter who liked the idea of Hitchin growing lavender again.
Once the plants were established local interest grew for both products and organisations wanting tours.
My wife and I had been living in her native Argentina, but moved back here in 2009 to help with the farm. Each year since then the farm has developed more and more interest and from what started as several hundred visitors a season in the early days, we now attract tens of thousands throughout summer, employing 15 seasonal workers from the local area.
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In 2012 we were very proud to be able to have created the official bouquet from Hitchin when the Queen visited the town on her Silver Jubilee.
During flowering season (mid-June – mid-August) visitors can pick their own lavender from the 100 rows in the main field and the sunflowers too if they’re ready.
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In the display area, with many thanks to employee Dave Gentle, we have over 60 varieties of lavender to see – many of which we sell in The Old Barn on site. Inside the barn we have dozens of products made in the UK with 100 per cent lavender from our fields, such as body lotion, soaps and shower gels – everything dried from wreaths to wheat bags are made on site.
We open in May and although the lavender isn’t in full flower that early we do get plenty of locals coming to dine here and wander around the farm.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
The diversity of running your own business is for me is both challenging but rewarding too. One day we can be ordering stock, the next helping in the kitchen or propagating in a polytunnel.
Having grown up on the farm, I like to spend as much time as possible working outside and when we are fortunate enough to have some wonderful views here even doing mundane tasks such as weeding can be enjoyable.
Are there any downsides to running your own business?
The main downside is the amount of hours we need to put in to be successful (which goes for anyone running their own business). Last summer we had four days off during the four months we were open to the public.
Can you tell readers a day in the life of Tim Hunter?
I’m proud to say as a farmer that we start our day at dawn... although to be honest this has nothing to do with farming, it’s really due to the fact that we have two young children who routinely wake us very, very early. It’s a lovely part of the day though as we get to dedicate a few hours alone with our young children, Camilo, 4, and Jasper, 1.
My professional day starts at 8am when I will check the plants and help prepare the barn and shop. During peak season we will often have three or four coach tours arriving so we may plan seating accordingly prior to their arrival. A tour lasts about 1hr 30min and I will walk them around the farm and chat about the history of lavender both on the farm and in Hitchin, the uses of lavender, the varieties we grow, the wildlife it attracts and how we harvest.
After lunch I may do some propagating of the lavender or see if any fieldwork needs to be done. If we are in peak season then it’s all hands on deck and I’ll either help our chef Jason in the kitchen or go out and help on the shop floor and be around the plants if there are any questions needed answering.
If I have time in the afternoon then along with my wife I will sit down and go through all necessary admin work (luckily my wife, Noel, is meticulous with keeping up to date with all paperwork so most of the time there is little for me to do!).
Very often there will be evening tours or events happening at the farm such as wedding receptions or open air film nights and I may not get home until late in the evening.
I am fortunate enough to live on site, so although the days can be long, my children are close by and I’m able to pop in and out frequently and spend quality time with them. They also have a lot of freedom here and are often able to be close by whilst we work.
Were you affected by the economic downturn and how did you manage during that time?
Hitchin Lavender was still growing when the economic downturn hit. As a local attraction, the main demographic of our visitors don’t need to travel too far and we also try and stay reasonably priced so hopefully visitors here don’t have to delve too deeply into their pockets either.
How do you achieve a work/life balance?
We are very grateful that we’re able to earn a living from a job we love doing.
For more details visit www.hitchinlavender.com