YELLOW SPRINGS — Those who have driven down U.S. Route 68 between the Village of Yellow Springs and Young’s Dairy within the past couple of weeks may have smiled at the 11-acre field of 300,000 to 400,000 sunflowers grown at Whitehall Farm – and that’s exactly what the owners hoped for.
“It makes people so happy to see it and it’s a perfectly positioned field because when you drive by, the sunflowers are facing east so you get this full view of 11 acres of sunflowers,” owner Sharen Neuhardt of Whitehall farm said. “… We like it a lot, people are generally respectful, and it just makes people happy. For us, we think it’s closely identified with the Tecumseh Land Trust, and we really like that because people will think of land trust and land preservation when they come to our farm … We want people to understand that if you preserve farms, you can have beautiful sunflower fields and if you cover everything up with asphalt the sunflowers aren’t growing.”
The field came after they decided to purchase property in 1999 from a family who broke up 940 acres into 34 individual properties. The Neuhardt’s just wanted the properties adjacent to their farm, but the Tecumseh Land Trust and Clark and Greene Counties, Miami Township and Village residents got together to raise the rest of the funds, $1.2 million six weeks before the auction took place, to purchase the remaining property with the understanding that it would be preserved.
“That’s what the Land Trust does in general, preserve natural areas for farms, but we don’t generally do it at that point of auction,” Krista Magraw of the Tecumseh Land Trust said. “Generally what we do is hear from land donors who would like to preserve their beautiful family farms. We talk to them about options for doing that and if everyone’s in agreement, then it’s a good idea to proceed. What we do is draft a legal instrument called a conservation easement and it’s filed at the county courthouse with the recorder. That travels with the land the same way a utility or right of way easement would. Generally what those do is prevent a natural or farm property from being developed into a commercial facility, like a strip mall or housing development.”
The Tecumseh Land Trust’s office is now located on Whitehall Farm. The sunflowers were planted for the first time in 2003 after the Neuhardt’s drove by a sunflower field themselves previously, and wished to make people as happy as seeing that field made them. The field includes signage regarding land trusts, as it aims to teach visitors of such. Art contests take place in conjunction with the sunflower field, giving those unfamiliar with farming the opportunity to learn as well.
“We have a bumper sticker that says ‘asphalt is the last crop,’” Magraw said. “That gives you an idea that once land is paved over, it’s probably not going to be cultivated again, it’s probably not going to be used to grow food.”
The seeds determine how long it takes from planting the seed to the blooming flowers, but Neuhardt said it’s typically 60 days. The field experienced a late bloom this year, being planted Aug. 2 and blooming in early October; it typically blooms in early September, but the summer rains prevented the seeds from being planted any earlier than they were. Instead of harvesting and selling the seeds, the Neuhardt’s leave the local birds a meal to enjoy.
“People think they have to have beautifully manicured gardens, and those are lovely — but there’s nothing more beautiful than sunflower fields,” Neuhardt said. “You look at it and think ‘wow, this is nature at its finest.’”