Sunflower crop destroyed by Dorian, festival postponed

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2019

CHOCOWINITY — Hurricane Dorian’s damage was minimal in Beaufort County, with a very notable exception: a field of flowers that’s the centerpiece of the North Carolina Sunflower Festival.

“The hurricane completely destroyed our harvest,” said Raised in a Barn Farm owner Mandy Boahn. “We probably had somewhere around 200,000 flowers.”

Raised in a Barn Farm’s annual NC Sunflower Festival was slated for Saturday and Sunday, but the crop’s loss to Dorian’s wind and rain means the festival has been rescheduled for Nov. 16-17. Throughout this week and next, Mandy Boahn and husband Will are planting a new crop of sunflowers. Normal gestation of a sunflower crop is between 50 and 60 days, landing it right before the rescheduled festival date.

“Weather is a deciding factor — the hotter the weather, the faster the gestation. Our first crop came in in 42 days because it was so hot. We are hoping that now that our seasons are getting ready to be changing, we’ll be closer to a 60-day mark,” Mandy Boahn said.

The Sunflower Festival was not the only Raised in a Barn Farm event impacted by Dorian: the corn maze that draws hundreds of visitors to the farm each October was hard hit, as well, she said. The maze is just one feature of Nights of Fright, an ever-changing, ever-growing Halloween festival that runs every Friday and Saturday night through October. But Dorian’s damage won’t deter the popular event.

“With that event right there, we try every year to change, to add and improve, and our goal for the future is to be the biggest haunt on the East Coast,” Mandy Boahn said. “ (Hurricane Dorian damage) will not stop us — the show must go on.”

Boahn said resilience and flexibility are both key for anyone working in agriculture. As Dorian approached last week, the couple knew the results of all their planning, and planting, would only be decided by a higher power.

“We were praying and crying and, honestly, laughing a little bit, too. You have to,” she laughed. “Everything else is up to God and mother nature.”

The Boahns are going to be taking notes at November’s Sunflower Festival. The success of the crop and the success of the event as a whole may prompt a permanent change to an end-of-year event and a sunny launch into the holidays.