Pumpkin spice gets a lot of attention this time of year (and for good reason), but perhaps the underdog of late summer and early fall is the sunflower, which is about as good as Instagram gold as it gets. Before we officially enter our fall girl era, sunflower season is still in full swing — and lucky for us, New Jersey has a handful of sunflower fields and farms, that are usually 100% free. To save you time and effort, we’ve curated a list of nearby sunflower farms to visit before it’s too late. A few of these farms allow you to pick your own flowers for your at-home bouquet and some even feature petting farms, activities for kids, and even mazes. Keep reading for a roundup of four sunflower farms to visit near Essex County.
The History of Sunflowers
Society’s relationship with sunflowers is long and complex. If you’ve ever studied the symbology of flowers before, you might have heard that different plants and flowers and even different colors of flowers symbolize different things. The giving and receiving of flowers have their own language.
For example, you might know that red roses symbolize true love, deep romance, and desire. Comparatively, yellow roses may be just as gorgeous, but their symbology is vastly different, as yellow roses tend to signify friendship. (Though historically, they first symbolized jealousy and infidelity). So, if your S/O gives you yellow roses, you may want to let them in on what the meaning is.
And roses are hardly the only flower with deep-rooted (get it?) symbology. Historically, sunflowers have been thought to symbolize adoration, loyalty, and longevity. They also have a reputation for being “happy” flowers and are given generally during joyous occasions. It makes sense: the word “sun” is literally in the name and the sun is associated with light, joy, and brightness — all symbols of happiness.
Read More: Berry Picking Farms Near Essex County
Sunflowers are also traditionally given for the third wedding anniversary as a symbol of adoration, loyalty, and strength.
One possible explanation of why sunflowers came to mean what they do now spans back all the way to Greek mythology. The ancient Greek myth of Apollo and Clytie “explains” why sunflowers turn toward the sun — a phenomenon called heliotropism. Heliotropism is the behavior of flower buds facing east in the AM and then following the sun as the earth moves throughout the day. Side note: Maybe if humans were heliotropic, so many of us East Coasters wouldn’t have to take vitamin D supplements or suffer from Seasonal Effectiveness Disorder.
Anyway, back to the Greeks: Clytie was a nymph who was in love with Apollo. At the beginning of their relationship, Apollo loved her, too, but it was a short-lived romance as he fell for someone else: Leucothoe. Enraged with jealousy, Clytie tattled on Leucothoe and Apollo by going to Leucothoe’s father. He punished his daughter by ordering her to be buried alive. Brutal, right? But the tragedy doesn’t end there. Clytie thought with Leucothoe out of the way that Apollo would love her again, but Apollo felt Clytie had betrayed him. The story goes that Clytie grieved, wilted, and slowly died.
You might be wondering: What on Earth does this have to do with sunflowers?
Leucothoe was buried alive, but from the dirt, she grew. Into a sunflower. She loved him, even as flora, and spent her days watching him as he traveled across the sky, moving the sun across it in his chariot.
Some story, huh? Tell that at your next dinner party or Happy Hour.
The Benefit of Sunflowers
Sunflower Farms Near Essex County
Now that we’ve totally sold you on all the hullaballoo about sunflowers, it’s time to visit a field yourself. Keep reading to discover four nearby sunflower fields and farms to visit within two hours or so away from Essex County.
Alstede Farms | 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester Township, NJ
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Founded in 1982, family-owned Alstede Farms is known for its homegrown local fruits and vegetables, sunflower fields in the summer, and apple and pumpkin picking in the fall. When the sunflowers are in bloom through mid-September, the giant sunflower maze is a must-visit — and while you’re there, pick up a handful of Zinnias and Cosmos — they make for a vibrant bouquet of flowers. Other activities and attractions at the farm include summer camp, pony rides, a petting zoo, hayrides, homemade ice cream, brunches, food festivals, a fully stocked far store, and more.
Dalton Farms | 676 Oak Grove Road, Swedesboro, NJ
Dalton Farms is a 99-acre family-owned-and-operated farm conveniently located in southern New Jersey, just off of Route 322. With family ties to the farm extending back to 1790, the Dalton Family has been curating enjoyable farm experiences for decades. The sunflower season kicked off on August 24th and runs until October 8th, with food, live music, a beer garden, and wine tasting available. The farm is open from 10AM to 7PM every day. Tickets will be $13 per person if purchased online, and $18 per person if purchased at the gate. Attendees below the age of three are free to enter.
Happy Day Farm | 106 Iron Ore Road, Manalapan Township, NJ
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Happy Day Farm”s sunflower fields were designed with Instagrammable moments in mind. The team has props and installations throughout the field for photo opportunities such as hanging swings, painted doors, and more. Check the farm’s Instagram account for operating hours, which are weather dependent, but typically Thursday and Friday from 3PM to 8PM, Saturday 12PM to 8PM, and Sunday 10AM to 5PM.
Happy Day Farms also has some other fun fall-themed festivities coming up. The farm is now closed for the season while the team prepares for its incredibly popular Fall Festival. Sunflowers and lavender are in bloom from mid-June to mid-August.
Sunflower Valley Farm | 366 County Road 12, New Hampton, NY
Get ready because Sunflower Valley Farm is the stuff of children’s dreams. While adult admission is $5, kids are totally free under age 5, so it’s the perfect family activity to do on the weekends — and Labor Day weekend is the last chance to take in all it as to offer. The farm is open Friday through Sunday from 10AM to 5PM. Admission is Venmo or cash-only on-site and includes three free sunflowers (that you get to U-pick!) and the website recommends bringing your own cutter or scissors, as resources are limited. You might have to wait in line if you rely on the cutter. Any additional sunflowers you bring home to fill out that kitchen table bouquet are an additional $1.
Food and drink are available on-site and for the kiddos, there’s a petting farm (but the site recommends calling ahead to ensure animal appearances are available the day you’re coming), face painting, and a sunflower maze complete with photo opportunities. Leashed dogs are also welcome, so even furry family members can enjoy this outing.
Johnson’s Locust Hall Farm | 2691 Monmouth Road, Jobstown, NJ
Johnson’s Locust Hall Farm offers a true farm experience and is open to the public as well as private events including weddings. Throughout the year the farm offers different attractions and activities. Guests can enjoy hayrides, an animal farm, pick-your-own seasonal crops, and more. The market has some of the best apple cider doughnuts around, but the sunflower field that is open through September is what makes the trip worth it.
New Jersey Sunflower Trail at Von Thun Farms | 438 Route 57 West, Washington, NJ
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Nestled in a scenic area of Warren County, VonThun Farms is open for the spring, summer, and fall seasons with events and activities for the whole family. The farm market offers homegrown fruits, vegetables, and Angus beef, as well as and pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, pumpkins, and of course, sunflowers. The Sunflower Trail opens Saturday, September 2nd from 10AM – 5PM, but note that the trail is not in full bloom due to Mother Nature’s own plans. You can purchase tickets to the flower farm here. Don’t miss out on the special events like the Strawberry Festival, and ‘Fall Festival’ weekends.
Sussex County Sunflower Maze | 101 Route 64, Sandyston, NJ
See where the first-ever New Jersey sunflower maze lives. Once you visit Sussex once, chances are you’ll want to go back again and again. It really is that magical.
The season begins on August 23rd and ends on September 17th. Adult tickets are $10, children four to 12 are $6, and kids three and under are free. According to the website, dogs are welcome but should be leash and children should always be accompanied by an adult while in the maze.
In addition to unlimited maze-related fun, the Sussex County Sunflower Maze is committed to sustainable farming and taking care of the environment. According to the website, the farm believes in no-till planting and promoting native pollinators like bees and butterflies. #EcoFriendlyWin