They’re a beautiful sight, stretching like an endless, happy sea of yellow along various miles of Hwy. 395. The sunflowers are blooming once again.
Many people are unaware that the acres of sunflowers are actually a cash crop for local farmers. Those walking in the sunflower fields to snap selfies, pick bouquets, and even host photography sessions are not only trespassing, they are damaging farmers’ crops and blocking private driveways.
“People are blatantly lying, saying we gave them permission to be in the fields,” said Jody Lentz, co-owner of Lazy L Farm in Clayton.
Jody and her husband, Loren Lentz, lease 1200 acres from area landowners, planting rotational crops such as oats, wheat, barley, timothy, orchardgrass, and alfalfa. The Lentz family planted 300 acres of sunflowers this year, and work with three other local farmers to provide seed to a Spokane company that manufactures bird seed.
Lentz works a full-time job off the farm, and said she’s been inundated with phone calls from landowners where her family’s sunflowers have been planted. The public is blocking private driveways, being rude to property owners, and “one of our landlords got assaulted,” she said.
Lentz has spent more than $200 purchasing and posting “no trespassing” signs this year, but still has to drive to the sunflower fields and ask people to leave.
“I’d rather talk to people and educate them as to why (their actions) are damaging to the crop,” she said, adding that sometimes she has a pleasant conversation with the trespassers, and sometimes the conversation is unpleasant.
“We even had a photographer dragging a wicker chair into the field,” Lentz said.
The sunflowers are planted closely together and have a shallow root system. If the flower gets knocked over, the plant does not recover and the farmer loses profits.
“People don’t understand that we’re just trying to make a livelihood,” Lentz said. “We’ve got families, we’re local and we’re not thousands of miles away sitting behind a desk.”
Lazy L Farm employs five farmhands to help with the harvest. The sunflower crop is the very last they harvest every year–it extends their growing season and helps them keep their employees working full time.
“We really diligently try to keep our employees working year round,” Lentz said.
Lentz added this year, in particular, since people have had less to occupy their time due to Covid-19 restrictions, she has seen an increase in the amount of trespassers and damage to the crop. She asks that the public admire the beauty of the flowers, but stay out of the fields and stop blocking driveways.
Photo Courtesy of Jodi Lentz