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Jeff and Paul Karnatz share a slice of Queer rural living

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Paul and Jeff Karnatz — Courtesy photo
Paul and Jeff Karnatz — Courtesy photo

Willapa Valley Lavender Farm, an 11-minute drive from Raymond, WA, is a picturesque place to picnic and purchase bunches of lavender. When they aren't maintaining the flowers or creating fragrant body products, owners Jeff and Paul Karnatz take care of their children and their community.

The farm started in 2017 when Jeff moved from Phoenix, AZ, alongside his sister Kim Avery. After nurturing about 7,000 plants, they started to hold events and create products. Paul joined the farm in 2018 with a background in horticulture and landscape design — perfect for the job.

"Being on a lavender farm was like Disneyland for me," Paul said.

Events at the lavender farm
The Karnatzes have hosted a plethora of events at the farm over the years, including the early years of Pacific County Pride, which originally started as a small private gathering, after the people running it weren't able to. It's now a public event held in Raymond and Long Beach (this year on June 22 and 23).

Jeff and Paul also host the Willapa Valley Music Festival, a free happening featuring local musicians. Paul says it's common for lavender farms to hold lavender festivals, so the music-forward one helped differentiate Willapa Valley from the others.

"Jeff thought, 'Let's do a music festival,'" Paul said. "We're still bringing people to the lavender farm — they can walk in the lavender, take lots of pictures in the lavender, cut some lavender, and take it home — but it also played on his passion for music and...for community, to make it free."

The first year saw a turnout of 100 people, and it only grew from there. By its third year, the festival had gathered sponsors and over 700 attendees.

"The idea was to support local artists and provide the community with something that was meaningful. And people showed up — it was clearly something that was nonexistent in the community, but people were really curious and interested," Paul said. "What are the odds of two Gay dudes, out in the country, throwing this big festival and all these locals showing up?"

Outside of the farm, the two help host a different music festival downtown and the Christmas parade. Jeff also manages the Raymond Theatre, and Paul takes care of an animal sanctuary. Jeff says having events like the farm's music festival and bazaars sparked their civic involvement.

"Having the lavender farm and then inviting the community out to the farm is kind of how we got involved with everything that we do in Pacific County," he said. "I think what really made them identify with us was we were farmers just like them. We were integrated into their community and did what they do."

The lavender twins
This year, the couple will take a break from the music festival to take care of their two children, who have been called "the lavender twins." After looking into the foster-to-adopt process, the couple decided it wasn't the correct fit. At the same time, Paul, a first-grade teacher in the area, had a conversation with a coworker who had thought about surrogacy before. After being gifted embryos by a couple in Florida and going through the process twice, the twins were born.

"With all that, we always kept the community involved. Everybody wanted to know — they were all part of it. We had a baby shower, and we had it at the store, and a lot of the community came and took care of them," Jeff said. "People will walk in and get coffee, and I'll have the babies. They just take [a] baby from us and carry them around while we're making their coffee. It's super cute."

Rural life
For Paul, one of the cool parts of living in a rural area has been the opportunities to be involved with its government, businesses, and economy, which are more intimate than in a big city. He says there can also be an issue of quality of life for Queer people attracted to a rural lifestyle.

"Any type of life is possible. For many many years, I had a dream of living in the country and having horses and a farm, but when I was a young Gay adolescent, I sort of felt like that was not realistic," Paul said.

"If you want to be Queer and live out in rural Washington state, there is a place for you."