(Photos by Kailey Jane)
Farming, as a whole, is a fortuitous exercise in grit, hard work, and faith. Ursula Kressibucher embodies each of these qualities and so does her story of starting The Sunflower Farm, amidst a global pandemic no less. We are honored to be a part of her story by helping make the farm’s merchandise come to life.
Below is an interview we did with Ursula about her endeavor, the trials of farming, and being a welcomed outing in time of lock-downs.
Can you tell us a little about The Sunflower Farm?
The Sunflower Farm was established in 2020 and is located in Beaverton, Ontario, Canada. This year I’ve also opened a second location in Lindsay, Ontario. The Sunflower Farm farm boasts 20 acres of blooming sunflowers (400k, yes as in 400,000 sunflowers) and features Canada’s only sunflower shaped trail that visitors can walk along and snap some great pics! We have a variety of different sunflowers that we grow to make beautiful bouquets for visitors to purchase (or learn how to make themselves at one of our workshops!). Our merchandise A-Frame Hut features custom, 100% organic cotton, sustainable apparel and locally/sustainably sourced products, like handmade jewelry, locally harvested honey, maple syrup and more.
New this year: we expanded the farm experience by offering a wide range of events and collaborations with local businesses – everything from a sunset picnic, live music, sunrise yoga and a fundraiser for the humanitarian effort in Ukraine — as sunflowers are Ukraine’s national flower.
What inspired you to start it?
I made the decision in 2019 to pursue the idea of becoming a sunflower farmer. Before this, I was looking for a new challenge and chapter to develop a career in global development, NGOs, educational tourism or begin the corporate life in Toronto. When no one decided to hire me, I decided to take a chance on myself and create a job for myself. The Sunflower Farm opened in the summer of 2020. Here we are in our third season of operating a sunflower farm for birdseed production and a sunflower agri-tourism farm business.
Starting this farm is what kept me going and moving forwards. Looking back I knew I needed a new challenge and this farm was my ticket. It then continued to keep me moving forwards and presented new challenges every day. Honestly, through the adversity I faced in both my personal and professional life over the last two years, it was this farm that pushed me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Growing the business, knowing I was not only creating a farm and business for myself but also for all the visitors who share their love for the farm, knowing this is my story to write – this keeps me anchored now and pushes me into the future of this farm.
I decided to take a chance on myself and create a job for myself.
What’s been your favorite part about running the Sunflower Farm?
Personally: the sense of purpose for myself and others. I understand why I chose this path and why it keeps pushing me forward everyday.
The People: Hearing the stories of why visitors chose to spend their time and hard earned money to visit the farm. Meeting the visitors, the people who’ve driven over 7 hours to visit the farm, those that chose this farm as their first outing since lockdowns from the global pandemic, the ones who decide to make it an annual tradition. It really is all about the connections, the people both near and far. Those I meet in person and those who reach out to me from abroad asking questions or sending encouraging notes even if they can’t visit. It’s astonishing to understand the reach of this farm – something I never imagined just three years ago when most people around me thought it was one far fetched idea!
Business side: I love working with other entrepreneurs, farms and businesses challenging the norm and who strive to create more impact locally and globally with their businesses. I hope to continue to seek out collaborations with local businesses and ones that align with my vision and goals for the farm. I want The Sunflower Farm to be more than just a stop on a road trip. I hope to grow one’s understanding and appreciation for agriculture, specifically focusing on a mini educational centre to learn about farming sunflowers, support local businesses that have a real face behind their products and create an immersive, positive experience when visiting my farm.
This year you added a second location. Did you find that it was exponentially easier or more difficult to run two locations?
I did not imagine the success of my first year in business let alone looking forward to future years of The Sunflower Farm. It really was just taking a chance on what so many thought was one wild idea. It is something that I continue to wrap my head around, finding ways to create a sustainable agri-tourism business, one that will encourage people to return year after year to visit the farm.
Opening up a second location, The Little Sunflower Farm may have been seen as smooth sailing in theory: stagger the planting so each field would bloom after the other bloom ended. Sure this happened, but instead of the estimated one week of down time to make the move, there was a 24 hour turnaround to close up one location and move the entire set up to the next location. Without an incredible team this wouldn’t have been possible. I’m learning that I can’t split myself in two so taking on another location meant bringing on a strong team and pushing The Farm Team outside of their comfort zones. It was a challenge yet we went in with confidence from the trials and errors from the first two summers in the first location. That being said, of course the second location presented its own set of challenges for us all to work through!
Getting hundreds of thousands of sunflowers to bloom at the same time seems incredibly challenging. What does the general public misunderstand about farming?
The questions we get asked the most: can you plant a cut sunflower into the ground and watch it ground? Do the sunflowers follow the sun?
We get every question you could imagine and more – there are days I think I’ve heard it all but then someone will come up with an interesting one! In general, visitors are curious to know about the planting and harvesting season. Through social media I try to educate as much as possible on the process of farming sunflowers. There continues to be a huge gap in understanding how crops are grown in Canada and how farms operate. Trying to bridge that gap in agriculture education takes one conversation at a time, some videos on social media and a lot of patience and repetition!
Some Goals for The Sunflower Farm:
Challenge those on what farming looks like.
Celebrate women in agriculture.
Success is more than just the financial gain.
A farm to grow connections and community – more than just sunflowers and selfies.
What has been the most popular merchandise on the farm?
By far the classic golden sunflower on the black crop tank! It’s classic, it’s timeless and we can’t wait to bring it back each and every year. Most importantly, visitors understand our goals with our merch: keep it local or keep it sustainable. We only carry products that align with our own vision and goals. It is important for every business carrying merch of the impact the items you sell have on visitors but also down the supply chain. I am proud to know that our merch is sustainable sourced and challenges the world of fast fashion. Every piece of this business matters on your impact both locally and globally.
(Photo by Early Bird Films)