Sunflower Fields

Love that as I go to look up information on sunflower fields in South Dakota, one of the first hits is:

Are there sunflower fields in South Dakota? – Yahoo! Answers answers.yahoo.com › … › May 2, 2012 – Tons and tons of sunflowers!! Plus, despite what a lot of people think South Dakota is a very beautiful state!

Thanks, Steve in NC. I’m certain the Department of Tourism and the people of this great state are sincerely thrilled with that rave review. A review that again, turns up nearly first in any google search on sunflowers in South Dakota. It’s lovely. … Really.

…………..

I failed to mention yesterday in my fawning over the mini-sunflower like “weeds” as the Cowboy likes to call them, lining just about every roadway and field right now .. the actual sunflower fields that cover this great state.

Presho Sunflower Field

We used to marvel at them just about every August as we would drive from our home in Wisconsin to visit family/friends in Montana. But with such a long drive ahead of us, rarely would we ever stop to see them close-up.

Now that I live here …… there is time.

Presho Sunflowers cu

On the drive home from Wall yesterday, we had to stop and fill up the truck. Luckily for us, the tank hit E right before we came upon Presho, SD. An area mid-state where the sunflowers bloom for just about as far as the eye can see..

I’ve been wondering .. where do all of the seeds go? Who or what uses them? What is the main demand for this crop? (Hence the google search I started this with) There are some fascinating areas of research being done on just what this plant may be capable of. For now however, this article from a few years back about sums it up .. currently seventy percent of all sunflowers grown in South Dakota are marketed to the birdseed industry.

Lone sunflower

Some other perhaps interesting facts about sunflowers via the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center:

  • Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a native North American plant, believed to have originated around 3,000 B.C. in what is now the states of Arizona and New Mexico.
  • Sunflowers are primarily grown in North Dakota and South Dakota, followed by Texas, Minnesota and Kansas.
  • Sunflowers are considered oilseeds. Sunflowers are used for their cooking oil, meal and confectionary products.
  • Within the oil varieties, oil is extracted. Meal, a byproduct of this process, is used primarily as an ingredient in livestock feed rations.
  • Demand for sunflower oil has increased as food processors search for sources of transfat-free vegetable oil. In 2006, Frito-Lay, the country’s largest producer of snack foods, switched entirely to sunflower oil for its potato chips.
  • Food-grade sunflowers are made up of the highest quality seeds, including the largest and cleanest seeds. Ingredient sunflowers are seeds that are still food-grade quality, but they do not possess the characteristics to be in the food-grade category. The sunflower seeds that cannot be used for ingredients are used for birdseed. Usually these are smaller, lower quality seeds.
  • Studies have shown that sunflower oil is healthier than most other food oils on the market.

What I want to know, is how do so many seeds make it to market if they’re so sought after by birds for dinner? Wouldn’t they just raid the fields? How does that work?

After talking about it on the drive home this weekend .. the Cowboy decided when he went in to pay for gas he’d also grab himself a pack of seeds. All the talk about them if nothing else, was making him hungry.

Sunflower seeds

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Alongside The Road ..

“A weed is but an unloved flower.” ― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

………….

“They’re just weeds,” the Cowboy replied on our drive back from Wall again this weekend. I was asking him if he’s ever paid much attention to the flowers lining almost every roadway in South Dakota this time of year.

Small Roadside Flower

I’ve noticed these beautiful mini-sunflower like blooms the past couple of years in my time back and forth between South Dakota and Wisconsin. But now living here, I’ve been able to enjoy the full season of weeds. Wildflowers. Sunflowers. Whatever you care to call them.

Millions fill the medians of major highways in this state, line thousands of miles of gravel roads and seem to sneak in just about everywhere else in-between. Almost every state boasts something seasonal like this.

Roadside FlowersIt amazes me though, how many drive by wherever they may live, not often noticing. The weeds. Is it because they’re just there, every year .. and we grow accustomed to them? The colors. Their proliferation. Or, is it that far too often, we are too wrapped up in the business of our day-to-day to notice?

Enjoy the weeds while we have them. Their passing means if nothing else, our summer days are numbered.

The Locals.

“Always remember to slow down in life; live, breathe, and learn; take a look around you whenever you have time and never forget everything and every person that has the least place within your heart.”
–Anonymous

Amidst the hustle and buzz of people talking, kids crying, cars pulling in and out and footsteps sounding heavy on the old wood floors as families shop and browse through Wall Drug .. I have learned one of the most fascinating stops may simply be a table in the restaurant next to a few of the locals.

…………

I hadn’t sat down for more than a few minutes when I heard, “Where are you from?” I look over at the table full of gentleman next to me and answer. I had already been quietly entertained by the conversations happening at their table but was trying very hard to focus on the work ‘to-do’ list in front of me.

I once again, picked the wrong place to sit, if I thought I was getting any work done.

Wall Locals

We chatted for a few moments, then I turned my attention back to my laptop and a series of emails I had to get out that morning. I wanted to get them out quickly and get back to family. But, my answering emails would only be momentary. More questions came, some chuckling and good old fashioned ribbing of the tourist sitting there trying to ‘work’. I looked up knowing my efforts at that moment were going to be fruitless.

There were three tables as I looked down the line, full of older local gentleman, gathered for coffee. All giving each other an incredibly hard time. Laughing all the while. They ranged between middle-age and older, many with weathered hands and obvious signs of hard work and a lot of sun over the years on their faces. But they were all smiling. And as they left, one by one, they were talking about who would be back again tomorrow.

Butch, Dan and I were the last three left sitting in our little area. I kept thinking they might head out shortly too and I could get back to work, but we talked for nearly an hour. As stressed as I was about work and about being away from the family for too long, I took a deep breath and realized instead, what a wonderful moment this was.

I learned quite a bit about Wall that morning. Names, history, who’s who sitting around those tables and what each of them have done in and around Wall over the years. Where they came from, family histories, some very interesting things unique to one of their jobs I was asked not to share. More about each of them, Butch and Dan. And they continued to inquire about me. It was refreshing, fun and made me feel that much more at home in my new home state of South Dakota.

A phone call from one of the women waiting on one of my emails snapped me back into the reality of my morning, of the time and what I had yet to get done.

“I’m sorry, guys, I’ve got to get back to work,” I told them. They reassured me it was fine and it was time for them to get to their days as well.

“We might be back tomorrow,” said Butch as the two got up to leave. “Maybe we’ll see you again.”

I am relatively certain, we will.

Free Ice Water

When I was about 8, I think, we drove on our first family vacation out west. I remember the Corn Palace. Wall Drug. Deadwood. Mount Rushmore. Black Hills.. the trip went on.

Black Hills sign

I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t like the wide open spaces. I thought it was hokey we stopped in a town just because they were advertising ‘Free Ice Water’. Why would someone do that, I thought. Everyone serves free ice water. I had no intention on ever coming back. To Wall Drug. Or “out west”. Not on purpose anyway. Looking as far as the eye could see on much of that trip with no one in sight, meant to me, we would most likely get a flat tire somewhere or attacked by prairie dogs. Cell phones didn’t exist. We’d shrivel up and die and no one would ever find us. I wanted to get back home to Wisconsin. Where there were people around. People that would see if anything were ever to happen to us. And they would be there to help.

………..

We were in Wall again last weekend. Chances are, you probably don’t even know the town is called Wall. Not Wall Drug. Because the town’s done such a great job marketing itself and the free ice water.

Anyway, I had a minor freak out moment the first night we got there, to myself, as I soaked up the scene around me. Sitting that night on the back patio of what is now a family member’s home just a block away from the Drug Store, I remembered the scene described above and thought to myself, am I really here? Living like a local? WTH? How did this happen? I could hear and see people talking and laughing and having a beer around me but everything was muffled and distant. My mind started racing through major life events between my childhood and now.

I snapped quickly back into how awesome this new reality is.

………..

While we live in eastern South Dakota, a big part of the Cowboy’s family is from the Wall area.

The Cowboy and one of his brothers pointing out to kids, a family photo in one of Wall Drug Store's back hallways..

The Cowboy and one of his brothers showing kids a family photo in one of Wall Drug Store’s back hallways..

There is incredible history to both his family here and to the area that I feel people miss, unfortunately due to all the trinket shops that line the main street through town. Wall wouldn’t be what it is without this couple block stretch so don’t get me wrong. It’s a ton of fun, tourists coming through each year sustain this little community of incredible, hard-working people and we’ve enjoyed all Wall has to offer each time we’ve gone now to visit.

But here’s the deal: I walked over early last Friday to the Drug Store. I wanted a cup of coffee and a quiet spot to get some work done. I ended up ‘out back’, where I was told I could find both.

Despite how many times I’ve been back to Wall as an adult, as a single mom bringing her daughter back for the same childhood experience I had myself and in the times I’ve been here with the Cowboy, I’ve never seen what I did that morning.

Through the Alley ...

Through the Alley …

All was quiet. The walls weren’t yet masked with throngs of families working their way through the buildings. And it was there, for the first time, I sincerely saw it. History. So much history of that area. Photos of families. Of pioneers. Of ranchers. Of the Native American culture that is still so very genuinely present. A culture there people are proud of. That often gets lost, understandably, in all the shopping, stretching of legs on perhaps an otherwise long road trip, of needing to feed the kids that are screaming and not feeling up for a history lesson.

But what a part of Wall you are missing ..

Speaking of something else you may be missing on a rushed trip through the area, the locals. Met two this past weekend, writing about tomorrow. So much for getting a whole lot of work done that morning.

Can’t wait to go back.