Armada lavender festival shows off purple flowering plant's versatility

Alex Harring
The Detroit News

Armada — Light rain didn't stop visitors from going to Blake's Orchard & Cider Mill on Sunday, the last day of the annual Lavender Market.

As one traffic director quipped, "It's a beautiful Michigan day."

Blake's Lavender Market is a weekend-long event centered on the namesake plant cultivated for its fragrant leaves and purple flowers.

Hallmarks of the festival include the "u-pick" lavender fields, do-it-yourself stations and educational sessions on topics such as wellness and the environment. There were also children's activities such as face painting.

Lavender-infused food was at every turn, a draw for Jackie Riptoe and Mike Cameron of Wyandotte. They tried lavender-infused goat cheese, cheesecake, sangria and beer.

"Lavender is cool, but when you put it into beers and foods, that's a whole other thing," Riptoe said, adding that the food she tried was delicious.

Then there were more lavender items they didn't get to try, including donuts and cupcakes. These were sold on top of Blake's well-known apple cider and donuts. The café and tasting room were among the normal restaurants open for the weekend.

People pick lavender during the lavender festival at Blake's Orchard in Armada, July 10, 2021.

More than 150 local vendors set up shop in white tents for the weekend, selling everything from clothes to candles. They were joined in the market area by food trucks and Blake's-run stands selling lavender-infused ice cream and lemonade.

Visitors went from shop to shop, sometimes window shopping and other times stopping in and making a purchase. Visitors and vendors conversed while live music wailed in the distance.

Samie Johnston, of Shelby poses for a photo during the lavender festival at Blake's Orchard, in Armada, July 10, 2021.

One vendor, Janelle Tarbunas, said Saturday was the best sales day she's ever had for the women's clothing store L.E & CO. That was no small feat, she said, as she goes to two or three dozen fairs every year. 

"After the past year-and-a-half, it rejuvenates you and gets you excited about being back in business," she said.

For other vendors, this was their first time running a pop-up shop. Cassidy and Jordan McAlpine, the husband and wife behind McAlpine Custom Designs, began their business when looking for a hobby during the pandemic.

The pair would stay up into the early morning to have enough stock each day after seeing stronger sales than anticipated.

"It's been wonderful for us," Cassidy said. "It blew away our expectations."

A festival goer holds a bouquet of lavender she hand picked while attending the lavender festival at Blake's Orchard, in Armada, July 10, 2021.

Rain slowly drizzled Sunday afternoon as visitors came in with umbrellas and rain jackets. Some people who booked in advance wished the weather more closely resembled the prior two days. But others actually saw the rain as a plus.

"We were like, maybe the crowds will be less because it's raining a little bit, so we actually thought this would be a good day to go," said Amber Bryers, who came from Ypsilanti with her daughter.

Despite the less-than-ideal weather, visitors made the trek from all over to experience Blake's lavender offerings. For some, it was something they saw online and thought would be a fun event. Others saw the location and knew they had to make the trip.

Leslie Guerra and Therese Demres are self-described Blake's fanatics. So when they saw the lavender fest, they knew it was time for a girls' trip.

"We are Blake's fans hardcore," Guerra said. "We love all of their ciders."

And for Demres, Blake's feels like more than just a cider mill. It's where she and her now-fiancé had their first date. It's a place where she brings friends. And she's watched the business grow over the past 15 years.

So coming to the lavender festival was a no-brainer.

"We love it here," Demres said. "There's something for everyone to do."