Sunflowers are lighting up North Dakota's 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.
EMERADO, N.D. — Sunflowers illuminated Riggin Dalbey's and Clayton Johnson's first ever trip to a North Dakota field.
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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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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, North Dakota, 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.
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.
“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.