What you didn't know about Grinter Sunflower Farm
Rebecca Peters and husband amid Grinter Farm's sunflowers
You've seen Ted Grinter's sunflower fields. Maybe your friends posted their sunflower photos on Facebook or Instagram. Maybe you've even visited the sunflowers at Grinter Farms in Lawrence. In either case, they've become a Kansas icon.
Grinter, a row crop farmer, plants 40 acres of sunflowers each year to use the seeds for bird feed. He's grown them for four decades now, and while people have always noticed the sunflowers, he says popularity only spiked about five years ago.
"My daugher suggested we put it on Facebook, not knowing it would explode like it has," Grinter says. "And it got a life of its own."
There's no way to know exactly how many people visit the sunflower farm each year, but estimates for last fall were around 30,000. The sunflowers are only in bloom for a week or two and last year's bloom fell during Labor Day weekend, creating the perfect conditions for a snarly traffic jam. That weekend, some drivers--who Grinter says come from as far as Dallas--waited upwards of four hours to visit the farm.
"I don't want anybody to have to do that," Grinter says about the wait. "I just got overwhelmed last year. Never even was an idea of mine that we'd have--I don't know how many people showed up."
Now, he's being proactive. Grinter has been working with police and the Department of Transportation to make a traffic plan for this year's visitors. He hopes to have 30 volunteers from local churches and civic clubs to help park cars in five lots. And, all this planning came before he even planted the sunflowers, which he tries to do in mid-July for an early September bloom.
As a professional photographer, Rebecca Peters couldn't resist the urge to visit Grinter Farms. She first went with her husband in 2013, when they took birth announcement photos with the sunflowers. She then took her daughter back in 2015 and 2016, wanting to make a family tradition of the visit.
"It's beautiful, like a movie set," Peters says. "Even several photos don't do it justice until you see it in real life."
By going on a weekday morning, Peters was able to escape last year's Labor Day traffic. She says it's "chaotic" in the fields, and although she wants to keep her tradition alive, she hopes to continue escaping the crowds.
Grinter's advice for farm visitors is simply to 'be patient and put your phone away" while driving. Check the farm's Facebook page, which his wife Kris runs, and you'll find a few more tips: look on Facebook before visiting if it rains, donate $1 if you take a sunflower and keep the fields clean. And, on your way home stop by Sunflower General, the store Kris runs on the weekends during bloom. Pick up some home-baked goods or a Grinter Farms T-shirt.
Above all, though, make sure to appreciate the sunflowers. Planting them may be part of his job, but Grinter sees why the sunflowers are so beloved.
"It's beautiful," Grinter says. "It is pretty. You can't deny that."
Grinter Farms is at 24154 Stilwell Road in Lawrence and is open during daylight hours. Check its Facebook page for up-to-date opening information. Sunflower General is at 14755 243rd St. in Lawrence with hours to be determined this season.