As if they were sailing through a sea of gold, the peoples’ heads bobbed up and down in the wavy sunflower field Friday evening at A&H Farm.
It was an unconventional sort of date night — the kind that goes with an “only in Kansas” tagline — but as the sun started to set and the dripping August air cooled, the participants in the farm’s Sunset in the Sunflowers event found treasure in the fields.
Although the adults-only event offered alcoholic drinks as well as the farm’s regular train ride, petting zoo, giant slide, bounce house and human foosball, the thousands of sunflowers were what caught most participants’ eyes and they, much like the insects on the flowers, bee-lined toward the field.
Walking on the sandy pathways around the fields, Andrea DeJesus, who owns the farm with her husband, Hugo, tended to the guests with same care she did her plants. She stopped to talk with every guest, giving them pointers on where to find the 10 varieties of the state flower she and her workers have planted around the field.
“We’re known as the Sunflower State, but you only really see them here and there,” she said. “You don’t see fields like this all the time, so we mixed our fields a little bit.”
At the farm, just a mile south of Manhattan, DeJesus said she and her workers try to give visitors, in this case mostly couples and 20-somethings, an experience they won’t find in city limits.
“I think there’s really a big disconnect to farms, so one of the things I like about these events is that they let people come out to a farm and see it in a way they’ve never seen it before,” DeJesus said. “They see the bugs on the flowers, they see the hundreds of dragonflies flying around. These are opportunities you don’t see all the time. You see a different kind of sunset you can’t see in town.”
The event proved popular with couples from Fort Riley, and Friday’s experience was baptism by sunflower into the Kansas way of life for some of the more recently stationed couples.
Diondre and Suzette Buggs, a couple who recently moved from California to Fort Riley, marveled at the size of some of the sunflowers. Diondre followed Suzette and held trimmed stems of sunflowers like a bouquet as they wandered through the patches of different flower varieties. They laughed as they picked flowers that didn’t have bees or insects inside.
“We’ve been trying to do new things like this since we moved,” Diondre said. “I like the traffic here a lot more.”
“I’ve loved Kansas, too, but for different reasons,” Suzette said. “I like it because it’s quiet, and it’s homey. We could get a farm with chickens and eggs,” she added with a laugh.
Nicholas and Tristan Frazier, another Fort Riley couple, had never been in a sunflower field before. They said the evening experience was “extraordinary.”
“This was the first time that we’ve done something like this together in a while,” Tristan said. “I was deployed last year, so I missed out on fun activities with her, but we finally had good luck with an event like today’s.”
The farm’s sunflower events continue with a sunflower festival that started Thursday and continues noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The sunflower bloom only lasts about two weeks, and it came earlier than expected this year, DeJesus said.
“We’re constantly going with the flow and changing plans on a dime,” she said. “It can be pretty stressful, but it’s Mother Nature.”
With fall coming in, the farm is already preparing for pumpkin season, in addition to the regular farm work. The farm grows “pretty much anything you eat that you can grow in Kansas,” DeJesus said, and every Saturday, she sells the farm’s produce at the Downtown Farmer’s Market.
She is also the market’s president.
But for now, DeJesus is happy to see the sunflowers bring people smiles.
“It’s amazing what a field of sunflowers can bring out in people, and that’s one of the best things — seeing people smile and enjoying nature,” she said.