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Farmer brightens pandemic with Sunflower Strolls (8 photos)

Richard Simpson set out to 'bring a little happiness and brightness to the area' by growing sunflowers

There’s something new at Kernel Simpson’s Farm store, and it’s all because of the pandemic.

When COVID hit, owner Richard Simpson wondered, “What can I grow to bring a little happiness and brightness to the area?”

He did his research and came up with an answer: “Sunflowers!”

Simpson decided to plant 30,000 sunflowers on the land around the store – “Just around an acre,” he said, with another strip of sunflowers along Yonge Street, to catch the eyes of passers-by.

It was something completely new for Simpson, a two-time member of Innisfil Town Council, who left politics to focus on his plumbing business and the family farm.

Usually the farm fields are planted only with varieties of sweet corn.

“I’ve never planted a sunflower before,” Simpson admitted, adding the result has surpassed his expectations.The fields are filled with towering blooms, and a-buzz with "thousands and thousands" of pollinators, including butterflies and honey bees, some of which may belong to Innisfil Creek Honey's hives, and produce the honey sold at his store. 

"I'm extremely proud of the crop," he said. 

Simpson has carved pathways through the fields of sunflowers, with arrows pointing the way and plenty of nooks for photos and seating. Visitors can follow the paths through and around the towering sunflowers, see the next crop of sweet corn growing in the fields, even sit on an antique tractor.

On the weekend, Simpson opened the gates for the very first Sunflower Stroll.  It was a great success.

“People are so happy. They’re happy with what we’re doing,” he said. “Everyone comes out with a smile on their face. It’s a great experience.”

When Kernel Simpson’s opens, it will offer the usual customer favourites – Peaches ‘n Cream sweet corn, with White Lightning and Gold Rush becoming available later in the week.

There will be cucumbers from Lakeview Gardens, Mennonite jams, jellies and preserves, local Innisfil Creek Honey, and an array of fruits and vegetables, as available.

Some disruptions due to COVID-19 are inevitable. Simpson has been unable to get the butter tarts and meat pies the store has carried in the past, but he's hopeful there will be opportunities for other farms and producers to step up.

“We’re hoping for a wonderful season,” he said.

Kernel Simpson’s is at 5813 Yonge St. in Innisfil, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays.  

The Sunflower Strolls will continue “as long as the flowers are in bloom,” Simpson said. Sadly, that won't be long. As soon as the flowering heads are pollinated and set seed, the bright yellow petals will fall.

There is an admission fee for the Stroll of $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 5 to 17, free for kids under 4. Visitors are asked to follow COVID-19 rules, including physical distancing, to ensure public health and safety and are asked not to pick or trample the crops.

For more information, see Kernel Simpsons on Facebook.