Sun­flower ma­nia nears end in Mary­land fields

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jean Mar­bella

They screech to a stop on busy thor­ough­fares, park willy-nilly on the side of the road and hoist their ba­bies, dogs and each other to be pho­tographed amid the golden blooms.

Once a charm­ing lo­cal se­cret, sun­flower seek­ing has be­come an In­sta­gram- and Face­book-fu­eled phe­nom­e­non, with pic­ture-tak­ing hordes over­run­ning parts of Mary­land’s coun­try­side.

“They’ve be­come chaot­i­cally pop­u­lar,” said Kate Dal­lam, a Bel Air dairy farmer whose patch of the yel­low-and-black flow­ers draws gawk­ers ev­ery year. “The sun­flow­ers have taken over.”

Dal­lam, whose Broom’s Bloom Dairy has been in her hus­band’s fam­ily since the 1700s, grew an acre and a half of sun­flow­ers this year be­cause their cus­tomers like them — they’re a sideshow to the farm’s main event, the homemade ice cream it sells. The blooms spent, the farm­ers mowed down the droop­ing flow­ers on Tues­day, jok­ing it was the best day they’d had all month.

But close to 20 miles to the west, the area’s most fa­mous sun­flower field con­tin­ues to at­tract so many visi­tors that this week­end, the Bel Air bar­racks of the Mary­land State Po­lice was com­pelled to

is­sue a terse re­quest on its Face­book page:

“Please do not stop along Jar­rettsville Pike north of Hess Rd to pho­to­graph the sun­flower field. It cre­ates a tremen­dous traffic hazard as well as a danger to the pedes­tri­ans.”

“Peo­ple com­pletely ig­nored it,” said Cindy Fran­zoni who owns the Ver­dant Val­ley Farm, which in­cludes the field, with her hus­band, Jim.

The hol­i­day week­end drew big crowds — among them, Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco and his fam­ily. (A team spokesman con­firmed that Flacco dropped by but de­clined to share any photos he might have taken.)

The Fran­zo­nis lease the 100-acre field to Clear Meadow Farm, which she said grows the sun­flow­ers for seed and oil ev­ery other year. Clear Meadow farm­ers de­clined an in­ter­view, say­ing the sun­flow­ers do not need “any more pub­lic­ity” and have cre­ated a “traffic is­sue and po­ten­tial danger.”

The three-day La­bor Day week­end co­in­cided this year with what are likely the fi­nal days of “majesty” for the short­bloom­ing flow­ers, Fran­zoni said. Fields far­ther away from the road were planted later, though, and should be bloom­ing for their first-ever Sun­flower Fes­ti­val on Sun­day

But if you do not have a ticket for the fes­ti­val, stay away, Fran­zoni said. Ver­dant Val­ley ini­tially stopped sell­ing tick­ets af­ter 750 were quickly pur­chased, re­lented, but then stopped again af­ter sell­ing an­other 130 tick­ets in six minutes.

Those with tick­ets have been in­structed to park at a lo­ca­tion in Monk­ton, where they will be wrist-banded and shut­tled to a field where there will be mu­sic, food and, of course, am­ple photo ops.

Fran­zoni said she hasn’t heard of any prob­lems caused by the crowds, not­ing that peak bloom time lasts only two weeks.

Mary­land State Po­lice Sgt. Joseph Comer said that po­lice tried to keep traffic mov­ing and to clear the road­side but didn’t ticket any­one. There were no re­ports of ac­ci­dents, he said.

“Peo­ple pretty much, they un­der­stand,” Comer said. “We don’t want any­one to get hurt.”

He said traffic was so heavy that peo­ple had trou­ble get­ting into the Royal Farms across the street from the field. “Some peo­ple couldn’t get in to buy gas,” he said.

Store em­ploy­ees de­clined to comment and a mes­sage left with the store’s head­quar­ters was not an­swered.

On Tues­day, driv­ers reg­u­larly pulled over on the grass on the side of the road, and camera- and cell­phone-bearing sun­flower fanciers got out. They posed with ba­bies, dogs and each other, a late-sum­mer ver­sion of the leaf-peep­ers who flock to New Eng­land in the fall or the blue­bon­net seek­ers Broom’s Bloom Dairy grew an acre and a half of sun­flow­ers this year be­cause their cus­tomers like them — they’re a sideshow to the farm’s main event, the homemade ice cream it sells. who de­scend on Texas fields in the spring.

Charles and Jolly Barba drove nearly four hours from Wil­liams­burg, Va., with their 1-month-old daugh­ter, Jenica Claire.

“It’s for my birth­day cel­e­bra­tion,” said Jolly Barba, who turns 23 on Wed­nes­day and pro­nounced the field “awe­some.”

They had some­one take their pic­ture in the “sig­na­ture” pose they strike — he lifts her in the air — and chat­ted with other sun­flower view­ers be­fore head­ing to Bal­ti­more’s In­ner Har­bor.

Oth­ers vis­it­ing lived closer, but were no less en­am­ored of the vista.

“I thought I had to go to Tus­cany to see some­thing like this,” said Linda Sway­dis, 62, of Tow­son, a so­cial worker who took Tues­day off when she re­al­ized the brief sun­flower bloom­ing sea­son was nearly over. “It’s re­ally spec­tac­u­lar.”

She’s taken about a thou­sand pic­tures of the field, and en­joys adding spe­cial ef­fects with com­puter soft­ware or fram­ing prints to give to friends.

Some visi­tors strolled through nar­row open­ings to fully sur­round them­selves with sun­flow­ers.

They weren’t alone. Chris­tine Pea­cock, 24, shrieked as she got up close and per­sonal with one flower — and a bee. She and her sis­ter, Jen Pea­cock, 27, who live in Bal­ti­more’s Hamil­ton neigh­bor­hood, were just “cruis­ing” in the area and de­cided to stop.

Jen had been by over the week­end — she spot­ted Flacco — and de­cided her sis­ter had to see it.

“I’ve never been, but I’ve seen all the pic­tures on the in­ter­net,” Chris­tine said.

For Ralph Volk, 53, the field is a nice respite on his com­mute from home in Bel Air to work — he’s a Bal­ti­more County po­lice of­fi­cer as­signed to Parkville.

“I can stare at the farm for a few minutes,” said Volk, a 30-year veteran of the force. “You can day­dream. You can look and re­flect. ... I can es­cape a lit­tle when I see this.”

The Ver­dant Val­ley Farm has an “hon­esty box” where peo­ple are en­cour­aged to leave a dol­lar per stem that they take, or $5 for six of them. Half the funds go to Make-a-Wish, and some of the pro­ceeds from the fes­ti­val will go to char­ity as well.

While the field on Jar­rettsville Pike is the area’s grande sun­flower dame, oth­ers in the area have sim­i­larly seen a boom in look­iesees. Kate Dal­lam of Broom’s Bloom at­tributes that to so­cial me­dia, which is filled with photos of the Provence-like swaths of sun­flow­ers.

Dal­lam said her farm’s foray into the craze was quite un­planned. Some six or seven years ago, she thinks, their corn seed ven­dor hap­pened to have an ex­tra bag of sun­flower seeds — from a batch he had sold to Clear Meadow Farm, Dal­lam said. Her hus­band, David Dal­lam, know­ing her fond­ness for the flow­ers, de­cided to plant a cou­ple of acres as a sur­prise for her.

Dal­lam said their farm has plenty of park­ing so there’s less of an is­sue with crowds, but even so, peo­ple have swarmed into the field and com­plain that their lot has be­come jammed up or dan­ger­ous. Some peo­ple don’t un­der­stand that the bloom pe­riod is brief and un­pre­dictable.

“They start call­ing in April, and they’ll still be call­ing in late Oc­to­ber,” Dal­lam said. “They’ll come out to the field [af­ter peak bloom] and it looks hor­ri­ble and then they’re sad. Or there will be long, long, long lines and the park­ing lot is jammed with cars and there are chil­dren all over, and it’s frus­trat­ing.”

On a hap­pier note, she knows of four cou­ples who have got­ten en­gaged in her patch, and high school stu­dents like to take their se­nior pic­tures there. She’s heard of peo­ple drag­ging in couches for arty por­traits, which is no problem for them be­cause they don’t har­vest the sun­flow­ers.

“It’s not a crop for us,” Dal­lam said, “so we’re laid back.”

For all the has­sles, she knows the flow­ers bring in a lot of cus­tomers who then buy ice cream cones — 1,752 of them two Sun­days ago — and other farm fare.

“A nor­mal Sun­day is half of that,” she said.

At the Fran­zo­nis’ field, the fes­ti­val will mark the end of the sea­son. The sun­flower heads will droop, the seeds will dry out and then in about a month or so they will be har­vested.

“It is,” she said, “their fi­nal bow.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Preety Shenvi of Columbia and her 2-year-old son, Veer, visit a field of sun­flow­ers on Jar­rettsville Pike near Hess Road in Bal­ti­more County. The field be­came a wildly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion and caused traffic jams over the hol­i­day week­end.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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