A tranquil and enchanting rural landscape lined with rows of fragrant lavender leads up to a white Victorian-style barn. Trailing down a gravel road, you have arrived at Sweethaven Lavender, a family-owned lavender farm welcoming guests to relax in the fields while picking lavender flowers or savoring a picnic.
The Messer family has created an immersive escape — a beautiful and peaceful setting encouraging people to slow down and enjoy time together on the farm.
Over a cup of lavender lemonade, we had the pleasure of meeting Kerry and Hannah Messer, mother-daughter, who shared their path to opening the farm on the family’s property in June 2019.
How It All Began
Kerry Messer — a mother, creator, farmer, antique hunter — grew up in a tiny farm town in Central New York where more cows roamed than people. She found herself in Hampton Roads starting her family in a bustling and growing metro town. “I was yearning for open landscape and simplicity,” Kerry shared. A few years ago, Kerry and her son were traveling in the car when he looked out the window to see a rolling pasture with grazing cows and said, ‘momma, what is that?’ Kerry remarked, “I could not believe it! I then became desperate for my kids to have farm experience, one that would appeal to the whole family.” This was just the tip of the iceberg.
Kerry struggled with intensifying migraines for many years, and she would use lavender essential oil to ease the pain. She found lavender lessened the effects — so she began to learn about other uses: antiviral, antibacterial, etc. These personal experiences gave her an understanding of the benefits lavender can have.
Then during the fall of 2016, the family traveled to Canada to drop Hannah off for her freshman year of college. En route to school, they ran across a lavender farm and stopped by to discover a serene place filled with a diverse crowd of passersby from all walks of life. “We had a burgeoning dream to do something entrepreneurial together as a family. All of a sudden, the light bulb went off. We realized there is a demand for this, and we can live this life and share it with others too.”
Starting the Farm
The Messer family built Sweethaven Lavender themselves in the countryside of Williamsburg, Virginia after purchasing the property in 2017. “The process of harvesting the lavender fields is back-breaking labor,” Kerry shares. The mother-daughter duo took to the empty field on their hands and knees laying out the rows, setting the irrigation line, adding a well-draining soil mixture and beyond for three months. Once the stage was set, they had to wait for the plants to grow. “It usually takes three years for [lavender] to reach a mature size. Our plants matured and were in bloom by September,” Kerry exclaims. This pleasant surprise launched their business into harvest, gearing up for the guest experience.
Products In the Making
As Hannah realized her family was committed to building the farm, she changed her college major and pursued an international course in Organic Skincare Formulation. “We knew we were going to need someone to make [skincare products], and we wanted complete creative control. We considered what we look for in products ourselves and the type of products we like to use then found gaps in the market,” Kerry shares. Hannah’s course was held to European standards and had a primary tenant of using fewer quality ingredients to yield a greater product, which also dramatically decreases allergic reactions. Thus, their skincare formulas are made of a shortlist of ingredients using natural oils and plant-derived preservatives. Additionally, Hannah’s knowledge of scientific formulation has been a big help for growing the lavender in the field too.
The lavender lip balm is one of their best selling products and the facial moisturizing mist follows closely behind. “It is very healing, made with lavender and aloe. We recommend using it straight out of the shower,” Kerry advises. Explore more of their products on their online store, such as hand soap, bug boss and mani-pedi cream.
The Sweethaven Lavender Experience
The farm was designed to create a space for families, couples and friends to spend quality time together. Visit Sweethaven Lavender to pick your own lavender bouquets (available May-June), wander the lavish garden, enjoy a made-to-order picnic lunch and shop the store filled with homemade lavender products.
Parties signed up for U-Pick Bouquets should check-in at the barn upon arrival (reservations required). The Sweethaven team – made up of volunteers – will greet you to share the best way to pick the flowers, offer information about the 15 varieties of lavender in the field and send you off with scissors and a basket to begin picking. “Once [guests] have gone out and handled the plants, smelled the oils and seen the pollinators… I think it deepens their understanding and value of lavender,” Kerry says.
Catered picnics were an added touch inspired by Kerry’s mother. “My mom was big on picnic lunches. As children, we would go out on the weekends and pack a picnic lunch. They are a moment of pause and communion with one another and with nature. What is better than that?”
Otherwise, drop into the barn to say hello! And grab a bite of a decadent lavender brownie, a scoop of lemon lavender or honey lavender ice cream or a sip of the purest lavender lemonade or sweet tea. The property is free for guests to roam and get lost creating memories with their loved ones.
The Story Behind the Name
Kerry’s family was in the antiquing business growing up (a pastime she has picked up herself which can be seen in the decor around the bard), and her grandmother lived in a house with historic significance, located five miles from Harriet Tubman’s home and rested above the network of tunnels helping slaves escape. She explains, “My grandmother’s house was named Brickhaven. I always associated it with strength and protection. I knew as an adult I wanted to name my house. With our intention of helping families create sweet memories and providing a pleasant escape, Sweethaven was born.”
Proudest Moment & Biggest Obstacle
“We are our own biggest obstacle,” Kerry explains. She continues, “When you are very excited, it is easy to launch into it. We have to rein ourselves in and consider what it will mean to our family’s schedule and how it will stretch our resources.” These experiences have made the family aware of how to caution each other if the path is leading to overcommitment.
A humble proud moment? The family was overjoyed when they received their first five-star review on a skincare product. You can imagine the feeling of affirmation that others’ have enjoyed and approve of the hard work you have created.
Kerry also shared meaningful moments guests have imprinted on their hearts. “This has happened three times now. A family came here to grieve together after the loss of a family member. This was their first step outside of the house after the loss of a loved one.” It is moving beyond belief that their haven can offer moments of hope and peace to people in their darkest hours.
Advice for Aspiring Business Owners
Kerry begins her piece of wisdom by sharing, “you need a really defined goal.” Her son Luke, the family’s handyman and barman, who passed through the room chimes in and adds, “It is not just going to happen. You need to plan for it.” Kerry continues, “You need to be able to give an elevator pitch and you need to believe in it.”
The family remains grounded by the support of their neighbors. “It is like having a band of grandparents rallying around you. They help us see the forest for the trees. They remember where we started even more than we do sometimes, and we need to be reminded of that,” says Kerry.
Kerry makes it very clear Sweethaven Lavender would not have made their debut during the summer of 2019 if it weren’t for the outpouring support of the community. “[Volunteers] have helped tremendously, from applying labels to building fences to harvesting. We are overwhelmed by it. Our hearts are filled with gratitude and we will never overlook the work they have done for us.”
Their business was highly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — most notably, cancelling their highly-anticipated Sweethaven Lavender Festival Days. Kerry shares, “We had just finished making thousands of products [in preparation for the festival], and we thought, we may have no one to sell them to now.” With prayer, Kerry believed everything would be okay in the hands of God. She knew their customers were kind and generous people, so as the hospital front lines were working tirelessly, she went to the festival-goers with a proposition. “We gave our customers the option to leave their festival ticket cost with us, and we would add to it and donate to healthcare workers in our community.” The outcome? Supplying four local hospitals with over $8,000 worth of product in donations, such as the hard-working salve to protect their hands and the reach relief roll-on to ease tension. “Our customers did this!” Kerry says.
How to Experience All That Sweethaven Lavender Has to Offer
Spend the morning or afternoon exploring the farm and picking lavender bouquets beneath the warm golden sun! Visit their website to book your U-Pick appointment. We will warn you, the demand is high so we recommend planning ahead and securing your spot early.
Follow along on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and updates. Have questions for the Messer’s? Shoot them a note via email at email@example.com.