Inaugural sunflower festival includes 75 varieties
By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
MOUNTAIN HOME – When Bethany Gotts first planted a small patch of sunflowers off of Highway 78 near the Bruneau Sand Dunes in 2020, it was done as a hobby.
The young, fourth-generation Owyhee County farmer loved flowers and wanted to do something she could call her own on the family’s 500-acre farm.
But people kept stopping by the side of the road to take photos of the sunflowers or offered to pay to be able to pick some.
The unplanned popularity of that initial small sunflower patch has turned into the 2023 Quey’s Maze Sunflower Festival, which attracted about 1,250 people during its inaugural year.
It turns out the low-maintenance, heat-tolerant flowers are not only attractive to pollinators and birds. People also love to be around sunflowers, those giant, bright, cheery flowers with daisy-like faces.
The festival was held on Aug. 5 and Aug. 12, both Saturdays, and the entry fee to the 3-acre sunflower patch was $5. People could also pay $15 for a mason jar to fill with flowers they cut themselves.
One-hour photo shoots during the week were offered for $60.
“The response from people has been great,” Gotts said. “Overall, it’s been a great first year. It’s a lot of work and a lot of good people came together to make this happen.”
The Gotts grow corn, wheat, oats, barley and alfalfa on just under 500 acres and also rent out land for other crops, including dry beans and mint. They also grow “small” crops such as melons and sweet corn for farmers markets.
The farm has operated a Quey’s Maze corn maze and pumpkin patch in October since 2007 and added the sunflower festival this year.
The festival, which had 10 vendors, included 75 different sunflower varieties. Sunflowers are native to North and South America and are a popular ornamental because of their spectacular size and flower heads.
Gotts planted the sunflowers in 60-inch rows and left gaps in-between the rows to make it easier for people to walk through.
The sunflower patch was not actually a maze, at least not intentionally. “But you do have to kind of wander around to find the openings through the patch,” Gotts said.
She did four different plantings and timed it so all the varieties would bloom at the same time. The result was a bright, cheery field with all types, sizes and colors of sunflowers greeting festival attendees.
“It’s a botanical experience that (is hard to) get,” Gotts said. “You have red ones and white ones, yellow ones, big ones, small ones, all different types. So just seeing them is an experience.”
Trina Flowers, whose family owns a farm nearby and served as the festival’s marketing and special events manager, said the main goal of the festival “is to spread joy, first of all. We wanted to have a family event where people can come out to, pick flowers and spend time together at.”
Gotts said one of her main goals with the sunflower festival and corn maze and pumpkin patch is to help educate people about agriculture and the fact that farmers and ranchers try hard to be good stewards of their land.
“One of the fun things about this is that we get to teach people about agriculture because the public has no idea where food comes from,” she said. “We do so much to take care of the soil with cover crops and nutrients and crop rotation and that’s something we like to tell people about.”
With the sunflower patch and corn maze right in the heart of farm country, there is plenty of opportunity to teach people about the basics of farming, Gotts said.
“The majority of people are so interested in farming and so enthralled about what farming is and how much goes into it,” she said. “You can see all the crops around here – the corn, the beans, the mint. We love educating people about how these crops grow.”
Flowers said Gotts “is trying to make people aware of what agriculture is and answer questions and inform people about farming. I think a lot of times people take it for granted that all their food is just there. We want to help them see a little of the behind-the-scenes part of how that comes to be.”
Gotts said she didn’t do any major advertising for the festival this year and most of the festival visitors were from Mountain Home, Grand View or Glenns Ferry, which are from 10 to 20 minutes away.
“Next year, if we actually advertise, I’m sure we’ll draw a bigger crowd from Boise and Twin Falls,” she said.
But Gotts said she doesn’t necessarily want the festival to grow into a major event.
“I want it to be manageable and for people to still feel like they’re out in the country enjoying nature,” she said. “It’s definitely not the money maker here on the farm. Farming is the money maker and this is my fun thing to do.”
Gotts said sunflowers are not a major challenge to grow.
“To me, they’re pretty easy to grow,” she said. “They don’t need any nutrient inputs with fertilizer. You just basically have to put them in the ground and make sure it’s warm and wet so that they can germinate. Then just make sure the weeds don’t overtake them.”
“Once they get about a foot tall, man, the sunflowers just take off and grow like crazy,” she added. “But up until then, the weeds can shade them and that will stunt their growth a whole lot, so weeding is the biggest thing.”
Planting took place at the end of April and beginning of May.
“I grew them, Mother Nature took care of the blooms and Trina took care of letting people know about this,” Gotts said.
Flowers said the response from festival attendees was very positive.
“We have been overwhelmed with positive responses,” she said. “People are just loving getting out in nature and seeing all the different sunflower varieties. For a first year, I think it’s gone amazing.”
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