ROWLEY – A passion for sunflowers has turned into a business for ISU senior Danielle Youngblut.
Youngblut is majoring in agricultural business and advertising. She was accepted into the relatively new Rural Entrepreneurship Academy this summer. The academy is a part-time program through the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. According to ISU, it is geared toward students who are interested in opening a business or farm in a rural setting.
“We had to submit a proposal and questions we wanted answered,” said Youngblut.
Based on the business idea, students were either matched with mentors or had to seek out experts in their field of study. Many of the meetings took place online with a video conferencing service. In addition, Youngblut received a $500/month honorarium from the academy for three months this summer to buy supplies and set up payment processing.
Youngblut found and learned a lot from another sunflower grower near Ames. From that knowledge, she started Gravel Road Sunflowers.
A key component was finding a suitable plot of land to grow sunflowers. She reached out to her maternal grandparents, Bob and Diana Muchmore, who live near Rowley. Starting in May, Youngblut planted 1/3 acre in stages so she would have flowers blooming all summer.
She selected two varieties for this first year: Autumn Beauty and Mammoth Gray. Autumn Beauty has a variety of colors – yellow, orange, and red.
“They have a beautiful flower,” she said.
Like the name suggests, Mammoth Gray sunflowers grow very tall, averaging eight to 12 feet.
“They have a ‘wow factor,’” she said.
In mid-August, she began advertising on her business Facebook page for people to come out and see the flowers.
The flowers are u-pick. They are $2/stem or $30 for a slim metal bucketful.
She has learned a lot in just the short time she has been open.
“I’m going to plant the rows a bit further apart next year,” she said, because while weeding was easy at first, the plants filled out and made it difficult to walk across the rows.
She is also trying to decide which of two flower buckets to order. One is a little smaller, but sturdier than the other.
Another aspect of the business plan is to collect unsold sunflower heads at the end of the season to dry them out for seeds to plant next year. The rest of the plant will be chopped down like corn stalks to use as nutrients and winter ground cover.
Youngblut has enjoyed watching nature take advantage of the pollinator-friendly flower plot. She has had bees and butterflies all summer. She even had a flock or “rafter” of wild turkeys visit.
Gravel Road Sunflowers is located at 2879 King Avenue (that’s where the “Gravel Road” name comes from) just west of Rowley. Look for the sunflowers on the west side of the road. Her grandparents farm is the first place on King Avenue. The business is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but watch the Gravel Road Sunflowers’ Facebook page for extended hours or early closures due to weather.
The place is kid- and pet-friendly. Visitors are asked to park on the north side of the hay field and walk to the flower patch. With some notice, accommodations can be made for those who need assistance.
Youngblut says families have really enjoyed coming out and being able to socially distance from others. She is also happy for photographers to come out for senior or wedding photos.
“We’ve had one proposal this summer,” she said.
Next year, she is thinking of planting over a longer period of time to extend the season. And she may add other fall crops or pumpkins to the mix.
Youngblut hopes to be open a couple more weekends, but will announce the end of the season on Facebook. She also has an Instagram account (gravel_road_sunflowers) and email (email@example.com) for people to keep in contact.