Lake Mills siblings' sunflower adventure is a blooming success

Gloria Hafemeister
The Brandel crew, siblings Ashley, Justin, Katie and Colton, have started an enterprise known as “Brandel’s Blooms” at their family’s Lake Mills dairy and livestock farm.  Their business will officially open to the public on July 29 and will remain open until the half-acre of sunflowers they grew are all gone.

LAKE MILLS – They are known as the Brandel Crew – four siblings who decided to raise some funds for charity and also learn more about the practicality and economics of raising crops.

Using a half-acre plot on their family's Lake Mills dairy and livestock farm, siblings Colton,15, Ashley, 14, Katie, 11, and Justin, 10, decided to add growing ornamental sunflowers to their many agriculture projects. Together they laid plans and got to work out in the field, hoeing individual rows and hand-sowing each sunflower seed – a process that took five hours. The siblings also worked together nurturing the young plants with regular weeding and watering.

They also keep a joint checkbook along with detailed records of their project, including financials and agronomic information.

The colorful plot sports two types of plants. Ornamental sunflowers bearing dark red flowers with 4-5 blooms on each stalk have taken up residence on the back three rows of the field while the traditional golden hued, single bloom flowers make use the rest of the plot.

The kids note that the weather was not exactly ideal in the early part of the growing season, adding that the ground became hard and dry soon after the plants sprouted. To quench the flowers' thirst, the Brandels loaded 50-gallon drums of water onto a wagon and transported them out to the field where they filled pails and watered each flower individually.

Soon the weather improved, bringing rain and hot weather that pushed the plants to grow at a much faster rate than they expected.

“We learned that sunflowers love humidity and instead of the flowers blooming in mid-August they're now a couple of weeks ahead,” said Justin, the youngest member of the crew.

Lessons learned

While the original marketing plan called for customers to pick-their-own flowers, the Brandel Crew soon realized that the close proximity of the rows would make it uncomfortable for people to walk in among the sunflowers to pick.

That’s when they looked at other marketing alternatives.

Together they designed a Facebook page Brandel's Blooms and after just a few weeks had thousands of visitors. Thanks to the mounting interest, they invited families to their farm to see the field of flowers, make their selections and enjoy the farm atmosphere. According to the Facebook page, the official opening day is Wednesday, July 27, however, fresh cut arrangements are now available.

In addition to blooms, the family will provide a petting zoo featuring goats from friends Debbie Wilke and Dennille Heiman along with a calf or two, a few lambs of their own as well as their pet donkey Bill. Feed is available for purchase at $1 per bag.

Matt and Tracy Brandel's four children planted a half acre of ornamental sunflowers as a fundraising project and a way to diversity their cache of agricultural interests.

To allow for an up close experience, the Brandels cut paths in the field lined with wood chips for visitors to walk among the sunflowers in comfort. A special area has also been created for photographers. A nominal location fee will be charged. 

“They have had a lot of interest among photographers for using the sunflowers as a backdrop,” says their mom Tracy Brandel. “We are asking that they reserve a date for their photography sessions, however.”

The siblings plan to repeat their project next year but will use a planter and space the rows further apart. 

Safe venue

In order to keep the experience safe for both the family and visitors, the Brandel's are following COVID 19 guidelines for farm visits. They also contacted their insurance company and the local zoning authority to let them know of their venture. 

Hand wash stations along with hand sanitizer will be available on the grounds, with social distancing being encouraged.

Those wishing to visit to farm are encouraged to wear comfortable footwear – after all it is a working farm – and to bring bug spray and sun screen to use as needed. Restroom facilities will be available.

Admission is $6 per person which includes 2 fresh cut sunflower blooms, ages 10 and under $3 which includes 1 sunflower bloom, and $1 for each additional bloom. Ready made sunflower arrangements are available for purchase in large ($10), medium ($8) or small ($5) sizes. Cash is only being accepted at this time. 

Any profit realized from the sale of the beverages will be donated to area youth organizations including FFA, 4-H or dairy youth.

Hours of operation are from 3 to 7 p.m. The farm is located at W8559 County B, Lake Mills, WI.

Something new

The four youth have been very active in livestock projects through both 4-H and the Lake Mills FFA but this year, for several reasons, they decided to try something new.

With area fairs and youth activities cancelled they were unable to show horses, sheep, beef or dairy as in the past. The Brandel siblings also wanted to diversify a bit and learn about other aspects of agriculture.

Parents Matt and Tracy said their children proposed the idea over dinner one evening this spring and chose sunflowers in honor of their grandmother, who lives next door and is battling cancer.

The siblings often spend time with their grandmother and wanted to do something special for her.

"Sunflowers had always been a favorite of grandma's and we wanted to plant something she would enjoy," thye told the Wisconsin State Farmer.

The Brandel crew plans to donate a portion of their earnings in the project to the Jefferson County Cancer Coalition in her honor.

To learn more about their business or to plan a visit to the farm contact the family via their Facebook page Brandel’s Blooms

Visitors are welcome until dark each day until the supply is gone.