Georgia Sunflower Farm Festival
Take home buckets of blooms and zipline through the fields at one of the most anticipated outdoor events in Georgia next weekend.
by Judy Garrison
The nourishing seeds of these sun worshipers once lured mourning doves to their death. These days, it’s not the seeds that beguile onlookers. It’s the flower’s human-like presence and majestic beauty that beckon thousands of visitors to the Sunflower Farm in Rutledge, Georgia, and the Sunflower Farm Festival each July. For only 30 days (June 15-July 15) each year, blooms are at their most statuesque height, and Wes Holt and his family open their 15-acre farm to those who marvel at these beauties.
The “go-to man” for the farm and festival, Holt (pictured) owns this chunk of land that originally became the project of his uncle, Bobby West. In 2000, West, an avid hunter, planted thousands of sunflowers as a draw for doves. The doves came but so did hundreds of people just stopping by to take a peek at the flowers and pick a few to take home. Suddenly, Holt had a following on his hands.
“We set up an honor box and did that for years,” he says. Just as the flowers continued to thrive, so did the neighbors’ insistence that there be more to this story. In 2002, the season morphed into a festival, now one of the most anticipated outdoor events in Georgia.
At the center of the farm is an 1891 sharecropper cabin. Originally a tenant farmer home at the turn of the century, it was converted into a wheat straw barn when Holt’s grandfather bought the property in 1937. It’s a market now, filled with local art, antiques and a greeter who instructs visitors on the proper technique of cutting and stuffing buckets to the brim with flowers to take home.
On average, 3,000 people stroll around the farm during the season, but as many as 10,000 attend the festival. Even during last year’s 108-degree sweat-fest, approximately 5,000 gathered to find wares under the tree canopy, meander through the endless rows of sunflowers and hop a hay ride through the fields.
Vendors come from around the country, but most are from Georgia and the Southeast.
“We do require that everything is handmade by the artist,” explains Holt. A new artist this year makes Adirondack furniture out of antique wooden boat skis. “I’m really excited to see these,” he adds.
The charm begins at 9 a.m. Saturday morning in the hummingbird garden with the banding of as many birds as the Georgia Hummers Study Group can corral. Last year, 38 birds were banded in the span of two hours in hopes of learning migration patterns. Anticipation grows to see if any will return.
“The banders have a little cage,” says Rena Holt, Wes Holt’s mom, a.k.a. The Flower Lady. “They are very delicate creatures. After they band them, they put them in the hands of those children who have gathered to watch [before they are released].”
The Blessing of the Sunflowers follows, and the two-day festival commences with an antique tractor parade as some 100 vendors mind their tents and musicians take the open amphitheater stage.
But this year, it’s the opportunity of zipping over the sunflower field that seems to hold the biggest intrigue. Mike Nelson’s Let It Zip will bring the Southeast’s largest mobile zip line, erect a 30-foot tower, stretch dual lines approximately 300 feet, and watch flyers reach speeds of 21 miles per hour. No matter if you’re 5 or 75, soaring 35 feet over a yellow blanket of sunflowers will be an unforgettable experience.
However, the line forms behind Holt who plans to be the first across.
When staggered planting begins in early April, Holt sets the course for the July peak weekend of saucer-sized blooms. With a degree in horticulture, a past grounds manager at Atlanta History Center and current farm manager at Hundred Acre Farm in Madison, Holt parlays years of plant love into a photographer’s dream and a visual marvel. Don’t miss the opportunity to view these golden flowers and experience a little Southern hospitality under the July sun.
Heading to the Sunflower Farm Festival?
Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, July 6 and 7
Directions: 1430 Durden Road, Rutledge, Georgia; take I-20 East to Exit 105 and follow the signs
Cost: $8 for a weekend pass, $5 for kids (4-12), $12 for couples and $25 for families; children under 4, military and veterans get in free. Free parking with shuttles throughout the weekend.
Music: Headliner Rocky Creek Band plus Apostles of Bluegrass, Shelby McLeod, April Allen, High Strung String Band and Kickin’ Grass.
Take Home a Bucket: $15
Zip at the Festival: $10 per person
Photography: Avid photographers pay $10 per visit; portrait photography is $35 per session. No professional sessions allowed during the festival days.
All photos by Full Circle Fotography.
Having grown up in the North Georgia mountains, Judy Garrison swears by all things Southern. As full-time editor of Georgia Connector magazine and a freelance travel and lifestyle writer, Judy strives to stay true to her Southern voice. She and her husband, Len, travel the South and beyond, recording their stories and images on www.fullcirclefotography.com. She and her husband are currently working on their seeing southern project, recording life stories of those who grew up or lived in the South. They are at home in Farmington, Georgia, within a stone’s throw of Athens, on a farm with horses, dogs and a 21-pound cat, Bear. Contact Judy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @JudyHGarrison.