New era blooms for farming couple

A birds eye view of the first festival.

There is a blooming new festival at Kalbar in the Scenic Rim just west of Brisbane.

The beautiful Kalbar Sunflower Festival is an event born out of necessity and drought with farmers Russell and Jenny Jenner pivoting their small farm from lucerne to sunflowers due to a lack of water.

Out of the adversity of the past few years came 200,000 glorious sunflowers in bloom and idea to share them with others.

This is the second year of the festival launched at the tail end of the drought and with a covid still prevalent around the world.

“We were struggling because of the drought and we couldn’t grow our normal crops, we didn’t have any water left, we were looking to do something to diversify and we came across sunflowers as an idea,” she said.

“They are quite a drought tolerant plant and chatted to our seed reps and got all the information on them. We knew people liked going out to visit them and we’re only an hour out from Brisbane so we thought why don’t we do it here? Kalbar is getting quite the reputation in the scenic destination. We are in the top Eight in the world for Lonely Planet. Every one wants to come to the Scenic Rim and we thought that would give our little town and added boost because we were all running out of water and things were looking a bit grim for farmers around that time.

“So that’s how the event was born last year and we made it a really nice big community event and got all the schools, the Lions, The SES and everybody involved. It was great we sold out really quickly but as it was our first time we weren’t sure how many people we could cater for so it was a big learning curve and then we did another smaller event. We grew 12 acres the first time and in October/November we grew six acres and said lets just open up and do farm visits. We were inundated with people – they’re still coming. I don’t think people realise that they only flower about two weeks when they are at their peak and then they go to seed. So its not something you can have pretty much all year round unless that is just what you’re doing.”

The Jenners are planning more changes to their farm over the next few years looking to create paddocks of meadow flowers where people can come and do “Pick your” own flowers, stay for a little visit and for a little while.

The couple have been farming in the area since 2006 – around 16 years. Both growing up on farms before taking on other jobs, running their own business.

“Then my husband said – oh let’s buy a farmer and so we did that in 2006-2007,” she said.

“Now we’re just evolving that into sunflowers and tourism.

“The original step back into farming was scary but we’ve lived in this farming community all our lives so it wasn’t too bad and we like to take on a challenge- a new business. It was our second business and we’ve done really well with it.”

Jenny said as they have got older they have looked to evolve and do things that suits them and their lifestyle – though it’s not easy.

“Farming you’re at the mercy of mother nature, we’ve had droughts we’ve had lots of floods, we’ve had hail, lots of storms we’ve had it all in the past 15 years it’s not for the faint hearted put it that way,” she said.

“The worst of it has been in the past for years – 2018 we had big hail storms come through and we lost a lot of the crops so did all the farmers. We do live in a beautiful place and with all farming you just have to pick yourself up and say ok, we still own the land. We can plow it all in and start again.”

For Jenny and Russell it has been all about resilience and thinking outside the square. Moving from the lucerne to sunflowers and tourism.

At the moment the duo are gearing up for their second festival.

“It’s getting closer now – we’re just about to plant – actually we were supposed to plant all the sunflowers today but we had a lot of rain a couple of days so its set it back by a couple of days – we hope to plant by Tuesday next week,” Jenny said when we first spoke back in January.

“It’s a bit tricky getting the sunflowers to come out. Last year when we first had the festival, they came out two weeks earlier than we anticipated and then in October/November when we had smaller patch and were just doing farm visits, because they were planted in winter they came out a little bit later. We were trying to hedge our bets so we would get them flowering because there’s a lot riding on a festival day you’ve got lots of things booked. I’ll have a few sleepless nights between now and the end of March making sure they are growing properly. But Hubbies got some extra fertilizer and extra things in place to give them a bit of a push along. So hopefully we’ll have blooms in time.

“We are at the mercy of mother nature and last time we had an open farm, on weekend had rain on the Friday, it was really really hot on the Saturday and then it was really windy on the Sunday and cools it was a bit like Melbourne so we are hoping for a lovely fine 28 degree day would be perfect each day of the festival.”

The Jenners have proved you are never too old to pivot and change direction.

The annual Sunflower Festival in Kalbar features sunrise yoga in the sunflowers, wanders through the sunflower fields, children’s sunflower art classes, sunflower cooking classes and in the evening, a spectacular Sunset Dinner in the sunflowers. For more information head to kalbarsunflowers.com.au

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