Get close to a tourist in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and you might catch the light fragrance of lavender. Ask them about it and they will describe the finely packaged bars of soap in their hotel room and the delicate aroma that lingers with them throughout the day. Drive a short distance up the road and the high desert landscape breaks into fields of lavender where that scent originates. You have arrived at Rancho La Colorada and the The Lavender Project Cooperative.
Though only 70 kilometers away, the pueblo feels very far from the high-end hotels and restaurants of San Miguel. Transformed by economic hardship, the community functions like a war-time village: the young men have left to find work while the women and elderly toil to pull their livelihood out of the dry earth.
In 2007 some community members transitioned away from pure subsistence farming. Hoping to battle poverty with a cash crop, La Coloradans have dutifully tended acres of lavender by hand: tilling the sandy soil, planting each small bush, maintaining the drip irrigation system. In the past few months their hard work has begun to pay off as the fields grow heavy with blossoms.
Visit Rancho La Coloradas homes and community center and you will find groups of women extracting lavender oil, making soap, and intricately embroidering hand-made sachets of lavender. Producing actual high-quality, all-natural goods for sale, these women make up a critical arm of the cooperatives structure. As profits climb, the cooperative initiates lasting educational, nutritional and medical programs at their local community center. But The Lavender Project participates in an economic web that extends beyond its members and the hotels that purchase their products. A U.S. non-profit, St. Anthonys Alliance, and local government have provided the cooperative crucial funding, seed grants, and training.
During your visit to the pueblo, members of The Lavender Project will tell you that they take pleasure in learning to navigate these multiple systems. They are happy to sell the lavender products for visitors and foreigners to use and enjoy. However, they will look over the fields of lavender and say that they labor towards a specific dream of their own. They will say they are not using the soft scent of lavender, but the promise of a stable income to bring back their men, empower women, and make their families and community whole once more.