When a sea of sunflowers fills the horizon, it catches your attention. Especially on a sunny, blue sky day. We noticed them on the drive to Dunnellon.
Both my sister and I have been down CR 484 thousands of times over the years. We passed the usual landmarks on the way. The Dunnellon Airport, where Operation Migration used to fly in with a flock of whooping cranes following an ultralight aircraft. The Pruitt Trailhead, where I once maintained the Florida Trail when it first opened on the Cross Florida Greenway. The fire tower. The light at SW 180th Ave, the road that leads to the campground at Rainbow Springs State Park and the tubing entrance.
“That’s brand new,” said Sally, pointing to the pole barn at the light. “I watched them build it.”
The sunflowers! They surrounded the hustle and bustle in front of the pole barn and stretched off to the treeline. I could see signs that said “Enter.”
“It’s a maze!”
A moment later, I saw the gap in the fence of the Cross Florida Greenway, right next to the field of beauty. “And it’s along the Florida Trail!”
On our return from town, we stopped to see what Cannon Farms was all about. The place was buzzing with activity. Beneath the pole barn, a tractor had a wagon filled with fresh-picked watermelons. Another tractor was set up as a hayride. A small sand box table had miniature farm equipment in it for kids to play with. Families were everywhere.
We knew this was a family farm, but we had no idea how deep its roots were. I saw a lady arranging sunflowers, so I walked up to her. Sarah Cannon knew exactly what I meant when I said “you’re right along the Florida Trail.”
“My daddy was trying to get the Florida Trail to cross our farm!” she replied. She said his name, and I remembered it. Of course, it helped that her father’s name -- Ned Folks -- is on the dedication plaque for this stretch of CR 484 out of Dunnellon. He’d worked with Kenneth Smith a good 20 years ago trying to be a part of the connection from Dunnellon to the Pruitt Trailhead, a piece that still remains incomplete.
Sarah confirmed this was their first year growing sunflowers. “We thought we’d give it a try,” she said. They’d been growing watermelons on their 32 acres for many years, and the seasons had a little bit of an overlap. Once the watermelons were all picked, there would still be an opportunity to sell them while the sunflowers were mature enough to be an attraction. This is a 5th generation family farm, so they know a thing or two about growing things.
I couldn’t resist the idea of walking through sunflowers over my head, so Sally and I wandered into the field at one of the marked entrances. Not only were the nodding flowers enough to make me smile after a tough twenty-four hours, but it was a delight to see bees here and there, zooming from flower to flower, and kids walking between the giant flowers in awe.
While we didn’t get lost, we did turn around when I realized that we were almost at the fenceline with the Florida Trail. There are several trails through the flowers. We just happened to pick the longest -- and we hadn’t had breakfast yet.
When we got back to the pole barn, I asked Sarah about the sunflowers as a crop. They are beautiful, but like all flowers, only last so long. Did they plan to harvest the sunflower seeds?
“We’ll be pressing them into sunflower oil,” she said. Another family member came by with more flowers for her to arrange, and she kept on working.
The watermelons looked too good to resist. We also saw several other treats for sale. A jelly made with sunflower petals. Two kinds of pepper jelly and a watermelon jelly. There was even pickled watermelon.
Trace Cannon said it was made with cinnamon and sugar. “Do you like Red Hots?” he asked. “If you do, you’ll love these.” He’s a member of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) at Dunnellon High School, just like my niece and nephew have been. He carried the watermelon out to the car for us.
It cost $5 to wander through the sunflower maze, which includes a pick-your-own sunflower (take a clipper along to pick one) and a cold slice of watermelon when you return to the pole barn.
Like all fresh farm products, sunflowers have their season, and we just happened to catch them at their peak a week ago. With all the stormy weather this week, they’re already starting to fade. Keep up with the Cannon Family Farm on Facebook to know when the season is over.