Fields of Gold
Take a ride down County Road 14, just west of Autaugaville, Alabama, where you’ll find 18 plus acres of golden, lanky sunflowers in what’s known around town as simply “The Sunflower Field.”
In its fourth year open to the public, the field came out of serendipitous circumstances for owners, Todd and Kim Sheridan. Todd, a local farmer, was approached by a hunting buddy and asked to grow sunflowers to yield seeds to feed his deer. Although novices when it came to the distinctive and popular plant, Todd enlisted the help of an ergonomist to make sure the soil was right... and things blossomed from there!
The Sheridans experienced some popularity when the crop bloomed in its first season with passersby snapping photos and posting them to facebook. Growing over the years, the crowd now comes from parts like Huntsville and Mobile just to catch a glimpse at the giant flower field.
Three years in, Kim and Todd established a small fee of $20 for professional photographers who come to the land to photograph their clients. This helps them keep the fields clean and ensure a successful season.
Planting beings in April and the sunflowers take approximately 60 days to bloom, depending on the rain. Once this happens, the blossoms will last for about two weeks, and then Todd is able to sell the seeds as bird feed. Last year in a moment of panic, the Sheridans nearly had to forfeit a whole season, after the crop was killed in adjusting to a new fertilizer. There was a mad dash to rework the field, replant everything, and get ready for a late blooming crop.
This year, in its 4th anniversary, things are bigger and better than ever. The Sheridans have rotated the field, which is done every few years, between the North and South fields to maintain soil health. They’ve also added a second field nearby so when the current blossoms finish mid-late July, a second round offers everyone a few extra weeks to enjoy their charm.
Every year there are additional amenities added to the roster. Water is sold so those picking in the field can stay hydrated, and black buckets are available for $10 to fill with sunflower souvenirs. Pre-grown sunflower plants are $3 a piece, $5 for two or $10 for five. Visitors can purchase a sunflower tea towel and as always, fresh produce, including ripe watermelons. It’s well worth your drive! (You can get there taking AL-14 W, heading NW of Montgomery in about 35 minutes.)
*The wild sunflower is native to North America and was domesticated in what is now Mexico and the Southern U.S., brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. A plant genus containing about 70 different species, some sunflowers are cultivated as a food crop in temperate regions (including the Jerusalem Artichoke, also known as a sunchoke) and was common in the diets of Native Americans in the form of flour, made into mash, the seed itself and oil for making bread. Today, it’s mainly grown in the Dakotas for oil production.