The 220,000 sunflowers blooming in the maze at L & A Family Farm in Elbridge Township attract hundreds of pollinators daily. Here two bees harvest pollen while three bees look for a a place to light on a sunflower. (Photos by Nancy Zeman/The Prairie Press)

Getting lost in wildflowers

L & A Family Farms expands to include a sunflower maze to help educate tourists on produce

Among the rolling acres of Elbridge Township, among the green acres of sweet corn, soybeans and sorghum sudan, there suddenly appears a patch of bright yellow, lighting up the landscape against the blue July sky. 

Walking along the red farm trail at L & A Family Farms and emerging from the woods, visitors see the 220,000 sunflowers blooming brightly and following the sun each day.

Brian Lau, who with Kevin Augustus, farms L & A Family Farms, said he thought about expanding the agri-tourism at the farm during the winter months. 

“We need to get people connected to their food,” he said as he drove the farm vehicle toward the golden yellow 10-acre field. “Some people have no idea where their food comes from. This will give them a chance to see it first hand,” he observed.

The sunflower maze — now approaching its peak — is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 1-6 p.m. The cost is $3 per person with children under five free. 

Those who visit have the choice of hiking a trail to get to the sunflowers or riding a wagon that makes regular stops at the farm’s country store.

Lau said last year L & A planted a small two-acre field of sunflowers to provide sunflower seeds for birds. The decision to expand the sunflowers into a maze came last winter. 

Cory Eastham, who works at the farm, roped off the maze before planting.

He said the sunflower maze doesn’t compete with Pumpkin Works maze that will open later this fall. “It’s different and not as complex — yet,” he said. They hope to be able to shoot aerial pictures of the maze from a drone before it disappears.

“The idea is to bring people out to the farm,” he said. “Our business is more in the summer so the sunflowers made sense. We just want to put a face on the food and help establish a relationship with food and consumers.”

Using a corn planter with popcorn plates, the black oil sunflower seeds were planted in the spring, he said. 

Most of the sunflowers are about six feet tall. 

“There are other varieties that are much taller, but we like these for bird seed,” he said. The sunflowers have also made the pollinators happy, Lau said.

“If you stand and listen, you can hear the bees,” he said. Honeybees and bumblebees are busy collecting pollen. “They love it,” Lau said. Many of the sunflower heads have as many as five and six bees on them at the same time.

The flowers are visible as soon as hikers emerge from the walk through the woods on the red trail. 

Visitors can use this trail to walk to the gardens, sweet corn and sunflower patches as well as stopping and seeing the laying hens. “When emerging from the woods, everyone will have a good view overlooking the farm,” Lau said. “That’s what we want. We want our visitors to know we’re accountable for how we raise our food.”

The families are working to include picnic areas and primitive camping areas on each of the three trails, he said. One of the nature trails has been dubbed Eagle Bluff. The trail begins behind the family store and makes a loop through the woods, running parallel to Sugar Creek.

“There is a pair of bald eagles that built a The nest is likely not visible with the trees that are fully leafed out, but it is possible to spot one of the eagles soaring above the trees.

The farm will be receiving its turkey pullets shortly, Lau said, visitors will have the opportunity to purchase fresh eggs, as well as frozen pork, beef and chickens raised on the farm. The farm store also sells fresh produce raised on the farm.

The farm can be reached off the Lower Terre Haute Road. The address is 21661 Staley Road. Signs point the way to the store.

For more information, visit the farm’s Facebook page or follow on Twitter @LAFamilyFarms.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944