The Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm has been adopted in The National Register of Historic Places as the Hunt Farmstead Historic District. It is the only privately held historic farmstead in the state of Arizona, according to owner Terry Gorton Vesci.
The property has historical roots dating back to the 1880s.
The National Register is the federal government’s official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic, architectural and archaeological resources.
The Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm’s Hunt Farmstead Historic District is at 4223 N. Pine Creek Road in Pine. It is closed for January and then opens for limited hours starting Friday, Feb. 3, according to Terry.
A brief history
Pine was settled in 1879 by Mormon pioneers, who endured many hardships. But through their determination and faith, Pine survived. Much of what is displayed in the Pine-Strawberry Museum today is in tribute to the dedication and hard work of the founding families of the two communities. Those contributions can also be found along just about every street of the town.
One such place is the Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm, the second place on the right on Pine Creek Canyon Road, which is the right turn off SR 87 by the Pine LDS church.
The main structure of the farm is the home of Gorton Vesci and her husband Rick Vesci, who purchased the property and began restoring it in 2015. They are the first owners outside the Hunt and Randall families – both Pine-Strawberry pioneer families.
The couple has been in Pine for about 10 years and Terry had been eyeing the place for ages. When it became available for purchase, she was ready to dive in, Vesci was a little more cautious, “It will be so much work!” Terry said Vesci pointed out.
According to records on the website of the Pine Strawberry Archaeology and Historical Society one of the oldest structures of the lavender farm was a one-room cabin built during the 1900s by George Hunt.
John Hunt and Annie Belle Lazear, the daughter of another pioneer family, met when they were in the second grade, attending the Strawberry School. They married in 1905 and were given about half the property to start their life together.
John was the son of Alma Moroni Hunt and his wife, Rosetta Schmutz Hunt, who settled in Pine in 1881 with a family of two children. Nine more were born in Pine.
Their original home was in the same area of the lavender farm, but burned early in the 1900s.
While the home may have started as a small farmhouse with a kitchen, living area and two bedrooms, as it grew the family took great care in the construction of the additions, consequently the Vescis were able to keep much of the original structure.
Much of the flooring is original, stripped of old linoleum and patched in just a few places. Most of the interior walls still feature the original wainscoting and one bedroom – where all the family’s daughters slept – still has a beautiful lattice and floral pattern wallpaper that looks as if it were just hung in the last few months.
All this has amazed the couple, since the house had been vacant for about 40 years before they could buy it.
That second generation of Hunts who made the house their home, adding onto it over the years, raised cattle on the property and planted fruit trees, which are still producing. There are also sturdy outbuildings still standing around the main house.
The Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm grew from a simple question, “What won’t elk eat?”
It turns out they won’t eat lavender.
The area is a natural feeding ground for the elk that roam the canyon in huge numbers, foraging plants, flowers, grasses and tree branches.
Nearby homeowners who have attempted to grow gardens soon realized they were not growing vegetables for the family dinner table but rather a salad bar for elk.
Knowing elk have voracious appetites for most anything sprouting from the soil, the Vescis did extensive research that revealed lavender was one of the few plants elk would not eat. So, they planted 5,000 lavender plants of several varieties.
The business has thrived and in April 2019 became the first farm in Gila County Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) after demonstrating natural and sustainable growing practices, according to the owners.
The lavender fields are hand-weeded by a full-time ranch hand during the growing season.
Three varieties of lavender are grown on the farm. Two are used for cooking, including Provence, used in savory dishes like chicken and pasta and Royal Velvet, a sweeter variety used in baking.
“All natural culinary lavender that is free from any chemicals or impurities is especially important to us. We feel confident that everything we teach or sell benefits our customers in many ways,” Terry said.
The third variety grown is the most aromatic — Grosso — used in essential oils, soaps, lotions and other products.
“Lavender is used for treating anxiety, insomnia, depression and restlessness. Also, it helps with digestion and relieves headaches, sprains and toothaches,” she explained.
The plants are transformed into a variety of lavender products, including candles, jam, soap and body powder.
The business has grown to include the Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm Cooking School and licensed bakery.
The cooking school offers classes ranging from making lavender spa products, to recipes including honey and lavender chicken, lavender pecan crusted salmon, lavender lemon morning cake and more. A list of upcoming classes is on the website, email@example.com. To sign up for a class, please either call Terry directly, 619-772-6005, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information and class(es) desired. A deposit is required at sign-up.
On the site, learn more about the farm and the products it offers made from the various lavenders grown on the property.
Many of the products made with Pine Creek Lavender Farm’s crops can also be purchased online.
The farm today
The genesis of the Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm is about breathing new life and much love into one of the many historic structures in the little community of Pine. It is also the place where the Vescis are making their dreams a reality.
The farm has been given a new life with the renovations and turned into a lovely lavender farm. The high-altitude climate, alkaline soil, and fresh, mountain well water that nourishes the plants combine to create the highest quality lavender.
Surrounded by pine-covered mountains and numerous elk herds, the setting is as serene as it is breathtaking.
Restoration of the old farmhouse started in 2015. One room of which Terry is especially proud is the “Lavender Kitchen” where they use Annie Belle’s old kitchen to teach heritage food techniques and food preservation classes along with the farm’s very popular culinary lavender classes.
Terry said they knew nothing about lavender — except that when the couple started dating, one of the first gifts Vesci gave Gorton had a vial of lavender essential oil. With some informative visits to the Red Rock Lavender Farm in Concho, Ariz. and Windy Hills Lavender Farm in Heber, Ariz., plus a few other lavender farms and festivals they started learning.
Rick taught himself how to construct and put in a proper irrigation system, and the Farm Service Agency of the Federal Rural Development Association was very helpful.
Then they took the dive; and it was into the deep end. They bought 5,000 lavender plants from the Concho farm. About 25 friends, family and the farmers that sold them the plants, and even some strangers, all pitched in to help them get the crop in the ground — that was May 5, 2016. It took two days to do all 5,000 plants.
“Then we watered and weeded ... and hoped. Now, here we are in love with lavender or, as a family member calls it, “Lovender.” The lavender grows higher every season,” according to the website.
They were told to expect two harvests, one sometime in June and another in early fall. Well, the magic water, the sloping terrain and years of cattle pasturing on the land provided three harvests in 2017. The first was in June; a second in July; and then a third.
It’s no easy task — the plants are harvested and tied in bunches by hand and then hung upside down in the drying shed to prepare for use in more than a dozen products.
In the meantime – starting Friday, Feb. 3 – swing by the roadside stand on Pine Creek Canyon Road on your next weekend drive and discover what lavender delights await.