In China the sunflower symbolizes longevity, so it’s tremendously appropriate that on her 97thbirthday, Stella Kanach, the matriarch of the New Jersey-based Kanach Farm family is greeted by country fields filled with blooming sunflowers. A bounty of sunflower blossoms fills the fields by the Kanach farmhouse, and more fields of sunflowers along Manners Road in Hunterdon County are about to burst into bloom. It’s the perfect time to view sunflowers in New Jersey!
New Jersey’s sunflower crop, in bloom, highlights a country jaunt. When the buds are young, the sunflowers turn toward the sun. Now, as their great heads burst into bloom and the plants become heavy with seed, they become seas of yellow. And, as Stella Kanach informs, the “flowers always face east.” Outside the Kanach farmhouse, the brilliant gold of blooming sunflowers is just beginning.
New Jersey Audubon SAVE program
New Jersey has acres of beautiful sunflower seeds. Since 2008, New Jersey Audubon Society has signed up farms to devote land to sunflower plants through participation in their Support Agricultural Viability and the Environment program. For each five acres of sunflowers, the NJ Audubon Society supports an acre of grassland habitat for threatened and endangered birds, certifies the harvested sunflower crops as New Jersey grown birdseed, and facilitates the sale of locally grown seeds in 25 and 50 pound sacks at Audubon centers. A list of NJ farms in the SAVE program as well as NJ Audubon-led walks into the New Jersey countryside is available online.
Sunflower fields and New Jersey farms are challenged. It is a time when agencies and programs such as the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance, New Jersey Green Acres, and New Jersey Audobon’s IBBA (Important Bird and Birding Areas) program highlight the importance of preserving farmland, open spaces, and the healthy, rural character of the land. In this critical time, it’s an important delight to see an active, working farm in a family for generations. Jack and Marilyn Kanach still own and operate the 1934 farmstead established by Stella Kanach and her husband in 1934.
Born in 1914, Stella Kanach recalls the purchase of the family’s present farmland during the decade of the Depression. It was a self-sufficient time. Stella remembers she worked without modern conveniences. The land and its cows, chickens, pigs, and garden provided them with livelihood and day-to-day meals. “I did a lot of canning,” she recalls. “Those were the days. The pigs were our ham and bacon. The cows were our milk, and the chickens gave us eggs. We worked without conveniences, but people all helped each other.”
With a laugh, Stella Kanach remembers how happy she was when the family got electricity and hot water in the house and how exciting it was to get a telephone. “It was a party line, and ours had six rings,” she recalls. “Of course, you only used it for important things.” Again, she smiles and nods emphatically, “Those were the days.”
Farming was Stella Kanach’s way of life, and her golden memories of nurturing the land to deliver the family’s cream, milk, and butter, its beef and pork, its chicken and eggs, and its multitude of fruits and vegetables are heartwarming and vivid. Caring for a country farm and family made Stella Kanach rich, rich with love, life, and meaningful experiences.
Hunterdon County is richer for the productive farming life of its country families. A rural farm life’s bounty surrounds Stella Kanach as she celebrates her 97thbirthday. Daughter Joanna, granddaughter Joan, and daughter-in-law Marilyn prepare for the family to gather later that evening. Stella’s country wealth shines in 6 children, 13 grandchildren, and 26 great grandchildren. The Kanach farmhouse, sitting in fields of blooming sunflowers in a peaceful countryside, is bright with love.
Sunflowers are a worldwide inspiration. Vincent van Gogh painted a famous sunflower series depicting the radiant blossoms, clipped and in muted tones, placed in vases. The almost-bigger-than-life blossoms inspired Georgia O’Keefe, Claude Monet, Emil Nolde, and Diego Rivera. Clearly, sunflowers speak to the mind, spirit, and heart.
The Chinese believe a gift of sunflowers carries with it the wish for a good and bountiful year and life. Already, the Kanach farmhouse is filled with forward looking wishes and sunflower power as the family talks with excitement about the grand celebration planned for Stella’s centennial birthday.
Slideshow, video and list of farm-based events
The slideshow accompanying this article offers countryside images of New Jersey’s beautiful sunflowers and the fields at Kanach Farms. And, simply enjoy or try your hand at digitally painting a sunflower after viewing artist David Christy’s YouTube video.
To really experience and appreciate New Jersey’s country bounty, plan a visit to a New Jersey farm by checking out the unique farm-based events at the VisitNJFarms website sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the Food Policy Institute, and Rutgers University. Or, go to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh Pick Your Own website and use its interactive map to locate a pick-your-own farm near you.