Small Town Tonganoxie Family & Friends Set the Pace for Visitors Seeking a Quiet Reprieve
As the cool air of autumn slips through the closing door of summer, plumes of dust rise along a narrow country road just outside the town of Tonganoxie, KS.
Rows of vehicles from distant counties and towns have their turn signals on for the same turn off, pointing their now-dust-powdered grills at a set of gentle slopes plump with thick nubby green stalks shoring up massive heads of bright yellow sunflowers.
The mostly-city-folks who pull into remarkably neat rows of parking in one of the five mowed spots around the sunflower fields, saunter slowly towards various accidental gaps between the yellow-headed stalks – wandering in and disappearing to no place in particular, sometimes stopping to take pictures and sometimes ducking and squealing at the urgent buzzing of pollen-laden insects diving into the blooms.
They’ve arrived to capture the fleeting pleasure of a gentle brush with nature at the sunflower fields of Grinter Farms
The cooperation level among the visitors is something in itself to behold. There is no competition or me-first attitude to be seen anywhere this particular day. Visitors will spend the next hour or two not thinking much about what they left behind them – only the fact that they are surrounded by acres and acres of what some feel is just…sunshine and happiness.
A Family Tradition Born Out of an Oil Crisis
Every story has a beginning and this one started with Tonganoxie farmer Jim Grinter, who had a vision for making alternative fuel to run his farm. His daughter-in-law, Kris Grinter, shared what Jim started out to try and do during the 70s to fight the cost of rising gas prices:
When the idea of using sunflower oil for fuel became impractical financially, he decided to keep growing them anyway, which, as Kris Grinter said, over the years, turned into a family tradition.
The Grinters have profitable row crops of corn and soybeans – although, for a few lucky years, there was enough demand that the family grew more acres of them. Apparently, in spite of Kansas being known as “the sunflower state,” it’s actually the Dakotas that grow the majority of sunflowers.
The family currently have about 40 acres planted in sunflowers (that’s still about three million plants, according to Grinter Farms worker Curt Somers.) Kris Grinter, known also as “the farmer’s wife,” explains:
Feeding the Masses
Besides a great walk through the sunflowers, visitors this year can also enjoy home made pies, cookies, and cinnamon rolls thanks to the new food kitchen that was added this year. It’s first come, first serve though – on Kris’s baked goods – and they sell out fast by 10 a.m., depending on the crowds. (Food trucks with additional lunch options have been added this year, though. Check Grinter Farms for serving times and details)
On his most recent visit out at Grinter Farms September 8, Blues Insights’ videographer Terry Bair happened upon Ted out among the sunflowers and had a chat with him about how the operation is going now and how it has evolved this year from previous years:
New this year also is the addition of food trucks. We caught up with Debbie Robinette, a longtime friend of the Grinters, (who grew up with Ted), as she manned one of the new concessions. She said that this year, more fields were mowed for visitors to have places to park and more workers were on hand to help visitors get oriented and provide them with water – so visitors will have an easier time doing what they came to enjoy.
Local Artisans at The Store
The store has been expanded and is a place where local artists and vendors have their wares for sale – leather crafts, quilts, metal craft, jellies, and local honey. Friends and family pitch in to help keep the operation running smoothly for the two or three weeks of blooming season. And Ted knows plenty of friends:
Paul Van Cleave sells some of his exotic jellies (Cabernet, Champagne, Sunflower) at the Grinter Store during the sunflower blooming in the first couple of weeks of September. Van Cleave, who grew up on a farm in Tonganoxie, KS, is one of the many local artisans selling their wares to visitors at the farm prior to the seasonal sunflower harvest. Van Cleave owns and runs Imbibe Jam’s LLC. Local artisans sell their wares in the Grinter Farms Shop.
Happiness and Hope
For one visitor at Grinter Farms this year, the sunflowers represented more than a family outting. Not only was it a place for Isabella Gamino’s senior pictures, but it is a place that represents happiness …and hope. Gamino, 17, who lives in Topeka and traveled to Grinter Farms with her mother Tracy Gamino for the photo session, said she is now at ease discussing the depression she struggled with as a young teen.
She advocates for young people to talk more openly about how they are feeling and being honest about their intentions with their families to get the help they need for depression.
“I’ve had a lot of struggles throughout my entire school life. And just thinking about how the sunflowers come back every year, their faces look up towards the sun…they are always so positive…it’s just something that I really relate to and feel within my heart. [Sunflowers] are happiness…positive…very much an optimistic thing.”
The sunflowers are in full bloom right now at Grinter Farms and, according to the website, the blooming season is about 2 weeks or less before the heads get heavy with seeds and start to droop. Harvest is at about Halloween. The photos for this article were taken September 2nd, 5th and 8th – for more information and store, bakery and food truck hours, contact: Grinter Farms
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