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Life Reimagined: From Rocket Scientist to Lavender Farmer

 

Lavender Head Shot (1)
Lavender farmer Tom Frei



Tom Frei spent 26 years as a rocket scientist, working as a mechanical engineer on projects for the space program and defense industries. But today, he raises lavender at Woodinville Lavender farm.

"On vacations, my wife and I saw lavender farms in Washington state, out on the Olympic Peninsula, in the San Juans, and it always resonated with us," says Tom. "We always went back to 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a business around your hobby or passion?' For me, it was gardening."

Tom and his wife, Brenda decided to go looking for property to make their dream a reality. They "lucked into" a home near the Woodinville winery district and set out to transform the huge back yard into a lavender farm. Their adult children pitched in and the family did everything themselves. For five years, they sold their lavender at farmer's markets. In 2012, they were ready to open their own location to the public. First, they opened a retail store on the property, then began booking events like weddings, parties and business meetings on the grounds. Between their day

Lavender Field Shot
Tom in the lavender field.



jobs and the farm, it was a more than full-time grind.

"Then in 2013, I took the summer off from my job, using vacation and some leave without pay, and ran the business," says Tom. "It got going enough that it was clear that it needed full-time attention and so I quit my job of 26 years."

His colleagues were surprised but supportive.

"Nobody said, 'you're nuts'," says Tom. "Most of them said, 'congratulations. You give us hope. Maybe there's something else we can do in our second career.' I was quitting this stable job, I could have retired there pretty easily."

Tom's advice? Find something you love.

"I thought about what I thought about when I was young, what I was passionate about," says Tom. "I grew up on a farm in Idaho and that's where I got my love of plants. Sometimes there's a clue when we were little about what we might have been meant to do. And now after working, raising the kids, saving a little money...now I get to go back and reimagine, do something I just love to do."

Tom has found a second career that he plans to pursue for the long haul.

"I'm only 53 and I've found something I like," says Tom. "I'd like to be out here doing this 'til I'm old. Then maybe one of the kids will be interested. But that's a long way off. I've got a lot of years doing this."

Meet Tom and see the Woodinville Lavender farm in this video from KING 5 TV Evening.


Do you have a "Life Reimagined" story? We'd love to hear it! Selected stories will receive prizes, including the AARP  Realpad™. Enter your story here or send it in an email to aarpwa@aarp.org. You can submit your entry in written or video form.

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