Sunshine and sunflowers in Poynette for FFA

August 6, 2018

POYNETTE — The sun shone over a field of gold, with visitors disappearing as they explored toward the horizon at the Sunflower Festival in Poynette.

The fundraiser marked an inaugural run for the event at Creek Bed Country Farmacy outside Poynette.

“As you can see, we just got started today and it’s filling up fast,” said farm owner Julie Schoeneberg. “We’re hoping to raise a lot of money for the local FFA kids, you’ll see them around in their FFA T-shirts.”

Teens with the Rio FFA directed traffic to the makeshift lot near one of the farm’s fields, where a tractor was taking a wagon full of visitors for a tour of the grounds while three FFA girls under a tent painted tattoos.

“We encourage agriculture, since there are only 2 percent of us left farming and we even have a different spin on agriculture with our corn maze, pumpkin patch and agri-tourism,” said Schoeneberg. “But it is an opportunity for the kids to come out and learn that it isn’t just conventional farming. There are a lot of aspects like beekeeping that they can get into.”

Students sold bunches of the giant flowers near the entrance to a walking path where visitors were able to take a surreal tour, in which they saw thousands of the sunflowers towering over their heads. Bumblebees bounced between blossoms, sometimes two or three at a time, mostly indifferent to tourists.

Among the guests and vendors, the pollinators had their own group of supporters.

“Sunflowers are very much a part of what they do and if you sit and just watch the fields, between the honey bees and the bumbles and the other pollinators, they just work very well going back and forth,” said Stacy Schneider, co-owner of Capital Bee Supply of Columbus. “It’s not the only thing, it’s not the number one thing, but it is part of their diet, so that’s a good thing to have. And they are beautiful to look at.”

Schneider, who came with her daughters and unoccupied bee boxes, fielded questions about the apiary arts and how to support pollinating insects.

“There seems to be a steady interest year to year and we just want to help them fully understand what they might be getting into before they make that investment,” said Schneider. “Because it isn’t as easy as putting bees in boxes, but often, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are more people who have come in and enjoyed it than said, ‘No, I don’t think I really want to do that.’ It has been fun.”

The wet start to the summer has been harder for beekeepers, according to Schneider, but as it was warmed and dried out, conditions have improved for the bees which typically feed from early April through late October.

“Hopefully we will have a little warmer fall and beekeepers will be able to catch up and have a fairly descent honey harvest,” said Schneider. “But overall, I think it will be OK in the end — at least we hope so.”

The fundraiser came together in relatively short order from a discussion of possibilities to seeds in the ground a couple weeks later.

“I think we got together in early May, because we planted on May 25 and we decided to roll with it,” said Schoeneberg.

“We were just brainstorming fundraisers and you know how popular sunflowers are,” said Schoeneberg. The idea in part came from a tour of a Connecticut farm, which is in the same direct marketing association and devoted 14 acres of sunflowers to the Make A Wish Foundation.

“We thought that was a fantastic idea, who doesn’t like coming out and taking pictures with the sunflowers?”

One of initial organizers and an in-demand volunteer at the event was Rio High School FFA adviser Andi Cooper.

“We are going to see how it goes and where we need to tweak it,” said Cooper, “but actually quite a few past FFA members came out to help today and some parents, so yeah, we’re really excited and really excited for the new school year.”

Much of the funds raised from the event will be directed toward scholarships for students to travel to conferences and leadership development events along with skill competency programs that increasingly extend beyond traditional agricultural areas, including public speaking, meeting organization with Roberts Rules of Order, and entrepreneurship.

Cooper described what she hopes for in the way of parent and alumni support that would be comparable to booster club for FFA, with some hope coming from seeing her graduated students returning to help at the event on Saturday.

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