Florida's first lavender farm is in Southport

Florida's first lavender farm. (WJHG/WECP)
Florida's first lavender farm. (WJHG/WECP)(WJHG)
Published: Nov. 21, 2019 at 8:15 PM CST
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Jason Leabo owns and operates the state's first lavender farm.

"It doesn't release its scent until either the wind blows and it kind of brushes something or you touch it," said Leabo.

Just walking through the rows of plants at Southern Grace Farms can give you a sense of peace.

"Our plants are very unique," said Leabo. "Each plant has kind of its own agenda so to speak. Some focus on the root development, while others want to try to reach the stars it seems."

Leabo is an Air Force Combat Veteran who has a knack for growing things. Even with his green thumb, he's had some failed attempts.

"I failed at corn and I also failed at pumpkins. Hurricane Michael decimated my pumpkins and who knew there were that many caterpillars," said Leabo.

Some tried to discourage Leabo from tackling this new adventure but after a lot of digging, figuratively and literally, Leabo decided to go for it.

"This has been kind of a journey for me," said Leabo. "How to kind of step out of my comfort zone, how to have faith in the research that I've read, how to have faith in myself, learn how to forgive myself if I make mistakes."

What made Leabo choose lavender?

"While I was in California I saw a lavender farm that my sister pointed out. After failing at growing pumpkins and corn she told me I should try lavender, so I started googling it," said Leabo.

During his research, Leabo read something that caught his attention.

"A small farm was routinely grossing well over one million dollars farming lavender just based off the products they were bringing to market," said Leabo.

But with the meticulous work that goes into those products alongside the expense of taking care of the plants, he admits a million dollars is pretty far away for the Leabo family. Still, the plant itself intrigues him.

"It's an incredible plant they kind of refer to it as the magical herb so to speak," said Leabo. "I know it's referenced in the Bible. Spikenard. Mary used it to wash Jesus' feet."

He's enjoyed learning about its history.

"Lavender goes back 2,500 years. The Romans used it as an antiseptic for scrapes and cuts. It was also used by Egyptians they would melt it over their bodies to repel bugs.

And discover its diverse uses.

"We use it as an antiseptic in our hydrosols and to spray linens," said Leabo. We also use the essential oils to repel bugs such as mosquitoes, gnats, yellow flies. You can literally use it in soaps, we use it in our jellies, we use it in our teas, the uses are so vast It's practically endless."

Leabo said he, his wife and their business partner had no trouble naming the farm.

"We actually came up with the name Southern Grace because through the grace of God we managed to keep our house after Hurricane Michael," said Leabo. "It's like he came in and said This was not my plan for you. We lost everything that was outside."

Right now the farm is small. On 1/4 of an acre, spaced two feet apart there are 1,240 plants. But he has plans to expand with some people expressing interest in getting married on their cozy little spot. Others simply want to see Florida's first lavender farm.

"We love showing people what we do," said Leabo. "We want people to enjoy their time here and learn what we have to share and quite honestly we're still learning. We're by no means subject matter experts but I can tell you what we did. Hopefully, help them become successful as well."

Southern Grace Lavender Farm does give tours. You just need to call or get in touch with them on Facebook for an appointment.

It's very educational and lavender isn't the only thing they grow.

You can find the information on their Facebook page or you can call 850-348-3361.

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