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Sunflowers are lighting up the tourist industry

Sunflowers, long grown by U.S. farmers for oil and confectionery uses, have increased in popularity among the general public during the past few years because of their bright and cheery appearance.

A baby boy with a blue cap, white shirt and blue jeans and a baby boy with a green cap, white shirt and blue jeans,  sit on an orange sofa in front of blooming sunflowers while a woman in a black shirt and blue jeans takes a picture of them.
Samantha Dalbey of Fordville, North Dakota, left, holds a picture frame in front of the sunflower field at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota, while her mother, Stephanie Johnson of Larimore, North Dakota, takes a picture of her grandson Riggin Dalbey, 9 months, and Clayton Johnson, 8 months, who was visiting from Fort Worth, Texas. Photo taken Sept. 11, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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EMERADO, NORTH DAKOTA — Sunflowers illuminated Riggin Dalbey's and Clayton Johnson's first ever trip to a North Dakota field.

The two babies were among dozens of families, couples and individuals who came to the pumpkin patch to take pictures posed in front of 15 varieties of yellow and bronze sunflowers, clip them off of the stalks for bouquets and walk through paths that took them in the midst of 2 acres of blooms at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch.

The Nelsons last year added the sunflower field and several rows of colorful zinnias to Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch, a 25-acre fall attraction, which, besides the patch, offers activities including a corn maze, outdoor games and food and beverages.

“Sunflowers make you happy,” said Carrie Nelson, who owns the pumpkin patch with her husband, Tood.

While sunflower fields may be just another commodity to farmers, there is something about them that makes them special to others, she said.

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A woman wearing a pink t-shirt arranges sunflowers and zinnias in a vase.
Gwen Klawon, Larimore, North Dakota, picked sunflowers and zinnias from the field at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota. Photo taken Sept. 11, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“There are so many people who have not experienced a sunflower field. I get people from Grand Forks, from Fargo," Nelson said.

Gwen Klawon, of Larimore, North Dakota, visited Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch on Sept. 11 to admire the sunflowers and pick a bouquet of them.

“I live in North Dakota. This is the best time of the year,” Klawon said as she arranged sunflowers and zinnias into a bouquet. “This definitely is a great idea.”

A woman wearing a black t-shirt stands behind a counter in the retail shop at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch.
Carrie Nelson owns Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota, with her husband, Todd. This photo was taken Sept. 11, 2022, in the retail shop at the patch.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

The Nelsons constantly are searching for new ideas for their business and Todd last year suggested to Carrie that they plant a small sunflower field. During a trip to Bismarck, North Dakota, he had seen that a farmer had opened up one of his fields to the public during the coronavirus pandemic and thought it would be a good attraction to add to their business.

Sunflowers, long grown by U.S. farmers for oil and confectionery uses, have increased in popularity among the general public during the past few years.

A field of yellow sunflowers.
Sunflowers, a row crop grown by farmers for oil and confectionary use, are a popular tourist attraction. This photo was taken Sept. 11, 2022, at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

North Dakota Tourism, for example, in July and August 2022 published a map of 13 farms in the state where sunflowers are grown, along with directions to the locations. The department’s web page about sunflowers also included a fact sheet about the commodity and a link to the National Sunflower Association web page.

While the sunflower fields on the North Dakota Tourism page map have matured, the one at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch was in peak bloom in early and mid-September.

The Nelsons’ “Sunflower Shindig,” scheduled from Sept. 10 to Sept. 18, included a drawing for a sunflower-themed Pioneer Seeds backpack and a “Sip and Paint” event in which participants worked with an artist to create sunflowers on canvas.

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A yellow sign at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch says "Sunflower Shindig."
Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota, features sunflowers during two weeks in September.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Shaun McCoy, and his father, Dennis, who are Northwood, North Dakota, Pioneer Seed dealers, donated the backpack and chose Pioneer sunflower seed varieties to plant in the sunflower field at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch.

“She gave us a two-week time-frame that they hoped to have sunflowers blooming. We have multiple varieties with different maturities — 60 to 75 days —depending on how it is in the summer, “ Shaun McCoy said. “I put a bag together of mixed maturity; some longest, short shortest, some in-between, to ensure some blooming for two weeks.”

Meanwhile, Giants, a Wapheton, N.D. snack food company that sells roasted sunflower seeds, donated 400 packets of seeds to Nelson to pass out to visitors to the Sunflower Shindig week at the pumpkin patch.

A red and white Pioneer Products sign is in front of a sunflower field.
Shaun and Dennis McCoy, Northwood, North Dakota, Pioneer Seed dealers, mixed a bag filled with several sunflower varieties that had varying maturing dates, for Nelson's Pumpkin Patch's field. Photo taken Sept. 11, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Carrie Nelson, meanwhile, planted 15 varieties of specialty sunflowers that included bronze-colored heads.

The sunflower field has attracted new customers, including professional photographers who booked photo sessions in the sunflower fields after Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch‘s regular hours and visitors who take pictures on their phones while they’re at the venue.

Other visitors simply come to stroll through the field and select blooming heads for bouquets.

Senior Airman Brendan Cufahl’s and his daughter Ellie’s trip to Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch near Emerado was the first trip to the sunflower field, but likely not their last.

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A girl dressed in a pink sweatshirt and blue jeans and a man wearing a blue, black and white flannel shirt, blue jeans and a blue cap and carrying a container of sunflowers walk out of a sunflower field.
Senior Airman Brendan Cufahl and his daughter Ellie, who live at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, on Sept. 11, 2022, picked flowers for Ellie's mother at the sunflower field at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, North Dakota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“Right when I walked up, ‘It was like, wow,’” Cufahl said, as he carried a bouquet he and Ellie picked for her mom, Jessica.

“I think it’s just gorgeous, I’m not much of a flower person, but I definitely would come back,” he said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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