As the yellow flower petals fade, each head will be filled with hundreds of sunflower seeds, laid out in an equally eye catching circular pattern. This intricate mosaic of matured seed will then be ready for harvest.
Black oil sunflower seed is a "first year" crop for Brodhecker Farm of Newton, who planted and maintains the field. Brodhecker Farm has been a staple of Sussex County agriculture for over forty years. The family credits the sustainability of their farm operation to an ability to assess and respond to market demand. They provide a variety of products and services that meet the needs of the consumer and farm producer.
Brodhecker Farm began selling black-oil sunflower birdseed at their Hampton Township farm in early spring 2010. Steady sales and a growing demand for the product prompted the Brodheckers to explore the feasibility of putting a local crop into production, which will then be harvested and marketed under their own label. Producting a Jersey Grown birdseed product is challenging-even to a producer experienced and equipped to harvest other grains. While Brodhecker farm is a NJ licensed livestock feed manufacturer and processes a variety of field crop which is used in their feed formulas, sunflowers pose some unique challenges in the drying and harvesting process.
Initiating a new product which requires specialized equipment, careful harvest and on-site processing is a large undertaking. The Brodheckers have been in consultation on this project with NJ Audubon, who has been developing a similar initiative in other parts of the state over the past several years. " NJ Audubon has shared valuable "lessons learned" from their experiences," said Phil Brodhecker "we look forward to building on our relationship with them in the future." Currently, NJ Audubon sells NJ produced black oil sunflower seed under their own S.A.V.E. label. NJAS/S.A.V.E. black oil birdseed is available at NJ Audubon centers throughout the state. Check with your local NJ Audubon center for availability.
The Brodheckers have dedicated two seven-acre fields to sunflower seed production. If all goes well, they hope to harvest, dry and package the black-oil seeds under the Brodhecker label and will sell the Jersey Grown, locally produced seed at their farm later this year.
But for now families, photographers and the "battle weary" travelers along the Rt 15 corridor are finding the sunflower stand a welcome and joyful break in their day. One spectator commented, "Whoever planted this field must have known how happy it would make people to see these beautiful flowers. We can all use a little break now and again, this is just amazing- thank you to our Sussex County farmers."
While children delight in the height, color and seemingly endless rows of flowers and photographers snap away, many folks just simply stand still for a time and smile. As they gaze out over the seven acre field-drinking in the intense greens and yellows brought to life by the constant movement of busy honey bees they are reminded to take a moment... just to enjoy.
- Article and photos by N Hreha