Stuckey offers amazing fields of sunflowers
What: Stuckey Farm’s third annual Sunflower Festival.
When: Saturday through Monday with special sneak preview photo opportunity on Friday.
Where: Stuckey Farm, 19975 Hamilton Boone (county line) Road, Sheridan.
Info: (317) 769-4172, https://stuckeyfarm.com/
Jordan Pierce has been working at Stuckey Farm in Sheridan since his family bought the property when he was 13 years old. He and his younger brother would be out behind the tractor helping push dirt over tomato plants. “We worked every summer here. Then after school, my parents would pick us up and take us here.”
Now, at 28, he works there full time as the operations manager. “What that means is I pretty much do just about everything from operating the cider production to managing our employees and the Facebook page.”
He talked as he steered a black Dodge Ram 1500 four-door farm truck to the back of his family’s 40-acre property, where he’s been getting this year’s crop of sunflowers ready for Labor Day weekend’s Sunflower Festival.
The festival runs Saturday through Monday, with an additional photo opportunity on Friday. The property — which has a rural Sheridan address although it’s in Westfield on the Hamilton Boone (county line) Road — is about a 25-minute drive or 15 miles west of Noblesville.
Stuckey Farm this year has more than 100,000 sunflower plants with about 15 different varieties of sunflowers on the seven dedicated acres.
There are giant Mammoth and Skyscraper sunflowers as well as small and fluffy Teddy Bear sunflowers all blooming or about to bloom this weekend. There are not only traditional golden yellow sunflowers but also sunflowers in ruby red, the Moulin Rouge, and shades of lemon, the Limoncello, plus a Ring of Fire sunflower and more varieties.
He posed for a photo near the 12-foot Mammoth sunflowers, his favorite. “It took less than one year for them to grow and look like a tree. I think it’s insane that a plant can grow that fast and that big in that short period of time,” he said. Another favorite is nearly the opposite, the small and fluffy Teddy Bear sunflowers.
Being that most all of the sunflowers on the acreage will be in bloom this weekend, I had to ask how he precisely timed the growing of sunflowers to make sure the flowers are in bloom for the Labor Day weekend festival.
“It’s very difficult, and I was a little worried this year,” Pierce said.
“We did two different plantings … Each seed on the packet it tells you it’s so many days until it blooms. The giant sunflowers, the Mammoth and Skyscraper, they are 100 days until they bloom. That’s just kind of the general guidelines. If we get a lot of sun and a lot of rain, they can come on early. … or if we don’t get that kind of weather, they can come on late,” he said.
In the first field, the flowers are a little early. The second field is timed to be right on the first day of the Festival.
“It worked out this year; last year not so much,” he said.
This will be Stuckey Farm’s third year having a “sunflower field.” He said, “Last year, we had an early crop which basically translated to a crop failure, and pretty much, all of the sunflowers came into bloom about 30 days before the festival was supposed to start.” So Stuckey partnered with the Society of St. Andrew, a faith-based, hunger-relief nonprofit for the hungry of Indiana, and visitors last season could come and see the flowers with a donation to the organization.
He pointed to one of the fields that didn’t do as well this season. “This whole field was supposed to be filled with Teddy Bears, but we had a bunch of rain right after we planted them, so only some of them came up,” he said.
Creating seven acres of sunflowers is a lot of work. But he said, “This year, I think we’re ready.”
Bees from hives on the property near the pond buzz back and forth to the fields of sunflowers all day long, pollinating as they go from plant to plant.
The biggest problem is weed suppression. You can’t just plant a field of sunflowers. Normally, on crop production, you can get rid of weeds fairly easily. With sunflowers, they have to “out-compete the weeds,” he said. “So we’re out here with hoes and weed eaters and little hook blades that can grab the weeds and pull them out.”
He said, “Up until the day of the festival, we’re going to be out here weeding, to make it as clean as we can. It takes hours and hours of work just to get a clean row in between the sunflowers. When they’re short, you can push mow the rows, so if you can think of push mowing (with a walk-behind mower) seven acres of grass, that’s pretty much what I did. It was five days straight,” Pierce said. A couple of high-schoolers and one adult male employee help him.
“It’s definitely a lot of work and a lot of work for one weekend. But it’s totally worth it,” he said. “You can’t really see a field of sunflowers like this pretty much anywhere in Indiana.”
Pierce said, “All of the other people who have tried to emulate this, they’re in the one-to-two-acre plots … This is seven acres …Whoever comes is going to get a full experience.”
The acreage in sunflowers has nearly tripled in size since the first year of the festival, when the farm had a two or three-acre plot and about 3,000 visitors.
During the 2020 festival, visitors can pick and take home one free bloom, in a you-pick area, for each paid admission ticket, Saturday through Monday, during which a kids area and a corn maze will also be open. On Friday, there are photos only allowed in the sunflower fields. “You can come out here and take as many pictures as you want, but we are not allowing anyone to pick any of the flowers (on Friday),” Pierce said.
This will be the first year that Stuckey Farm has wooden viewing platforms with steps to the top where visitors can look out over the field of sunflowers, positioned so visitors can see the sunflowers as they track the sun.
Pierce said he got the idea to plant sunflower fields after his family went to a meeting of farms that do agro-entertainment, and witnessed one of the farms in the Carolinas that had 10-20 acres of sunflower fields for visitors. “I looked at my dad, and I said, ‘We need to have a sunflower field.’”
He just didn’t realize it would be so much work.
In the beginning, he was tired. But at the end, when the sunflowers started to bloom, he was happy. “When you plant a field, it’s kind of like you’re planting hope that’s something’s going to grow. So when they start to pop up, it gives you this giddy feeling … after they’ve bloomed, it’s definitely a happy feeling. They definitely bring joy to other people which brings me joy.”
The sunflower crop doesn’t really have value in itself. While the sunflowers can be harvested for sunflower oil, Pierce can’t find any farmers who will harvest the oil for them or anyone with a combine that can cut sunflowers.
Pierce, who graduated from Zionsville High School and earned a mechanical engineering technology degree from IUPUI, thinking that he would be an inventor, said he’s used some of his skill sets for his job, for which he moved up from part time to full time three years ago. It was after taking some college internships that he figured out his future. The farm has always been a draw for him. “I took that as ‘This is where I needed to be,’” he said of joining the business with parents, Jeff and Shannon Pierce. “Everyday, I’m fixing stuff or figuring out a way to make something work, so it keeps my brain exercised.” Plus, he gets to be outside every day and gets plenty of exercise walking around on the property. And the perks also include winters off.
Pierce said, “It’s fulfilling to see families come out here and have different kinds of experiences and see how happy it makes people,” he said. Pierce and his wife, of three years, met in college through mutual friends. She works for Eli Lilly. “No kids yet, just dogs,” he said. But they have taken family photos in the sunflowers.
Stuckey Farm celebrated 50 years in 2019. Besides the sunflower festival, Stuckey has an apple orchard and large Country Market. “The Sunflower Festival is a kickstarter for the rest of the year … Fall is where we thrive.” He said racing pigs should be arriving soon. The farm is open July through the day before Thanksgiving.
He said this year they had already bought all of the sunflower seeds when the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic hit. They planted them anyway hoping their sunflowers would be a bright spot in people’s lives.
“I think we have a special place, and people can distance themselves but still be part of an event,” Pierce said.
“We calculated it if people are 11 feet of each other, we could have 6,000 people out in the field.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at firstname.lastname@example.org