Combining Sunflowers, Craft Beer, Wine & FUN in Northeast Ohio

You know Maize Valley, Farm, Market, Winery & Craft Brewery for their lavender fields, corn maze, pumpkin cannon and a whole host of agritourism based events and activities throughout the year. NEW in 2022 is the introduction of Regenerative Agricultural practices to public accessible activities including Sunflower U-Cut events. U-Cut sunflower opportunities are not unusual in Northeast Ohio however this production method is.

Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

Bill Bakan family member and one of the co-owners at Maize Valley recognized this and decided to try and adapt practices catching on in commercial commodity agriculture designed to improve soil health, water quality and carbon sequestration. “Our farm is practically at the headwaters for the Gulf of Mexico and you go less than a mile to our north and the water flows to Lake Erie, it’s a pretty unique spot on the map. Water quality for the Gulf of Mexico literally starts right in Hartville Ohio! People often hear lots of buzz words associated with climate change but it’s really difficult to actually visualize what it is and what it means. I have created a field experience where you can walk on it, touch it, and smell it.” says Bakan.

After losing much of Maize Valley’s 2022 Lavender crop due to an unusually difficult winter Bakan was searching for a way to try and recoup some of the financial loss and take the Regenerative practices to the next level. He had a 4 acre field that has been in winter annual and perennial cover crops for 2 and half years. He had planned on planting pumpkins in the 2022 season. Bill had ordered extra single stem sunflower seed (one bloom per stem) and was done planting his planned sunflower fields. This particular afternoon he decided to just go for it and he planted about 3 acres of this field with sunflowers. Bill No-till planted sunflowers directly into four to six foot standing winter rye that he had planted last fall. This is a practice called “green planting” and your planter has to be specially modified to do so. Bill had made the planter adaptations in the 2021 season for planting pumpkins which he does the same way. After planting you spray the field to terminate the standing rye and any other weeds and then you use a heavy roller to flatten the rye to the ground covering the soil. This type of practice allowed Bill to use a significantly reduced rate of herbicide counting on the flattened rye to help shade the ground and aid weed control by not allowing sunlight to the soil surface which helps trigger weed germination. This combined with the No-till helped a great deal with reducing weed pressure, conserving water and left the existing soil macro and micro channels intact which helped with water infiltration and soil microbe development all which add up to healthier soil. The downside is while planting Bill noticed the presence of slugs. Slugs can eat an entire crop before the seed even has a chance to germinate. To counter the slugs Bill sprayed a mild liquid Nitrogen solution. The trick is this had to be done at about midnight to catch the slugs on the soil surface. It worked pretty well and the sunflowers can use the Nitrogen anyway. Every planting method has its trade offs and pluses and minuses.

The unique aspect about this planting method is when you walk the field taking Instagram pics and cutting flowers you are walking on a carpet like mat which is naturally breaking down and is helping improve the health of the soil and the region’s water quality. Bill is not certain but he may be the only person using this method on Cosmos, Zinnias and other U-Cut type flowers that is open to the public to experience.

August 13th was Maize Valley’s first Sunflower Festival, a second one planned for August 20th where Maize Valley will be the host site for Heart and Home Marketplace Sunflower Harvest Market from 10:00am until 4:00pm. These fields were also green planted but were planted using different sunflower varieties that produce multiple blooms per stem over an extended period of time compared to the single stem varieties. There are Zinnias, Cosmos and a small quality of wildflowers all green planted as well available.

In addition to the Heart and Home Marketplace, daily sunflower harvest opportunities are available Thursday, Friday and Saturdays from 12:00pm until 8:00pm at Maize Valley. These harvest opportunities will continue as long as the flowers stay in bloom which should be until late August or early September.

Providing mother nature cooperates, and adequate labor can be secured, the Green planted field described above is set to bloom in early September. Maize Valley hopes to offer a Sunset Sip experience in the field with craft beer and wine tastings with light appetizers in the field. This field was planted later and has a particularly denser and heavier cover crop matting. The heavy matting makes this crop production method easily seen right under your feet.

Maize Valley Farm, Market, Winery & Craft Brewery is a family farm based business located 3 miles East of Hartville, Ohio on St. Rt. 619 at 6193 Edison St NE, Hartville, OH 44632. The Vaughan family settled in Marlboro Township in the mid 1800’s and has been farming ever since.

Private media or educational tours for local elected officials interested in learning more are available by contacting Farmer, Bill Bakan at our contact us page. General information on upcoming events and u-pick opportunities here, Facebook Valley, Instagram @maize_valley_.