Sunflower fun well done: Seasonal attraction near Tonganoxie draws big crowds again
Kris Grinter rings up merchandise at Sunflower General as a steady flow of customers — and tourists — make their way to the Grinter Farms a few miles south of Tonganoxie.
A customer asks whether they have sunflower seeds for sale and whether they’re edible.
For birds they’re great; for humans, they basically work as a laxative.
“So save them for your enemies,” Kris joked.
She explained that edible seeds usually are the variety with a gray stripe.
It’s about 5:30 p.m. Monday and the Labor Day Weekend is winding down.
Well, kind of.
Sunflower General sells homemade soaps, jewelry, sugar scrubs, local honey and other mercantile goods. It was supposed to close at 5 p.m. But when that steady food traffic keeps on with the pitter-patter, you stay open a bit longer.
The store opened in 2015. Now in its sixth sunflower season, the store had its best weekend ever, Kris said.
“This year there’s a pandemic and there’s a whole lot of nothing going on,” she said.
Down the road, Kris’ husband, Ted Grinter, surveys the string of vehicles coming down the county road to visit the main attraction: the sunflower fields.
Now it’s about 5:40 p.m.
Ted has been at the field since about 9 a.m. When traffic starts to get congested, he and others are on the road directing traffic. But as the clock approaches 6 p.m., he’s monitoring the crowds from a parked UTV.
He fields questions about what’s available at Sunflower General, if people can take sunflowers and how much they are.
Red donation stations dot spots around the main sunflower field. Suggested donations are $1 per sunflower.
“I don’t even want to venture to guess how many people were here,” Ted said.
But with some reasonable summer weather, the sunflower flourished. And the crowds came — in droves.
“If everyone left a dollar today, I’d be tickled,” Ted said with a laugh.
The last couple years weren’t the greatest in terms of volume of visitors, but sometimes Mother Nature has a different itinerary.
The 2017 summer had lots of rain. Sunflowers like rain, but you know, as their name reflects, they also like to soak up a lot of that sunshine. In 2018, there was rain and then it got hot, really hot. A sting of about four days of 100-degree heat solidified that previously soggy ground from which the sunflowers were trying to sprout. But as Kris explained it, many of the seedlings basically were steamed beneath the soil and couldn’t break through. Ted planted in phases in hopes of having some fields of sunflowers. The plan provided some picture opportunities for sure, but this year’s crowds have been much larger by far.
Girnter Farms rules
The Grinter Farms Facebook page has a few rules for folks who want to visit.
But they also have some fun with the list.
Here are a few of them:
l If you came out to party, just NO! It’s a pandemic, people! Physically distance yourselves! There is plenty of space. Use it wisely!
l Weekdays and mornings are the paths less traveled. Although traffic hasn’t really been an issue since the incident we have dubbed “Carmageddon 2016,” to help with any possible issues, try to come at an “off” time.
l There are no restrooms. It’s a field and we don’t charge admission, so “holding it” is the price you pay.
That Carmageddon in 2016 was the combination of a social media explosion and perfect weather around the Labor Day weekend. The sunflower fields have been a popular stop the last few years as social media buzz spread, but it really spread in 2016.
Since then, though, more sunflower fields have popped up in northeast Kansas.
“Somebody thought it was a crop worth planting,” Kris said. “It’s not a bad thing. There’s plenty to go around.”
Here for the party
Yes, there was that one rule about no parties.
But the group had matching masks and shirts.
Neighbor Marie Treichel helps out at Sunflower General. She’s a “sidekick,” she said.
She was the first to mention the group, a bachelorette party that came to the sunflower fields on a small bus from Omaha, Neb. They were masked up for the event. Down the road, near the main sunflower field near 24050 Stillwell Road, Ted also mentioned the group, which happened to give him a beer during the course of their visit.
There also were people from both coasts, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Denver. There also were visitors from Australia. Ted wasn’t sure where in the United States they reside currently, but he gathered from the conversation — and the accent — that they were from Australia.
You meet a wide range of people during sunflower season, whether it’s at the main field or a secondary one just southwest of Sunflower General at 14755 243rd St.
Treichel has gotten to meet some of those visitors as well in her time helping the Grinters.
“I’m the neighbor who couldn’t get through the crowds so I joined them,” Treichel joked, referring to the traffic and buzz that comes with the sunflower fields.
The Grinters have about 26 acres of sunflowers, but their main operation is in corn and soybeans, as they have about 2,000 acres total between those two crops.
The sunflowers are harvested after the season, with the seeds sold as bird feed.
People might also wonder about why the flowers sometimes follow the sun and other times face a certain direction.
Ted said that the sunflowers follow the sun each day as they grow. Normally, once they bloom, whichever direction they’re facing is how they stay after that.
He said they’ll normally face east, but sometimes will face west, south or straight up. Facing north would be a rarity in these parts because Kansas is north of the equator. If the fields were planted in the southern hemisphere, they wouldn’t face south because the sun would always be to the north.
The crowds continued to come and go Monday evening, with some getting there to see the fields at sunset, which Ted said would come about 7:40 p.m.
The fields continue to be a popular local attraction in recent years, though the fields have been around for more than 40 years.
“Some sunflowers have been planted since the 1970s because they looked pretty,” Kris said. “And this happened organically.”
Weather forecasts this week call for rain, so people wanting to still venture out to the fields might not have many days left. There still could be some good viewing and picture-taking opportunities coming into this coming weekend, but anyone interested in visiting should check the Grinter Farms and Sunflower General Facebook pages for updates.