JASPER — Nina and Olivia Kalpakis were heading to Louisiana from Tampa when they took the wrong exit. They took one more unexpected detour after they saw the field of gold sunflowers that stretched farther than the eye could see.
“She freaked out when she saw it,” Olivia said. “We had to turn around and come back here to get some pictures.”
Sam Jones said his fields get a lot of attention from drivers. He can't believe people pull over to take pictures.
“We’ve been getting calls from people asking if they could come up here and take photos,” Jones said.
A peanut farmer for 15 years, Jones said it was time to start growing something different. He said peanuts just weren’t worth the effort and that there were too many people flooding the market.
“We just broke even last year,” he said. “The big dogs killed the peanut market. We needed to start searching for something else.”
That’s when he came across Ag-Strong based out of Athens, Georgia. Jones said Ag-Strong buys canola and sunflower oil for cooking. It also helps farmers get started growing crops.
Samantha Jones, Sam’s daughter, said they like to grow things that they use, and she said they use a lot of sunflower oil. She was surprised by how many people pull over to take pictures. People have been calling her asking if they can buy some to use as decoration.
“We knew they would be pretty,” she said. “ We just didn’t know everyone would want to take pictures of them.”
Samantha said she doesn’t mind people taking pictures, but she hopes no one will damage them. People sometimes forget that the flowers are their crops and how they make their living.
Farmers changing crops can be a gamble. Samantha said it doesn’t make them nervous, though. They gamble every year with farming. Bad weather and bugs can kill crops just as easy as a new crop, she said.
Bill Owens, vice president at Lafayette Bank, said Jones took a risk. But he helped him get started with the sunflowers, and Owens said Jones is doing it the right way. Jones isn’t using all of his land for sunflowers for his first year.
“He’s keeping his staple crop so even if something happens he’ll be oaky,” Owens said.
The way things are going so far, though, Jones said he will probably use all 700 acres of his land to grow sunflowers for next year. He may even look into agritourism as another way to make money.