Sunflowers shine at local festival

Bergsbaken Farms pulls in thousands of visitors
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski The sunflowers will be only one aspect of Sunflower Fest. There will also be a number of crafts, nature hikes and other activities for people to enjoy among the golden flowers.

Lee Bergsbaken would see car after car stop on the side of County Road E to snap a few photos of the sunflowers he grew on his farm, sometimes to the impediment of traffic.

“It was getting kind of dangerous out on the roads,” Bergsbaken said. “There were so many cars out there. It gets to be a zoo.”

So he decided to host an event that would allow visitors to get their sunflower fix without risk of accident.

Bergsbaken Farms will host the third annual Sunflower Fest from July 27-29, with the gates opening at 10 a.m. each day. There will be walking trails for visitors to explore and three viewing platforms for those wanting to get the perfect sunflower photo.

For those concerned about the walking trails being too long to traverse, Bergsbaken assured that there is a shorter trail for them to enjoy.

“It gets a little too far for some elderly people to walk,” Bergsbaken said.

Parents can bring their children along to enjoy a bounce house, balloon animals, face painting, sunflower crafts, and a corn pit. The whole family can climb aboard the sunflower wagon for a ride around the farm, located east of Cecil.

“It’s a family thing. We want people to come with their kids, grandpas and grandmas and have a nice day,” Bergsbaken said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Admission to the festival is free, but there is a charge for picking sunflowers and purchasing T-shirts and sunflower bird seed. Concessions will be available for those who get hungry, and there will be vendors on the farm selling various sunflower-related wares. Donation boxes will also be set up to help offset the costs to put on the festival, Bergsbaken said.

A new addition to the festival will be live music on the weekend. The Maroszek Brothers will perform from noon to 4 p.m. July 28, while Live Wire will jam during the same time period on July 29.

Bergsbaken said the farm will be better prepared for visitors this year, as almost 9,000 visitors attended the 2017 festival. That was a six-fold increase from the 1,500 visitors in 2016; the farm had only anticipated 2,500 visitors last year.

“The average person stays about three hours, so it kind of revolves,” Bergsbaken said. “We would even get people before and after. People would already be here taking pictures, and we’re not even open yet.”

Bergsbaken said he enlisted some additional volunteers via neighbors, friends and other family members to help with the visitor flow.

Bergsbaken Farms has grown sunflowers for 12 years, primarily for making birdseed, according to Bergsbaken. There are almost 300 acres of sunflowers alone, but the farm also grows corn, soybeans and wheat.

“We sell to a few gas stations and hardware stores,” Bergsbaken said.

While people come from as far away as Illinois and Iowa just to see the Bergsbaken sunflowers, the farmer noted he’s seen some tourists visiting from France and Japan stop to take a look. Bergsbaken said he had vacationing tourists from 28 different states the first year he held the festival.

Deciding when to hold the festival each summer is a challenge, as the farm wants to try and hold it when the sunflowers are at their peak. Bergsbaken said he was worried the sunflowers might peak too soon, but they will still look nice for when people come out to the festival.

“It usually takes them about 72 to 75 days for them to blossom, which would normally put them at July 25 for their peak, but I think they’re going to peak this weekend,” Bergsbaken said. “I think that hot, humid weather during June must have pushed them faster than what we anticipated. What do you do? We just pick a weekend, and that’s what we go with.”