When Ursula Kressibucher went searching for a corporate job in Toronto back in 2019 and instead found “a lot of rejection,” she found herself rethinking the career path her international development and business scholastic background had promised.
Born and raised on her grandmother’s poultry farm in Beaverton on Lake Simcoe, Kressibucher was naturally inspired to look at a possible future in agri-tourism — more specifically the opening and operation of a sunflower farm. That led to a sit down with her family to pitch her idea.
“There was definitely some skepticism but I was able to convince them to rent me 10 acres (of land) in 2020,” recalls Kressibucher, adding “Long story short, I was looking for a job and couldn’t find one, so I decided to create one for myself.”
That leap of faith, as risky as it seemed, has paid a huge dividend.
Kressibucher, 29, is the owner and operator of not only one but two sunflower farms: a Beaverton operation called, quite appropriately, The Sunflower Farm, comprised of two 10-acre fields of thousands upon thousands of the striking yellow flower and — just opened on Friday (August 26) — a four-acre Lindsay farm that, of course, is named The Little Sunflower Farm.
Saying “It’s a very short season for sunflowers,” Kressibucher notes the Beaverton farm closed for the season on August 24, having opened at the end of July. Meanwhile, the Lindsay operation, located at 347 Lindsay Street South just north of Highway 7, will be open for visitors until September 11.
While there are a fair number of sunflower farms in southwestern Ontario, Kressibucher saw a void in the area northeast of Toronto and thought “there’s definitely a market here.” She adds her motivation was, and still is, rooted in one basic belief: that people would welcome an opportunity to connect, or reconnect, with farming.
She describes it as “the joy of being able to grow up on a farm and spreading that to people who didn’t, or don’t, have that opportunity.”
Admittedly, says Kressibucher, opening a new business — let alone an enterprise as ambitious as a sunflower farm — was a gamble in 2020, the first year of the pandemic and its associated restrictions. But she persevered and was surprised at the result.
“I definitely didn’t expect the response that we got,” Kressibucher says. “It was pretty eye-opening. We had people driving here from Timmins and Montreal.”
“That first year we didn’t have an online booking platform. We were just doing at-the-gate ticket sales. That created lineups and wait times, but it showed there were people wanting to get out there. There were so many businesses people could not go visit that were indoors. People were seeking out those outdoor experiences.”
The attraction for visitors, she says, is “the beautiful backdrop” that thousands of the “stunning flower” in full bloom creates, describing it “as quite a unique experience.”
In addition, Kressibucher’s sunflower fields are a photographers’ paradise.
“For professional photo shoots, we reserve some nights for private shoots when you can come for that golden-hour sunset,” she says.
Kressibucher’s sunflowers are of the black oil variety, which are primarily harvested for sunflower oil and birdseed. Her operation is focused on the latter, which is sold at her farm locations as well as sold wholesale to specialty feed stores producing seed mixes.
For all her time and efforts in making her business a success, Kressibucher has given back to the community. Last year she created 150 mason jar bouquets and donated them to Lakeview Manor in Beaverton, and did the same again this year.
“It’s a way to give back to seniors who had gone through all the COVID craziness and weren’t able to get out or have family for a visit,” she explains, adding the bouquets were a way “to bring the sunflower farm to them.”
In addition, on August 24 — Ukraine National Independence Day — Kressibucher earmarked 50 per cent of all her Beaverton farm ticket sales for the Canada Ukraine Foundation to assist ongoing humanitarian efforts. With the sunflower being Ukraine’s national flower, doing so was “a no brainer” says Kressibucher, noting visitors also made donations at the gate.
Asked whether her long-term plans include opening a third sunflower farm, Kressibucher has a practical answer.
“I can’t split myself too many ways,” says Kressibucher. “As a new and young business owner, I’m still navigating. I have an incredible team behind me, but I want to make sure I’m not taking on more than I can chew.”
“I’m focusing now on how the Lindsay location does this year and we’ll hopefully bring it back next year, by looking at different events and creating more chances for people to come and enjoy the sunflowers. We do hope to have a pumpkin patch here in Lindsay as well, although I’ve never grown pumpkins. I’m waiting to see if I’m actually going to have pumpkins for October and not Christmas pumpkins.”
As someone who has walked the entrepreneurial path and done so successfully to date, Kressibucher advises those starting their own journey that agriculture “is a really difficult industry for just anybody to kind of just jump in and do.”
“I had the privilege and opportunity of growing up on a farm and having access to the resources (needed to get started),” she admits. “But in general, for any young business owner, it’s definitely jump in and trial and error.”
“This is not the first business that I tried. I’ve had many failures, and there have been failures I’ve learned from the sunflower farm — things that I tried that just didn’t work. It’s a go-get-it kind of attitude: see what works and what doesn’t work, and keep learning.”
The Little Sunflower Farm in Lindsay is open for visitors Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday to Sunday as well as Labour Day (September 5) from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Admission costs $10 for adults aged 18 and up and $5 for youths aged 10 to 17, with free admission for children under 10 and seniors aged 90 and up.
To order advance tickets online, visit www.thesunflowerfarm.ca where you can also find information around farm conduct, rules concerning farm safety, and photography protocol. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.