These sunflower fields have special meaning.
Few things brighten up life like a sunflower in full bloom. This tall, sturdy plant with the cheerful golden flower that keeps its face toward the sun just seems to exude happiness and optimism. It’s fitting, then, that the National Garden Bureau designated 2021 as the Year of the Sunflower. With its vibrant colors and constant focus on the sun, the sunflower is an ideal symbol for a year in which life is returning to normal after a long, dark pandemic. This beautiful flower is a great reminder that brighter days do indeed come; we just need to keep looking for the sunshine.
You can experience the splendor of sunflowers by strolling through a sunflower field this summer. A couple of farms located on electric co-op lines have acres of golden blooms that reflect the brightness of the people in whose memory they’re planted. Both farms welcome the public to stop and walk through the sunflowers. Don’t forget your camera…
Babbette’s Seeds of Hope
Near the Town of Rock Falls, on Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s lines, is Babbette’s Seeds of Hope (SOH), comprising 600 acres of sunflowers planted over two fields in the memory of Babbette, a beloved wife,
mother, daughter, sister, and friend who lost her nine-year battle with multiple myeloma in 2014.
Since then, Babbette’s family has planted sunflowers in her memory with the mission of raising money for organizations that engage in cancer research and that support patients going through treatments for cancer and other illnesses.
Each summer when the sunflowers are in full bloom—usually by about mid-August—the family has welcomed the public at any time during daylight hours to wander the paths through the bright golden flowers.
Walking through the sunflowers is free, but donations to the Seeds of Hope Fund are appreciated. This year, donating has been made considerably easier with SOH’s new partnership with the Eau Claire Community Foundation (ECCF). Through this non-profit organization, an endowment has been created into which people can donate to the SOH fund directly via a link on the ECCF website, https://eccfwi.org/fund/babbettes-seeds-of-hope-fund/. Visitors can also find a link to the fund on the Seeds of Hope Facebook page.
“This helps preserve the integrity of the donations,” said Jennifer Harschlip-White, one of Babbette’s daughters. “People can be assured of where their money is going, they will get a receipt, and there’s a website they can turn to.”
Another bonus of this partnership is that it opens up avenues for other types of cancer research/support projects. People can host their own fund-raising projects and donate the money to the Seeds of Hope Fund.
And of course, by turning over the time-consuming task of administering the fund to an established, trusted entity, Harschlip-White and other family members can focus on what they do so well—grow beautiful sunflowers in Babbette’s memory. The sunflower field is located at S5875 Fuller Road EC 54701, in the town of Rock Falls. The Chippewa River State Bike Trail borders the field, and nearby Rock Falls offers several quaint stops including a vintage ice cream shop.
You can also bask in the warmth of sunflowers this summer at Rotary Gardens in Janesville, where Rock Energy Cooperative is headquartered.
To mark the Year of the Sunflower, Rotary Gardens planted 13 different kinds of sunflowers, from mammoth to dwarf. The beds contain sunflowers in different shades of color as well as varieties from around the world, ranging from the large cream Italian White sunflowers to the rich red and yellow of the Ring of Fires.
Visit rotarybotanicalgardens.org to learn more, or call 608-752-3885.
Three Little Birds
Another sunflower field in rural Wisconsin that is planted in memory of a beloved family member is Three Little Birds Farm in Westby, on Vernon Electric Cooperative’s lines. Named for the three Fauske sisters—Brittany, Katelyn, and Haley—Three Little Birds Farm is operated by Matt Fauske and daughter Katelyn.
The youngest Fauske daughter, Haley, tragically died in a car accident in 2015. Hayley loved sunflowers and even had a tattoo of a sunflower on her shoulder. She also had a sunny spirit, just like the bright flowers she favored: Katelyn told myfarmlife.com that her sister “always told people to turn toward the sun.”
So to honor Hayley’s memory, the family turned to sunflowers. In 2016 the Fauskes planted six rows of sunflowers surrounding an 8-acre field by their house. The following year they filled in the entire field with sunflowers, complete with a maze featuring Hayley’s signature. The family welcomed visitors to stop and wander through the sunflower maze.
Word spread, and the maze attracted more and more attention; it was even featured on Good Morning America. The Fauskes never charged people to walk through the sunflowers, but generous visitors contributed anyway, so the family eventually set out a donation box. Money goes to help with the purchase of sunflower seeds and also to pay for local good deeds done in Hayley’s name.
The Fauskes have continued to plant sunflowers each summer, and to invite people to stop and stroll through the flowers during daylight hours. Peak bloom time varies with the weather year to year; check in to the farm’s Facebook page for updates. Three Little Birds Farm is located at E8667 Reo Ave., Westby. Turn a visit there into a day trip by exploring Westby, with its Scandinavian heritage reflected throughout the city, and the natural beauty of the surrounding Driftless Region.
Whichever sunflower field you visit, you’re sure to discover some happiness among the big, bright blooms. It’s not difficult to find—just keep following the sun.—Mary Erickson